We continue our exposition of I Peter in this essay. This time we intend to make a few remarks concerning verse 17 of this Chapter. This passage is very rich in instruction and exhortation and, therefore, worthy of our believing and prayerful attention.
The text in question reads as follows: “And if ye call on Him as Father, who without respect of persons judges according to each man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning in fear.”
For the correct understanding of the Word of God in this text, it is well to bear in mind, that Peter is not addressing the Churches here as though they were simply potential candidates for heaven and hell, that must be confronted with the “two ways” of heaven and hell, always standing in the crisis of the choice that determines their status in Christ! If such were the case this passage would indeed be very void of the truth of the gospel. Then it would be, as some erroneously contend, that God always addresses His people “conditionally.” And the dictum would be: when God speaks concerning His people He speaks unconditionally, but when He speaks to His people He speaks conditionally. But such is not the case in Scripture at all. The above dictum does not square with the presentation of the gospel together with the exhortations in the Word of God, the Bible. It does not fit with the plain teaching of Scripture which addresses the Church as being an elect generation, a holy people, a royal priesthood, a peculiar treasure, called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light to declare God’s praises! It does not at all make sense in the light of the fact that the precepts of the gospel are precepts to stir up the faith that is in us and to a godly walk of conversion that flows from such a stirred up remembrance of the great mercies of God to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so that our faith and hope might be in God!
The presentation that makes faith a condition fits well with the preaching of “two ways” that makes of faith a new law; but it does not square with the “simple” gospel truth that faith is the God-wrought instrument whereby we receive from Christ’s fullness, grace for grace.
Let this not be overlooked.
For it is important to notice that the entire thrust of the versus 17-21 is such that the exhortations find their anchor point in what we are in Christ. We are such in Him by virtue of the design of salvation that we must more and more have faith and hope in God. The text does not tell us that we must become church of God. On the contrary this passage teaches us very clearly throughout that we are the children of God, who have received the Spirit into our hearts, and who by this Spirit cry: Abba, Father!
Such is the implication of the conditional sentence in our text!
The believers and their seed call God their Father. No, we are not simply told here that it is possible that we do call or that we shall call God our Father. Nor does the text teach that we ought to call God our Father. Neither does the text teach we cannot fulfil the condition of calling God our Father, and that we say before His face: O God, I cannot fulfill the condition of calling Thee Father, but wilt Thou fulfill the condition in me. No, the simply gospel truth, free from all error is: we call God our Father. All that faith can do is call God Father! And that is not only what an Abraham calls God on Moriah’s heights of faith, and a Jesus in the agony of Gethsemane, but it is the very confession of the penitent prodigal, who will rise and go to his Father’s house, and will say: Father, I am not worthy to be called Thy son!
This is the beautiful term that Jesus places upon our lips in the model prayer as the expression of the chief part of Christian thankfulness. When ye pray, pray ye thus: Our Father, which art in heaven. And, O, the evangelic comfort of this prayer, to excite in us a childlike reverence for, and confidence in God, which are the foundation of our prayers and our doxologies. In this name we glory in the most blessed God, forever, Amen!
We mentioned that the text contains a conditional sentence.
About this we must say just a word.
The sentence here is a conditional sentence of fact. The “if ye call upon as Father” can very well be paraphrased as follows: since ye call upon as Father. It is a conditional sentence, which expressed determined reality. That it expressed determined reality in this case is due to the fact, that Peter is addressing the Church as she is born anew unto a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. () He addresses the church as they are the spiritual sojourners, having the new principle of heavenly joy and peace in their hearts, joy unspeakable and joy full of glory as the apostle states in verse 8. Hence, it is the Father’s good pleasure that their cup shall overflow with goodness and mercy all the days of their life in their earthly pilgrimage. They are those who have and who must receive more abundance of mercy. And the Holy Spirit employs this conditional sentence in this exhortation, reminding them of their good confession, in order that He may work the grace of perseverance in their hearts, stirring them onward and upward to faith and hope into God!
Thus God’s efficacious work of salvation is wrought in them by the Word of exhortation, which employs a conditional sentence expressing factnes.
Peter says: if ye call upon God as your Father (and you do!!) then you must live out all the implications of this good confession in all the relationships of life; you must have a full-orbed life of conversion and sanctification. The conditional sentence does here not express what man must perform as a prerequisite condition at all, but is simply a part of the Word of God, which comes with exhortations and threatenings and great and precious promises, as the chief means of grace, the preaching of the gospel. Incidently, this is a far cry from the dictum: God’s promise always comes to God’s people in conditional form! For God’s promise often comes to God’s people in the simple assertion: I am the Lord, thy God, Who hath caused thee to go forth out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. And I may add, without fear of contradiction, that such is the chief and fundamental way in which God’s promise comes to the Church. That is the Word of reconciliation. When we are exhorted to enter into this work by a true and living faith and hope in God, then sometimes (!) the conditional sentence form is employed as a means of grace.
And thus we have an instance of this common thought not exclusive use of the conditional sentence!
But when we have a promise for all upon condition of faith, and try to defend it with specious arguments, yes, then we need such dictums as: God’s promise pertains to all and is ours upon condition of faith.
But enough of this heretical concoction, lest I weary the reader.
Positively Peter teaches here the need to consider that the Father whom we confess to be our God, is the same who said to Israel: be ye holy, for I am holy! God judges every man in His holiness. And all our works must be done in the beauty and grace of holiness. There must be no disagreement between our confession and walk. Our walk must be the seal and confirmation of our confession. The text does not teach that we ought to call God our Father, but it insists that we ought to walk with a conversation that is worthy of our lofty confession as sons of the living and holy God.
And then the fact is that we must show our faith out of our works of conversion, that is, out of our continuous and lifelong conversion and sanctification. Faith without works is dead. With such faith we are no better than the devil, who believes that God is one and trembles. But He does not tremble before the Lord in godly fear. His works are wholly empty and void of all that angels adore, when they sing: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, God Almighty. The whole earth is full of His glory.
Such dead and empty works ours are not to be. It is comely to us the saints that our works be found full. In this present evil world our works are to be found full of godliness. Our works must be such in their very nature and essence. They must be full of good fruit of the Spirit. No, they must not be rooted in the slavish fear that seeks to merely escape from the wrath to come, but they must be such that are full of joy, love, peace, meekness, long suffering, hope and patience.
We must walk in this good confession as much as we love our soul’s salvation.
Walking in our earthly pilgrimage by hope we will then often sing: My soul fainteth for Thy salvation; but I hope in Thy Word.
Ah, then the fact that our Father will judge every one according to his work becomes the great incentive to godliness. For this means that the hoping Christian will be rewarded in mercy. For those, who love and fear God, receive not strictest justice of the law, but we are refreshed with water of mercy out of the brook, as they flow to us from the throne of God and the Lamb. And, O, these waters of Salem, which God in His judgment without respect of persons gives to us, quicken and revive us on the way. Our hearts are than filled with joy and full of glory, full of the immensity of the glory of grace!
For there is no glory as the glory of God’s grace and mercy in us, the redeemed saints.
We will see more of this in our next installment, D.V., when we will call attention to the following verses which speak of the exceeding preciousness of the redemption price with which we have been purchased.