1. Here you have enumerated again a long list of eminently good works enjoined upon Christians who believe and have confessed their faith in the Gospel. By such fruits is faith to be manifest. Peter classifies these works according to the obligations of Christians to each other, and their obligations to enemies and persecutors.
2. Immediately preceding the text, Paul has been instructing concerning the domestic relations of husband and wife; how they should live together as Christians in love and companionship, giving due honor and patiently and reasonably bearing with each other. Now he extends the exhortation to Christians in general, enjoining them to live together in Christianlove, like brothers and sisters of a household. In the rehearsal of many preeminently noblevirtues and works, he portrays the ideal church, beautiful in its outward adornment, in the grace wherewith it shines before men. With such virtues the Church pleases and honorsGod, while angels behold with joy and delight. And what earthly thing is more desirable to man’s sight?
To this very unlikeness and to the naturaldepravity of flesh and blood is due the discord and disagreement of men in this world. Let one become conscious of personal superiority in point of uprightness, learning, skill or natural ability, or let him become aware of his loftier station in life, and he immediately grows self-complacent, thinks himself better than his fellows, demands honor and recognition from all men, is unwilling to yield to or serve an inferior and thinks himself entitled to such right and privilege because of his superiority and virtue.
4. Pride is the common vice of the world, and the devil fosters it among his numerous followers thereby causing every sort of misery and unhappiness, corrupting all ranks and stations, and rendering men vicious, depraved and incapable of executing good. In opposition to this vice the apostles diligently admonishChristians to be of one mind, regardless of station or occupation, since every individual must remain in the position to which he has been ordained and called of God. All ranks and stations cannot be one.
Particularly is this true in the Church; for in addition to the outward difference of person, station, and so on, there are manifold divinegifts unequally distributed and varyingly imparted. Yet these many dissimilarities, both spiritual and secular, are to be amenable to the unity of the spirit, as Paul calls it, or a spiritualunity. Just as the members of the physical body have different offices and perform different functions, no one member being able to do the work of the other, and yet all are in the unity of one bodily life; so also Christians, whatever the dissimilarity of language, office and gift among them, must live, increase and be preserved in unity and harmony of mind, as in one body.
6. How can I think myself better than another by reason of my person or my gifts, rank or office? Or what more than I has another to boast of before God concerning himself? No one has a different baptism or sacrament, a different Christ, from mine, or grace and salvation other than I have. And no individual can have another faith than have Christians in general, nor does he hear any other Gospel or receive a different absolution, be he lord or servant, noble or ignoble, poor or rich, young or old, Italian or German. When one imagines himself different from or better than his fellows, desiring to exalt and glorify himself above others, he is truly no longer a Christian; because he is no longer in that unity of mind and faith essential to Christians. Christ with his grace is always the same, and cannot be divided or apportioned within himself.
If one is godly, the other must be the devil’s own. On the other hand, so long as unity of faith and oneness of mind survives, the true Church of Godabides, notwithstanding there may be some weakness in other points. Of this fact the devil is well aware; hence his hostility to Christianunity. His chief effort is to destroy harmony. “Having that to contend with,” he tells himself, “my task will be a hard and wearisome one.”
8. Therefore, Christians should be all the more careful to cherish the virtue of harmony, both in the Church and in secular government. In each instance there is of necessity much inequality. God would have such dissimilarity balanced by love and unity of mind. Let everyone be content, then, with what God has given or ordained for him, and let him take pleasure in another’s gifts, knowing that in eternal blessings he is equally rich, having the same God and Christ, the same grace and salvation; and that although his standing before God may differ from that of his fellows, he is nevertheless in no way inferior to them, nor is anyone for the same reason at all better than or superior to himself.
10. The other virtues enjoined by Peter are easily recognized — “Compassionate, loving as brethren, tenderhearted, and humbleminded” [Luther translates “friendly” — courteous]. These particularly teach that Christians should esteem one another. God has subjected them all to love and has united them, with the design that they shall be of one heart and soul, and each care for the other as for himself. Peter’s exhortation was especially called for at that time, when Christians were terribly persecuted.
11. Christians, according to Peter, should, in the bond of a common heart and mind, sympathetically share the troubles and sufferings of their brethren in the faith, whoever and wherever the brethren may be. They are to enter into such distresses as if themselves suffering, and are to reason: “Behold, these suffer for the sake of my precious faith, and standing at the front, are exposed to the devil, while I have peace. It does not become me to rejoice in my security and to manifest my pleasure. For what befalls my dear brethren affects me, and my blessings are the cause of their misfortune. I must participate in their suffering as my own.” According to the admonition of Hebrews 13:3: “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; that is, as if in the same bonds and distress. Remember them that are illtreated, as being yourselves also in the body;” as members of the same body.
12. We are all bound to one another, just as in the body one member is bound to another. As you know by your own physical experience, “Whether one member suffereth, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it,” as Paul says in Corinthians 12:26. Note how, when a foot is trodden upon or a finger pinched, the whole body is affected: eyes twitch, nose is contorted, mouth cries out — all the members are ready to rescue and help. No one member can forsake the others. In reality not the foot or the finger is injured, but the whole body suffers the accident. On the other hand, benefit received by one member is pleasing to all, and the whole body rejoices with it. Now the same principle should hold in the Church, because it likewise is one body of many members with one mind and heart. Such unity naturally entails the participation by each individual in the good and evil of every other one.
13. This virtue of sympathy, resulting as it does from a unity of mind and faith, is impossible to the world. In the world every man looks only upon what benefits himself and regards not how others, especially the godly, fare. Indeed, the world is capable of scornful smiles and extreme pleasure at sight of Christians in poverty and distress, and in their sufferings it can give them vinegar and gall to drink. But you who claim to be a Christian, should know it is yours to share the sufferings of your brethren and to prove your heartfelt sympathy with them. If you cannot do more, at least show it with comforting words or prayer. Their suffering concerns you as well as themselves, and you must expect the same afflictions from the devil and the wickedworld.
Owing to original sin, man is naturally disposed to seekrevenge, especially upon those who injure him without cause. If he can do no more, he at least maliciously invokes evil upon his enemy and rejoices in his misfortune.
18. Yet, in showing mercy, as frequently enjoined heretofore we are not to interfere with just and ordained punishments. God’s Word does not teach us to demand mercy or commend kindness where sin and evil practices call for punishment, as the world would have us believe when their sins merit rebuke, particularly the vices of those in high places. These transgressors claim that when reproved their honor is assailed and occasion is given for contempt of their office and authority, and for rebellion, a thing not to be tolerated. This is not true. The lesson teaches the duty of each individual toward all other individuals, not toward the God-ordainedoffice. Office and person must be clearly distinguished. The officer or ruler in his official capacity is a different man from what he is as John or Frederick. The apostle or preacher differs from the individual Peter or Paul. The preacher has not his office by virtue of his own personality; he represents it in God’s stead. Now, if any person be unjustly persecuted, slandered and cursed, I ought to and will say: “Thank God;” for in God I am richly rewarded for it.
19. But the censured may say: “Nevertheless you publicly impugn my honor; you give me a bad reputation.” I answer: Why do you not complain to him who committed the office to me? My honor is likewise dear to me, but the honor of my office must be more sacred still. If I am silent where I ought to rebuke, I sully my own honor, which I should maintain before God in the proper execution of my office; hence I with you deserve to be hanged in mid-day, to the utter extinguishment of my honor and yours. No, the Gospel does not give you authority to say the preacher shall not, by the Word of God, tell you of your sin and shame. What does God care for the honor you seek from the world when you defy his Word with it? To the world you may seem to defend your honor with God and a good conscience, but in reality you have nothing to boast of before God but your shame. This very fact you must confess if you would retain your honor before him; you must place his honor above that of all creatures. The highest distinction you can achieve for yourself is that of honoring God’s Word and suffering rebuke.
21. This much by way of reminder of the difference between official rebuke and personal anger and revenge. It must constantly be kept before us because of the artfulness of flesh and blood, which ever seeks to disregard that difference. True, God would have all men to be merciful and friendly, to forgive and not to avenge wrong; but the office, which is ordained for the punishment of the wicked, will not always admit of that course. Few are willing to forgive, and therefore God must enforce his government over the merciless. They must be punished without mercy. This divine principle must not be restricted. Neither must it be applied beyond measure. Every official must be careful not to exceed the demands of his office, exercising his own revenge, his own envy and hatred, in the name and under pretense of that position.
24. What then shall we do, you say, when we must suffer such abuse and without redress? The only resource, Peter says, is to possess your heart in patience and commit the matter to God. This is all that remains when they whose duty it is will not help you, nor restrain and punish the wrong, but even do you violence themselves. If the evil receive not judicial punishment, let it go unpunished until God looks into it. Only see that you keep a quiet conscience and a lovingheart, not allowing yourself, on account of the devil and wicked men, to be disturbed and deprived of your good conscience, your peacefulheart and your God-given blessing. But if in your official capacity you are commanded to punish the evil, or if you can obtain protection and justice from rightful authorities, avail yourself of these privileges without anger, hatred or bitterness, ay, with a heart that prompts to give good for evil and blessing for reviling.
30. We have the same teaching in the fourth verse of Psalm 4, which comfortssaints and strengthens them against the temptation and provocation to anger and impatience which they must experience in the world. “Be ye angry,” David says, “and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.” That is, although according to the nature of flesh and blood you fret because you are compelled to witness the prosperity of the world in its ungodlylife and wickedness, and how it spites, despises and persecutes you with pride and insolence, nevertheless let not yourselves be easily provoked; let wrong, displeasure, vexation and worry remain outside the inner life; let them affect only the outward life, body and possessions. By no means let them become rooted in your heart.
Still your hearts and content yourselves, and regard all this vexation as not worth losing sleep over. If you desire to serve God truly and to render acceptable sacrifice to him, then with faith in his Word place your hope in him as your dear Father who cares for you, hears you and will wondrously support you.
GUARDING THE LIPS.
31. But the psalmist’s additional words, “Refrain your lips that they speak no guile,” refer, as I have said, primarily to confession of the doctrine; but there is another thought: When one is prompted to anger and to complaint about injury and wrong, in his impatience and irritation he cannot speak fairly concerning the matter of offense, but invariably exaggerates. So it is with anger and retaliation. One receiving but a pin-point wound will fly into a passion and be ready to break the offender’s head. The individual that suffers a single adverse word immediately proceeds to abuse and slander in the extreme his opponent. In short, an angryheart knows no moderation and cannot equally repay, but must make of a splinter, even a mote, a great beam, or must fan a tiny spark into a volcano of flame, by retaliating with reviling and cursing. Yet it will not admit that it does wrong. It would, if possible, actually murder the offender, thus committing a greater wrong than it has suffered.
Therefore be all the more diligent to do good, if you can, that your heart may retain its honor and joy and that you may abide in righteousness, and not fall from God’s grace and from obedience to him into the service of the devil. By anger and revenge the devil tempts you, endeavoring to get you again into his toils and to embitter your heart and conscience until you shall exceed others in sin.
37. Inscribe this verse upon your heart in firm faith and see if it does not bring you peace and blessings. Try to believe that God sits above, sleepless and with his vigilant eye ever upon you. With watchful vision he beholds the righteous as they sufferviolence and wrong. Why will you complain and become discouraged by reason of the harm and grief you experience, when the gracious eyes of the true Judge and God are upon you and his intent is to help you? All the wealth of the world would I give, if I might, to purchase that watchful care, or rather to obtain the requisite faith; for surely the lack is not in his regarding, but in our faith.
GOD OVER ALL.
38. More than this, God’s ears, the apostle tells us, are also open to the prayers of the righteous. As he looks upon you with gracious, winning eyes, so also are his ears alert to even the faintest sound. He hears your complaint, your sighing and prayer, and hears, too, willingly and with pleasure; as soon as you open your mouth, your prayer is heard and answered.
39. Again, Peter says: “The face of the Lord is upon them that do evil.”
True, God’s eyes are upon the righteous, but nevertheless he sees also the others. In this case he beholds not with a friendly look or gracious countenance, but with a displeased and wrathful face. When a man is angry the forehead frowns, the nostrils dilate and the eyes flash. Such a manifestation of anger are we to understand by the Scripture when it refers here to “the face of the Lord.” On the other hand it illustrates the pleased and gracious aspect of God by “the eyes of the Lord.”
40. Now, why is “the face of the Lord” upon evil-doers and what is its effect? Certainly God’s purpose is not to heed or to help them, to bestow blessing or success upon their evil-doing. His purpose is, according to the succeeding words in the psalm, “to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.” This is a terrible, an appalling sentence, before which a heart may well be prostrated as from a thunderbolt. And ungodlyhearts would be thus appalled were they not so hardened as to despise God’s Word.
41. Notwithstanding the indifference of the wicked, the sentence is passed.
42. It is proven by all the examples of Scripture and also by the experience of the whole world from the beginning, that God casts down those who seek only to injure. They who have despised God’s threats and angrycountenance with security and defiance have at last experienced the fulfillment of these warnings and perished thereby. King Saul thought to destroy godly David, to exterminate his root and branch and blot out his name as if he had been a rebellious, accursed man. But God effected the very opposite. Because David in his sufferings and persecution walked in the fear of God and trusted him with simplicity, desiring no harm to his enemy, God’s gracious eye was ever upon him and preserved him from that enemy. On the other hand, the angry face of God was bent upon King Saul, and before David was aware of it the king had fallen, and his whole family met ruin with him; they were obliged to surrender crown and kingdom to the persecutedDavid.
43. Christians should strengthen their faith with the comforting thought that God’s gracious countenance is over them and he turns eye and ear toward them; and that on the other hand he looks with angry face upon their enemies and those seeking to injure, and will take a hand in their game, obliging them either to refrain from their evil-doing, or to perish by it. Such retribution is certain. No one can live long without proving by his own experience and that of other men the truth of the proverb, “Right will assert itself.” However, we lack in faith and cannot wait God’s hour. We think he delays too long and that we suffer too much. But in reality his time will come speedily, and we can well wait and endure if we believe in God, who but grants our enemies a brief opportunity to be converted. But their appointed hour is already at hand and they will not escape if it overtakes them without repentance. “And who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good? But even if ye should suffer for righteousness’ sake, blessed are ye.”
46. Here again Peter resorts to Scripture and cites a verse from the prophet Isaiah ( Isaiah 8:12-13) where he admonishes God’s people not to be terror-stricken by the wrath and threats of men, but firmly and confidently to trust in God. The prophet speaks similarly in Isaiah 51:7: “Fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye dismayed at their revilings.” As if he would say: Why will you permit yourselves to be disturbed by the persecutions of men, however great, mighty and terribleenemies they may be, when you are blessed and happy in God to the extent that all creatures must pronounce you blessed? Moreover, you know the eyes of your God behold you and his ears are open to your cry, and whatever you desire and pray for is heard and granted. More than this, your adversaries are threatened by his angry face. What are all men — tyrants, pope, Turk, Tartars, ay, the devil himself — compared to this Lord, and what can they do against him, when and wheresoever he chooses to show his power?
They are but as a straw to a mighty thunderbolt which makes the earth tremble. Therefore, if you are indeed Christians and believe in God you ought in no wise to fear all these adversaries, but rather, joyfully and with scornful courage to despise their defiance, their threatening and rage, as something utterly harmless to you; they are but effecting their own destruction in hurling themselves at the Majesty before which all creatures must tremble.
TRUST IN GOD ENJOINED.
47. But this you are to do: SanctifyGod; that is, regard and honor him as holy. This is nothing else than to believe his Word; be confident that in God you have truly one who, if you suffer for righteousness’ sake, neither forgets nor forsakes, but graciously looks upon you and purposes to give his support and to revenge you on your enemies. Such faith and confession honors him as the true God, upon whom man can confidently and joyfully call for help, reposing his whole trust in him upon the authority of his sure Word and promise, which cannot deceive or fail.