It was with more than usual pains that we prepared ourselves to write some expository thoughts on this last section of this chapter, the verses 22-25. The reason for this careful study and preparation is due to two reasons. The first is, that in this passage various concepts call for a rather careful analysis and study. It is of the utmost importance to know the meaning of a term before we can say anything positive and constructive about it. Secondly, this passage required study because it is of importance to understand the relationship of the various clauses to the principle clause in the sentence. And, thirdly, this study is necessary because of the doctrinal consequences that depend upon sound exegesis of the text in question.
We shall not be able to finish our exposition of this section in this one article. Probably this will require as many as three articles. We shall see.
The text itself reads in full as follows: “Seeing that ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, (see that ye) love one another with a pure heart fervently; Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”
We have the text before us now.
First of all we wish to say just a word about the sequence of thought here in this entire section, the verses 14- 25. As we have observed in our former essays on this section of Holy Writ, Peter is here speaking of the pilgrim walk of the elect strangers, the Church in the world. And he particularly calls attention to the truth, unto which he also admonishes* that such a pilgrim walk of hope is a walk in sanctification of the Spirit; we are to be holy in all our conversation, even as God is Holy! But such a walk of holiness concretely means for us, that we shall not live according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit; we shall die unto sin and live unto God. In a word: we shall constantly walk in conversion, having true and godly sorrow that we have sinned and have a sinful nature, and find true joy in God through Jesus Christ, and with love and delight to serve Him.
Such is the general thrust of this passage.
For this Peter gives two grounds of motivation. And both of these facts related by Peter are the incentive unto a concrete walk in conversion. And we repeat: there are no other incentives unto conversion worthy of the name!
The first ground is that God has done for us on the cross, establishing for us the new and everlasting covenant of grace and mercy. We noticed the following chain of graces: (1) That according to God’s eternal foreknowledge Christ must come into the world to be the mediator and Savior of His people, given unto Him by the Father. He was indeed! (men) foreknown from before the foundations of the world, and as the foreknown one of God He is manifested in these last times. (verses 2, 20) (2) That Christ died for us, that he redeemed us completely through His precious blood. This work is finished, it is wholly complete. Nothing more need be added to it. We are the possession of Christ. He claimed us from the power of darkness and translated us into the Kingdom of the Father. Verses 18, 19. (3) And that by virtue of this death Christ has merited, according to the eternal good pleasure of God, together with the other gifts of salvation, also the gift of faith, so that our faith and hope might be in God. Faith was merited on the cross for us, and this merited gift is freely bestowed upon us by Holy Spirit. It is not simply God’s intent that Christ should die, without a definite foreknown number given Him by the Father to die for, but it is most emphatically God’s intent to realize faith and hope in the hearts of sovereignly and freely loved Church in Christ. Faith is not simply made possible for us in the cross. Faith is there merited for us in order that by the power of Christ crucified, dead and buried, faith may be made a reality in our life together with all the blessings of salvation. (4) And we are reminded of this work of God for us and even with the intent to be realized in us, that the faith and hope that is in us may be stirred up, and we walk in daily conversion. Thus we indeed have the loins of our mind girded up. The power of the cross is the incentive for faith to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
The matter is therefore profoundly theological, and yet at the same time eminently practical in our life of faith and hope in God.
Such was the first ground of motivation for a godly walk.
But now we must study the second reason given by Peter for a godly walk of conversion. This second reason is given in the verses quoted above in this article, the verses 22-25.
We notice in passing the following elements.
In the first place let it be observed, that Peter is still speaking here of the life of conversion, not being conformed to the former lusts in our ignorance, but to be holy as God is holy. However, there is a progression here in thought expressed. The matter of conversion is brought down to earth. It is labeled! We may know by the same, and that, too, very concretely, whether we have the “proper marks” of the grace of God in our life or not; whether we have the required qualities (called “conditions” by Urzinus, et alii,) and spiritual aspirations in our life, the season of rich or richer grace! Conversion is here “pin-pointed” as being: fervent love for each other as brethren in the Lord. It is the very essence of the second table of the law, which is like unto the first table. This is the essence of walking in God’s covenant, that is, in our “part” of the covenant.
Secondly, Peter also indicates the spiritual-psychological incentive. And this incentive is what God has performed in us by the power of Christ’s resurrection life through the Holy Spirit in regeneration. God has not simply redeemed us on the cross, but He has brought the power of the cross into our life by making Christ the life-giving Spirit. And by this Spirit we are to be changed from glory unto glory as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Let us attempt to see this from the various elements in the text.
First of all we must underscore the fact, that the main thought is that we ought to love one another. Our text is an exhortation with fundamental motivation; it is a precept of the gospel. That we must not overlook. There is a possible danger of overlooking this in the text, and treat it as merely a word of instruction in regard to the Dogmatic construction of mediate or immediate regeneration. We would warn against imagining that this Dogmatic distinction is not of great importance. However, let us beware of letting Dogmatics rule over Exegesis. Scripture is not Dogmatics. And so in our text we are dealing with a precept, exhortation of the gospel, which we may not identify with command of the law. For these are as different from one another as law is from grace.
Precept of the gospel this passage is together with the proper grounds and incentives!
We are to walk in the new commandment of love. Love is the spiritual bond of perfection. It is not mere sentiment. It is not merely an opinion of each other in the abstract. Love is a matter of the deepest attitude of the heart and includes the moral judgments concerning each other. Love is the opposite of hatred, of malice, envy, bitterness and guile and evil-speaking. Love suffers long and is useful in God’s church. It believes all things, hopes all things within the ordinances of the word of God. Love asks: what does the word of God say. And only where there is a striving to walk according to the word is love present. Love covers a multitude of sins. Herein shall all men know that you are My disciples if ye have love one for another! It is the sure test. God is not mocked!
Now this love which we have for each other is to be fervent. It must be pure fire of God’s Holy Spirit in our hearts. Then it will be “stretched out”, that is, it will be the persevering intensity of love. It will be then the pure love as it is not contaminated with the sinful lusts of the flesh. The purity of the pure of heart it will be. Such love of God in our hearts is strong and constant. Always again the supply is present. But our flesh wars against the Spirit in us, so that we do not do what we would. And always in this battle we need the admonitions and exhortations: let your love be fervent! For “whom God calls, according to His purpose, to the communion of His Son, and regenerates by the Holy Spirit, He delivers also from the dominion and slavery of sin in this life; though not altogether from the body of sin, and from the infirmities of the flesh, so long as they continue in this world. Hence spring daily sins of infirmity, and hence spots adhere to the best works of the saints….” Canons of Dordt, Art. 5, Paragraph 1 and 2.
In view of this infirmity of the flesh in the regenerated children of God the admonition is sounded: love one another fervently from the heart! (ek kardias) For it is with the heart that we love. At bottom we do not love out of our soul, mind and strength. But we love out of the heart. It is in the heart that God has shed His love abroad. Out of a good heart proceed good things. As our hearts are so are we. In the good heart sin’s dominion is broken, and Christ lives by His Spirit. Hence, this is an appeal to our sanctified heart, to the mercies in Christ Jesus, our Lord, in us. It is in no sense of the word an appeal to a natural man to become what he is not. On the contrary it is an admonition to the living church to live out more and more what she is in Christ Jesus, her Lord.
(To Be Continued)