by Robert Leighton
"And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear. Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator." 1 Peter 4:18-19
It is true, then, that they are scarcely saved; even they who endeavour to walk uprightly in the ways of God, that is, the righteous, they are scarcely saved. This imports not any uncertainty or hazard in the thing itself as to the end, in respect of the purpose and performance of God, but only, the great difficulties and hard encounters in the way; that they go through so many temptations and tribulations, so many fightings without and fears within. The Christian is so simple and weak, and his enemies are so crafty and powerful, the oppositions of the wicked world, their hatreds, and scorns, and molestations, the sleights and violence of Satan, and worst of all, the strength of his own corruptions; and by reason of abounding corruption, there is such frequent, almost continual, need of purifying by afflictions and trials, that he has need to be still under physic, and is of necessity at sometimes drained and brought so low, that there is scarcely strength or life remaining in him.
And, truly, all outward difficulties would be but matter of ease, would be as nothing, were it not for the incumbrance of lusts and corruptions within. Were a man to meet disgraces and sufferings for Christ, how easily would he go through them, yea, and rejoice in them, were he rid of the fretting impatience, the pride, and self-love, of his own carnal heart! These clog and trouble him worst, and he cannot shake them off, nor prevail against them without much pains, many prayers and tears; and many times, after much wrestling, he scarcely finds that he hath gained any ground: yea, sometimes he is foiled and cast down by them.
And so, in all other duties, such a fighting and continual combat, with a revolting, backsliding heart, the flesh still pulling and dragging downwards! When he would mount up, he finds himself as a bird with a stone tied to its foot; he hath wings that flutter to be upwards, but is pressed down by the weight fastened to him. What struggling with wanderings and deadness in hearing, and reading, and prayer! And what is most grievous is, that, by their unwary walking, and the prevailing of some corruption, they grieve the Spirit of God, and provoke him to hide his face, and withdraw his comforts. How much pain to attain any thing, any particular grace of humility, or meekness, or self-denial; and if any thing be attained, how hard to keep and maintain it against the contrary party! How often are they driven back to their old point. If they do but cease from striving a little, they are carried back by the stream. And what returns of doubtings and misbelief, after they thought they were got somewhat above them, insomuch that sometimes they are at the point of giving over, and thinking it will never be for them. And yet, through all these they are brought safe home. There is another strength than theirs which bears them up, and brings them through. But these things, and many more of this nature, argue the difficulty of their course, and that it is not so easy a thing to come to heaven as most imagine it.
Inference. Thou that findest so little stop and conflict in it, who goest thy round of external duties, and all is well, art no more troubled; thou hast need to inquire after a long time spent in this way, Am I right? Have I not yet to begin? Surely, this looks not like the way to heaven, as it is described in the Scripture: it is too smooth and easy to be right.
And if the way of the righteous be so hard, then how hard shall be the end of the ungodly sinner that walks in sin with delight! It were strange if they should be at such pains, and with great difficulty attain their end, and he should come in amongst them in the end; they were fools indeed. True, if it were so. But what if it be not so? Then the wicked man is the fool, and shall find that he is, when he shall not be able to stand in judgment. Where shall he appear, when to the end he might not appear, he would be glad to be smothered under the weight of the hills and mountains, if they could shelter him from appearing?
And what is the aim of all this which we have spoken, or can speak, on this subject, but that ye may be moved to take into deeper thoughts the concernment of your immortal souls? Oh, that you would be persuaded! Oh, that you would betake yourselves to Jesus Christ, and seek salvation in him! Seek to be covered with his righteousness, and to be led by his Spirit in the ways of righteousness. That will seal to you the happy certainty of the end, and overcome for you all the difficulties of the way. What is the gospel of Christ preached for? What was the blood of Christ shed for? Was it not, that by receiving him we might escape condemnation? Nay, this drew him from heaven: He came that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly. John 10:10.
Nothing doth so establish the mind amidst the rollings and turbulency of present things, as both a look above them, and a look beyond them; above them to the steady and good Hand by which they are ruled, and beyond them to the sweet and beautiful end to which, by that Hand, they shall be brought. This the Apostle lays here as the foundation of that patience and peace in troubles, wherewith he would have his brethren furnished. And thus he closes this chapter in these words: Wherefore, let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.
The words contain the true principle of Christian patience and tranquillity of mind in the sufferings of this life, expressing both wherein it consists, and what are the grounds of it.
I. It lies in this, committing the soul unto God. The word ἐν ἀγαθαποιϊᾳ, which is added, is a true qualification of this, that it be in well doing, according to the preceding doctrine, which the Apostle gives clearly and largely, ver. 15, 16. If men would have inward peace amidst outward trouble, they must walk by the rule of peace, and keep strictly to it. If you would commit your soul to the keeping of God, know that he is a holy God, and an unholy soul that walks in any way of wickedness, whether known or secret, is no fit commodity to put into his pure hand to keep. Therefore, as you would have this confidence to give your holy God the keeping of your soul, and that he may accept of it, and take it off your hand, beware of wilful pollutions and unholy ways. Walk so as you may not discredit your Protector, and move him to be ashamed of you, and disclaim you. Shall it be said that you live under his shelter, and yet walk inordinately? As this cannot well be, you cannot well believe it to be. Loose ways will loosen your hold of him, and confidence in him. You will be driven to question your interest, and to think, Surely I do but delude myself: can I be under his safeguard, and yet follow the course of the world, and my corrupt heart? Certainly, let who will be so, HE will not be a guardian and patron of wickedness. No, he is not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness, nor shall evil dwell with him. Psal. 5:4. If thou give thy soul to him to keep, upon the terms of liberty to sin, he will turn it out of his doors, and remit it back to thee to look to as thou wilt thyself. Yea, in the ways of sin, thou dost indeed steal it back, and carriest it out from him; thou puttest thyself out of the compass of his defence, goest without the trenches, and art, at thine own hazard, exposed to armies of mischiefs and miseries.
Inference. This, then, is primarily to be looked to: you that would have safety in God in evil times, beware of evil ways; for in these it cannot be. If you will be safe in him, you must stay with him, and in all your ways, keep within him as your fortress. Now, in the ways of sin you run out from him.
Hence it is we have so little established confidence in God in times of trial. We take ways of our own, and will be gadding, and so we are surprised and taken, as they that are often venturing out into the enemy's reach, and cannot stay within the walls. It is no idle repetition, Psal. 91:1: He that dwelleth in the secret places of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. He that wanders not, but stays there, shall find himself there hidden from danger. They that rove out from God in their ways, are disquieted and tossed with fears; this is the fruit of their own ways; but the soul that is indeed given to him to keep, keeps near him.
Study pure and holy walking, if you would have your confidence firm, and have boldness and joy in God. You will find that a little sin will shake your trust, and disturb your peace, more than the greatest sufferings: yea, in those sufferings, your assurance and joy in God will grow and abound most if sin be kept out. That is the trouble-feast that disquiets the conscience, which, while it continues good, is a continual feast. So much sin as gets in, so much peace will go out. Afflictions cannot break in upon it to break it, but sin doth. All the winds which blow about the earth from all points, stir it not; only that within the bowels of it makes the earthquake.
I do not mean that for infirmities a Christian ought to be discouraged. But take heed of walking in any way of sin, for that will unsettle thy confidence. Innocency and holy walking make the soul of a sound constitution, which the counterblasts of affliction wear not out, nor alter. Sin makes it so sickly and crazy, that it can endure nothing. Therefore, study to keep your consciences pure, and they shall be peaceable, yea, in the worst of times commonly most peaceable and best furnished with spiritual confidence and comfort.
Commit the keeping of their souls. The Lord is an entire protector. He keeps the bodies, yea, all that belongs to the believer, and, as much as is good for him, makes all safe, keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken, Psal. 34:20; yea, says our Saviour, The very hairs of your head are numbered. Matt. 10:30. But that which, as in the believer's account, and in God's account, so certainly in itself is most precious, is principally committed and received into his keeping, their souls. They would most gladly be secured in that here, and that shall be safe in the midst of all hazards. Their chief concern is, that, whatsoever be lost, this may not: this is the jewel, and therefore the prime care is of this. If the soul be safe, all is well; it is riches enough. What shall it profit a man, though he gain the whole world, says our Saviour, and lose his own soul? Mark 8:36. And so, what shall it disprofit a man, though he lose the whole world, if he gain his soul? Nothing at all.
When times of trial come, oh, what a bustle to hide this and that; to flee, and carry away and make safe that which is but trash and rubbish to the precious soul; but how few thoughts of that! Were we in our wits, that would be all at all times, not only in trouble, but in days of peace. Oh, how shall I make sure about my soul? Let all go as it may, can I but be secured and pursuaded in that point, I desire no more.
Now, the way is this, commit them to God: this many say, but few do. Give them into his hand, lay them up there (so the word is), and they are safe, and may be quiet and composed.
In patience possess your souls, says our Saviour, Luke 24:19. Impatient, fretting souls are out of themselves; their owners do not possess them. Now, the way to possess them ourselves in patience, is, thus to commit them to him in confidence; for then only we possess them, when he keeps them. They are easily disquieted and shaken in pieces while they are in our own hands, but in his hand, they are above the reach of dangers and fears.
Inference. Learn from hence, what is the proper act of faith; it rolls the soul over on God, ventures it in his hand, and rests satisfied concerning it, being there. And there is no way but this, to be quiet within, to be impregnable and immovable in all assaults, and fixed in all changes, believing in his free love. Therefore, be persuaded to resolve on that;—not doubting and disputing, whether shall I believe or not? Shall I think he will suffer me to lay my soul upon him to keep, so unworthy, so guilty a soul? Were it not presumption!—Oh, what sayest thou? Why dost thou thus dishonour him, and disquiet thyself? If thou hast a purpose to walk in any way of wickedness, indeed thou art not for him; yea, thou comest not near him to give him thy soul. But wouldst thou have it delivered from sin, rather than from trouble, yea, rather than from hell? Is that the chief safety thou seekest, to be kept from iniquity, from thine own iniquity, thy beloved sins? Dost thou desire to dwell in him, and walk with him? Then, whatsoever be thy guiltiness and unworthiness, come forward, and give him thy soul to keep. If he should seem to refuse it, press it on him. If he stretch not forth his hand, lay it down at his foot, and leave it there, and resolve not to take it back. Say, Lord, thou hast made us these souls, thou callest for them again to be committed to thee; here is one. It is unworthy, but what soul is not so? It is most unworthy, but therein will the riches of thy grace appear most in receiving it. And thus leave it with him, and know, he will make thee a good account of it. Now, should you lose goods, or credit, or friends, or life itself, it imports not; the main concern is sure, if so be thy soul is out of hazard. I suffer these things for the Gospel, says the Apostle; nevertheless, I am not ashamed—Why?—for I know whom I have trusted, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day. 2 Tim. 1:12.
II. The ground of this confidence, is in these two things, the ability and the fidelity of him in whom we trust. There is much in a persuasion of the power of God. Though few think they question that, there is in us secret, undiscovered unbelief, even in that point. Therefore the Lord so often makes mention of it in the Prophets. See Isa. 50:3, &c. And, in this point, the Apostle Paul is particularly express: I am persuaded that he is able to keep, &c. So this Apostle: Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time. Ch. 1 ver. 5. This is very needful to be considered, in regard of the many and great oppositions, and dangers, and powerful enemies, that seek after our souls: He is able to keep them, for he is stronger than all, and none can pluck them out of his hand, says our Saviour. John 10:29. This the Apostle here implies in that word, Creator: if he was able to give them being, surely he is able to keep them from perishing. This relation of a Creator, implies likewise a benign propension and good will to the works of his hands; if he gave them us at first, when once they were not, forming them out of nothing, will he not give us them again, being put into his hand for safety?
And as he is powerful, he is no less faithful, a faithful Creator, truth itself. Those who believe on him, he never deceives or disappoints. Well might St. Paul say, I know whom I have trusted. Oh, the advantage of faith! It engages the truth and the power of God: His royal word and honour lies upon it, to preserve the soul that faith gives him in keeping. If he remain able and faithful to perform his word, that soul shall not perish.
There be in the words, other two grounds of quietness of spirit in sufferings. [1.] It is according to the will of God. The believing soul, subjected and levelled to that will, complying with his good pleasure in all, cannot have a more powerful persuasive than this, that all is ordered by his will. This settled in the heart would settle it much, and make it even in all things; not only to know, but wisely and deeply to consider, that it is thus, that all is measured in heaven, every drachm of thy troubles weighed by that skilful hand, which doth all things by weight, number, and measure.
And then, consider him as thy God and Father, who hath taken special charge of thee, and of thy soul: thou hast given it to him, and he hath received it. And, upon this consideration, study to follow his will in all, to have no will but his. This is thy duty, and thy wisdom. Nothing is gained by spurning and struggling, but to hurt and vex thyself; but by complying, all is gained—sweet peace. It is the very secret, the mystery of solid peace within, to resign all to his will, to be disposed of at his pleasure, without the least contrary thought. And thus, like two-faced pictures, those sufferings and troubles, and whatsoever else, while beheld on the one side as painful to the flesh, hath an unpleasant visage, yet, go about a little, and look upon it as thy Father's will, and then it is smiling, beautiful, and lovely. This I would recommend to you, not only for temporals, as easier there, but in spiritual things, your comforts and sensible enlargements, to love all that he does. It is the sum of Christianity, to have thy will crucified, and the will of thy Lord thy only desire. Whether joy or sorrow, sickness or health, life or death, in all, in all, Thy will be done.
The other ground of quietness is contained in the first word, which looks back on the foregoing discourse, Wherefore—what? Seeing that your reproachings and sufferings are not endless, yea, that they are short, they shall end, quickly end, and end in glory, be not troubled about them, overlook them. The eye of faith will do it, A moment gone, and what are they? This is the great cause of our disquietness in present troubles and griefs; we forget their end. We are affected by our condition in this present life; as if it were all, and it is nothing. Oh, how quickly shall all the enjoyments, and all the sufferings of this life pass away, and be as if they had not been!
Source: A Practical Commentary Upon the First Epistle of Peter, by Robert Leighton