Let this expression, “the rest of our time,” come home to every one of us in its full force. How long it may be, none can say. It may be years, or months, or weeks, or days. It may be brought to a sudden close any day by the coming of the Lord, which is our blessed hope; but, whether long or short, this is all the time we shall have in which to live either in the lusts of men, or in the will of God. Peter puts these two spheres in sharp contrast in one sentence (1 Peter 4:2). Let me set them out clearly before our eyes that we may seriously consider them.
One sphere means death, the other life, and every soul that has been born again by the word of God will gladly agree with that word through Peter, that “the time past of our life may suffice us” to have lived in the sphere of death (v. 3), that “the rest of our time” may be lived to the will of God. But let us see what was necessary before this can be possible. Great moral questions had first to be faced and settled. Questions of justice, of holiness and truth, of our broken responsibilities and the judgment of God.
It was evident that when God created man He had a great purpose in view. The very way in which He made him, and the life and powers with which He endowed him, and that remarkable word in the divine counsels, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness” prove this. It was not God’s intention that this creature of His hand and counsel should become a prey to evil and perish from His sight. In man’s creation, God’s nature and character were involved; the glory of His throne and the joy of His heart were linked up with man.
But man fell—possibly the first day; and how terrible was his fall! Not only was the tempter listened to, and man succumbed in the temptation, but in so doing, with open eyes, man became a traitor to his God:—for Adam was not deceived; he knew what he did; he went over to the enemy, carrying with him all the powers with which he had been given; and his race in this alienated state has used them against God. So complete is this alienation from the life of God, that the children of Adam, man in his natural state, love the circle of death, and hate the circle of life! Man in his natural state cannot please God: “for the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7–8). “Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil” (John 3:19).
What an appalling plight we, as natural men, were in!—prisoners in the circle of death, with heavy penalties against us because of our sins. We were as one lying under a death sentence for grievous offence against the laws of the land. There is no release for him without outraging the justice that imprisoned and sentenced him; there is only one door by which he can pass out of that captivity—the door of DEATH. Thus, men are held in captivity to sin, and held by their lusts in this circle of death, blind to this awful position, and to the fact that after this comes judgment. There we all were!
And there was no help from any creature; nor could man release himself and regain his former innocence or make restitution to the outraged Majesty of heaven. Satan neither would nor could release him, but by the captivity of his wiles might menace the very throne of God. Holy angels could not help, for knowing only holiness they could but condemn the transgressor. If God Himself did not intervene there was no hope.
God Himself, then, must intervene, for the stability of His throne was challenged and His rectitude impugned. But what can He do? If He is indulgent to His creatures and passes by their sins, He is not a God of holiness; if He judges the sinner according to His holy justice, His purpose of blessing must fail, and if that happened, could He still be God? May it not be that Satan reasoned thus, and think that he had placed God upon the horns of an awful dilemma? What will God do? How shall He bring men who hate Him and love their sins, to hate their sins and worship Him? How shall He bring them out of the circle of death and place them in the circle of life, and be consistent with His holy character? Out of the inexhaustible treasures of His eternal wisdom and power He could fill the heavens with countless suns, but this question belonged to another realm, it could not be solved by an act of power or dismissed by a word. Justice and love, truth and mercy, had all to be considered. God must be Himself; He must display what He is in regard to the apparent overthrow of all His plans for man. Can He find a way via some agency? Men may compromise, but God cannot; every one of His attributes must stand to the full height of their eternal perfection; His justice must be fully vindicated; truth must be upheld; how then shall love’s sweet voice be heard? How shall the heart of God which moved in all His purposes for man’s blessing and His own glory have its way? Every intelligence in the universe awaited the revelation of God’s way; for on the success of it depended His glory, the overthrow of all evil, and the blessing and peace of every creature subject to Him.
1 Peter 3:18 gives the answer: “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God; being put to death in the flesh but quickened by the Spirit.” Christ, the only begotten Son of God, the eternal occupant of the Father’s bosom, is He who undertook this wondrous work. A word then reaches us from the counsels of heaven: it is the Son who speaks, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God; a body hast Thou prepared Me.” And, sent by the Father, He is the evidence to the universe of God’s love to man.
He came into humanity, into the circle of disobedience and death where men were. In true humanity He moved amongst sinful men—the holy One in spirit, soul and body; just as holy in His manhood as He was in His divine glory; just as holy in the manger, in childhood, in ministry, and on the cross of Calvary as He was when He sat upon the throne of glory and made the worlds. This holy One of God came into the circle of death to open, by His dying, a way out of it for us, and bring us to God.
The will of God, which He came to do, carried Him into the sufferings of Calvary. He suffered at the hands of men, but the sufferings that this passage speaks of were not from men. “He suffered for man’s sin.” Men could not inflict these sufferings; it was the Lord Jehovah that bruised Him when He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. A darkness that no eye of man could pierce enshrouded the cross, for the woe of the Sinbearer no heart of man could fathom, when from that impenetrable pall came the cry, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI!” From the depths out of which the forsaken One cried, we learn the righteously opened way for us to pass out of death into life. There, upon the cross, where His soul was made an offering for sin, God’s love to man was proclaimed in the gift of His Son, that justice and truth might be upheld and that the purpose of God in this to us might come into full effect, in absolute consistency with His holiness. Having suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, His death opened the way out of the circle of death into the circle of life—a way by which men may pass out of the bondage of lust into the liberty of grace to do the will of God. Again, I use the circles as setting before our eyes the way out of the one into the other.
It is faith that carries us along that wonderful way, enabling us to turn our backs upon the lusts of men, and eagerly seek the will of God.
But let us note the fact that DEATH is the only door out of the one circle into the other. This great fact is pressed upon us in the truth of baptism, which is death in figure. “Know ye not that as many of us as were baptized unto Jesus Christ were baptized unto his death? Therefore, we are buried with Him by baptism unto death” (Romans 6:2–3). It is this connection that an apparently difficult passage in Peter’s epistle is made more difficult to many by being torn from its context to support mistaken thoughts. From its use as an illustration, and so of secondary importance, it has been exaggerated to the primary position, and the subject obscured by it.
It is clear that in Noah’s day the whole world lived in the lusts of men, as in a circle of death upon which judgment was to fall, and out of which God desired to bring all who would harken to His voice. God’s offer was to carry them through the flood in the ark, while the storm would surge about the ark which sheltered them; it was a figure of Christ’s death. The Spirit of Christ preached this way of deliverance to men through Noah. Noah and his household escaped by this way out of the sphere of death into the sphere of life. Our baptism answers to this. In it we acknowledge that the judgment of God lies upon man; that the only way out from under it is through death, and in baptism we identify ourselves with the death of Christ. We acknowledge that death is our place but rejoice that in the risen Christ we come into the circle of life. We reckon ourselves to be dead to the lusts of men and alive in Christ unto the will of God. In the resurrection of Christ, we obtain a good or purged conscience, for all our liabilities have been met by the blood of Jesus. When we consider the way that God has taken for our deliverance, can we be indifferent to His will? When we see that Jesus suffered for us that He might bring us to God, can we any longer live unto the lusts of men?
Do not our hearts answer, “The time past of our lives must suffice” for that.
We have received a new life and nature, and power for the sphere of life into which God has brought us. Through death we have been brought into the circle of life, in association with Christ, in peace with God, while we wait in hope of the glory with Him.
How wonderful are God’s ways, how unsearchable His wisdom! He has brought us to Himself in Christ after He had made expiation for sin, so that His ways in righteousness and love have been declared before all intelligences in heaven and earth; the devil has been silenced; his schemes of evil are exposed, and every created intelligence will be compelled to acknowledge the excellence and glory of God’s resources in His Son and bow the knee to Him. Thus, He will fulfil every purpose of His love and find His full delight in the sons of men who shall be brought to Him in full conformity to His own Son, as the First-born among many brethren (Romans 8:29). Even now His triumph over Satan is so great, so that we who know His love gladly turn away from the lusts of men to live the rest of our time to the will of God.