Suffer for Him

Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold.
~ Acts 7:32

In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.
~ Isaiah 63:9

But the LORD hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day.
~ Deuteronomy 4:20

This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush.
~ Acts 7:35

But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy.
~ 2 Chronicles 36:16

And for the precious things of the earth and fulness thereof, and for the good will of him that dwelt in the bush: let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the top of the head of him that was separated from his brethren.
~ Deuteronomy 33:16

And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?
~ Mark 12:26

Now that the dead are raised, even Moses shewed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
~ Luke 20:37

Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
~ Matthew 5:12

For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.
~ Luke 17:24-25

As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.
~ Galatians 6:12

Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.
~ 1 Peter 4:16

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
~ Philippians 3:10-11

The Cross and Persecution, by John Calvin.

And when forty years were expired, there appeared unto him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai an angel of the Lord in aflame of fire in a bush.
~ Acts 7:30

It remains to say something of the burning bush. God frequently makes use of a certain similarity among things for giving us signs; and this is the common reason for the sacraments. Besides, nothing could have been more appropriate for confirming the faith of Moses in God’s present business with him. Moses knew in what state he had left his people. Although they were a great multitude, they were not unlike a bush. For the denser a bush and the more twigs it has, compactly put together, the more likely it is to burst into flame and the fire spreads most easily to all its parts. Similarly, the band of Israelites was weak and exposed to every kind of harm. This unwarlike multitude, kept down by its own dead weight, inflamed the fury of the Pharaoh until it could burst out with success. A people oppressed by a cursed tyranny is like a pile of wood which has caught fire on all sides. Nothing keeps it from being quickly reduced to ashes, unless the Lord himself sit in the midst of it. Although this story refers to the unusual persecution which was aflame at that time, it nevertheless in a way depicts the perpetual state of the church which is never, in this world, safe and free from affliction. For what are we but food for fire? Countless burning torches of Satan fly around constantly, and set souls as well as bodies on fire; but the Lord himself, by his wonderful and matchless grace, guards and defends us. The fire, therefore, must needs so burn that in this life it reduce us to nothing. But since God dwells in our midst, he keeps us from harm in the midst of our tribulation, as we read also in Ps. 46:5.

And the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates rent off their (the apostles’) clothes, and commanded to beat them. Acts 6:22.

When Luke tells us how a crowd gathered together, how some nobodies — in fact jugglers and those who put their bodies on sale, whose sordid ways everybody knows — raised a hue and cry, he reminds us of the world’s fury against Christ. Although folly and levity are ever present among the whole population, the amazing power of Satan appears when those who are otherwise reserved and stable suddenly get excited over nothing and join the company of worthless people in resisting the truth of God. Nor did the magistrates themselves show any more restraint. By their gravity, they should have appeased the fury of the populace. They should have opposed violence with energy, and, with their resources, taken the side of the innocent. Instead, they make a disorderly and noisy arrest; and before hearing the truth of the matter, they have the apostles stripped of their clothes and whipped with green rods. Such is the deplorable depravity of mankind that almost all the tribunals of this world, which should be sanctuaries of justice, have been polluted by an impious and unholy assault upon the gospel.

One might also ask, Why were the apostles thrown in prison, when they had already received their punishment? For prisons were established for keeping people in custody, partly for punishment and partly that more might be learned about their case. But it is evident that the servants of Christ are treated with less humanity than adulterers, robbers, and other malefactors of their kind. This gives us a clearer insight into the power of Satan, who incites the spirits of men so that they observe no kind of justice when they persecute the gospel. Still, though the lot of the godly in defense of the gospel is harder than that of the godless in their wickedness, yet theirs is the brighter, because in all the evils which they undergo, they triumph gloriously before God and his angels. They indeed suffer insult and ignominy, but because they know that the wounds of Christ are more precious and carry more dignity in heaven than all the vain and smoky pomps of the earth the more they are wronged and slandered by the world, the more abundant reason they have for glorying. For, if Themistocles used to be so honored by profane writers that they preferred his prison to the seats and courts of magistrates, how much more we should honor the Son of God in whose cause the faithful at all times suffer persecution for the gospel’s sake. Besides, even though the Lord allowed Paul and Silas to be inflicted with scourging at the hands of godless magistrates, yet he did not let them suffer shame without turning it into a greater glory. Since the persecutions which go with bearing witness to the gospel are left over for us from the passion of Christ, as our Prince himself converted the curse of the cross to a chariot of triumph, so also he shall adorn the prisons and gibbets of his servants, and there they shall triumph over Satan and all the sons of wickedness.

Rending their garments. Since the ancient interpreter had translated this phrase rightly, it was wrong of Erasmus to change it to mean that the magistrates tore their own garments. Luke simply meant to say that when the holy men were beaten, the order of lawful judgment was neglected and that those who laid hands upon them were so violent that their clothes were torn. For it was most alien to Roman custom for magistrates to tear their clothes to pieces publicly in the market place, especially when the matter on hand had to do with an unknown religion, whose protection was no great concern of theirs. But I will not dispute at length about such an obvious matter.

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of your faith, being more precious than of gold that perisheth though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:6–7.

Even though the ending of the Greek verb is unclear, the sense of the passage requires that we read you exult rather than exult! The phrase in which refers to the manifold hope of salvation set down in heaven. But Peter does not so much praise as exhort them. His purpose is to teach the benefit we receive when we hope that we shall be saved; namely, the spiritual joy which not only mitigates the bitterness in all evil, but also conquers all melancholy. So, there is more to exult than to rejoice.

But it appears rather contradictory that the faithful who exult with joy should at the same time be sorrowful, for these are opposite feelings. But they know by experience what words can hardly express: that joy and sorrow go together. However, to settle the matter with few words, the faithful are not blocks of wood that they should be bereft of human sensibility when they meet sorrow, or that they should not be afraid when in peril, or be troubled by poverty, or by the hardships they have to endure under persecution. Therefore, evil does indeed make them unhappy. But faith sweetens their sorrow, so that there is no lack of joy in them because of it. Their sorrow yields to their rejoicing, rather than preventing it. Again, even though joy overcomes sorrow, still it does not abolish it, because it does not deprive us of our humanity. Thus we learn true patience; for its beginning and, as it were, its very root is the knowledge of God’s favor, especially the awareness of the honor he has done us by his free adoption. Anybody who keeps this grace of God in mind has little trouble in absorbing the evils which he endures. For, why is it that we are oppressed by a melancholy spirit if not because we have no taste for the good which is spiritual? Anybody who realizes that the troubles he undergoes have their proper use as trials expedient for his salvation, not only rises above them, but also turns them into occasions of joy.

Ye are in heaviness. Since the reprobate in their turn are not immune to evil, do they not also experience sorrow? Yes, they do. But Peter recognizes that the faithful suffer sorrow willingly, whereas the godless murmur and are perverse enough to battle against God. The godly man suffers as a tame ox bears his yoke or as a horse that is broken submits to the bridle even when put on by a child. God visits the wicked with trouble, even as people bridle a fierce and ornery horse with violent hands: the horse kicks and fights back; but it is no use. Hence, Peter praises the believers because they bear their troubles willingly, and not under compulsion.

He says now for a season by way of consoling his readers. For the shortness of time is a mitigation of the evils we suffer no matter how hard they hit us. And we must remember that this present life lasts only a moment.

If need be. The reason for our sufferings is here taken for their cause. The apostle wants to make it clear that God does not make a trial of his people without reason. If God afflicted us without a reason, our burden would be too heavy to bear. Therefore, Peter argues for our comfort on the ground of God’s purpose, not that we can always see the reason for our afflictions, but that they occur rightly (so we ought to be persuaded), since they occur at God’s pleasure. . . .

More precious than gold. He argues from the lesser to the greater. For, if we prize a corruptible metal like gold so much that, to prove its value, we test it with fire, is it any wonder that God should want to prove our faith, which he prizes much more highly, in the same way? Even though the words of the apostle suggest another interpretation (in that he seems to set no value on gold), he nevertheless compares faith to gold so as to present it as the more precious of the two, and to imply that it is worth the trial to which God subjects it. Besides, the full extent of the meanings of δοκιμάζεσθαι (tried) and δοκίμιον (trial) is not certain. One cannot be sure whether he is speaking of a double testing of gold with fire: once when it is purified of its dross; and then, when it is tested for judging its quality. Both of these tests apply to faith very well. Much of the impurity of unbelief remains in us. When we are, as it were, purified in God’s furnace by various afflictions, the dross in our faith is purged, and the faith becomes pure and clean before God. At the same time it is tested to show whether it be a true or false faith. I accept willingly both these views of the matter, which seem to be justified by what follows immediately in our text. For, since silver is worthless before it is purified, so also our faith receives the honor of a crown before God when it is proved in the proper way.

At the appearing of Jesus Christ. This is added to teach the faithful to keep their spirits high until the end. For now our life is hidden in Christ; and it will remain hidden, and as it were buried, until Christ appears from heaven. The whole course of our lives moves toward the destruction of the outer man; and all the things we suffer are so many anticipations of death. Therefore, if we want to see glory and praise in the midst of our afflictions, we had better fix our eyes on Christ. For the trials, which are so full of reproach and shame for us, are in Christ full of glory. But such glory in Christ is not as yet seen clearly because the day of our consolation has not as yet arrived.

Searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. 1 Peter 1:11.

Peter tells his readers that their sufferings had been foretold long before by the Spirit, so that they may endure them with a calm spirit. But there is much more to this statement. He means that from the very beginning God has so ordained and governed the Christian church that the cross has been the preparation for victory, and death the way to life. Such is the clear testimony of Scripture. Therefore, there is no reason why we should be unduly depressed by our troubles, as though they meant our misery, when the Spirit of God himself calls us blessed.

But notice the order. He puts sufferings first, and the glories which are to follow second; and he makes it clear that this order can be neither changed nor reversed. The afflictions come first; and then comes glory. There are two striking thoughts expressed in this sentence: Christians must first suffer many tribulations that they may know the joy of glory; secondly, their sufferings are not evil, because they are bound closely with the glory to come. Since God himself has ordained this conjunction, it is not for us to tear one part away from the other. But it is a rare comfort to us that this situation of ours has been predicted so many ages ago, from which we gather that our coming deliverance from it is no empty promise. Hence we also know that we suffer not by chance but by the solid providence of God. And furthermore, we acknowledge that the prophecies are as mirrors, which in our very tribulations present us with an image of heavenly glory.

Of course, Peter says that it is Christ’s own sufferings that were foretold by the Spirit; but he does not separate Christ from his body. Therefore, we must not limit the sufferings in question to Christ’s own person. We must rather begin with the Head, that the members may follow him in their order. As Paul says, we must conform to him who is the first-born among his brethren (Rom. 8:29). Hence, Peter is speaking not of something peculiar to Christ, but of the universal situation of the church. We have a better confirmation of our faith in that he invites us to consider our own sufferings in relation to Christ: because in this way, in our relationship to him, we discern better the connection between death and life. It certainly is right and fitting that in this sacred union, the Head should suffer daily in his members. For in this way his sufferings are completed in us, and his glory in turn is fulfilled in his members. More is said about this in Col. 3 and 1 Tim. 4.

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 1 Peter 4:12–13.

There is a great deal said about afflictions in this epistle. We have explained the reason for this elsewhere. However, we must notice that sometimes when he calls the believers to patience, he speaks in general of the common ills which infest human life; here, on the other hand, he speaks of the evils which the faithful suffer for Christ’s name. In the first place, he reminds them that they must not be surprised (by affliction), as by something sudden and unexpected; that they must meditate upon the cross for a long time, in order to be prepared to bear it when the occasion arises. Anyone who has chosen to go to war under Christ will not become panicky when he meets persecution; he will rather bear it with patience as one who knows all about it. Therefore, if we would have presence of mind when persecutions rush upon us and overtake us, we need to be accustomed in good time to diligent meditation upon the cross. Moreover, he makes two statements to show that the trial of the cross serves a useful end: by it God proves our faith, and we thus become companions of Christ. In the first place, let us keep in mind that the trial which proves our faith is most necessary. We should therefore be only too glad to obey God when he provides for our own salvation. But our chief comfort should be sought in the society of Christ. Therefore, Peter not only forbids us to be surprised when he puts the cross before us, but also bids us to be joyful. It is indeed a matter for joy that by means of persecution God makes proof of our faith. But it is a far surpassing joy that the Son of God puts us in a class with himself, to lead us with himself to a blessed participation in the glory of heaven. We must take it as axiomatic that if we bear the dying of Christ in our flesh, his own life shall appear in us. The wicked also have their many troubles; but because they are separated from Christ, they get nothing in return except the wrath and execration of God. So it is that they are soon swallowed up by melancholy and terror.

This then is the whole comfort of the men of faith: they are Christ’s associates, that they may in time come to have a share in his glory. So, we must always consider that the way is from the cross to the resurrection. But since this world is a labyrinth where no escape from evil is in sight, Peter turns our eyes to the future when the glory of Christ shall be revealed. What he means is that we must not spurn the day of his revelation because it is now hidden, but we must live in expectation of it. He sets before us a double joy: one which we now have in hope, and another which shall be complete at the coming of Christ. Because the first is mixed with sorrow and sadness, it is the latter which he connects with exultation. It is not good sense to be dreaming in the midst of tribulation of a joy which shall rid us of all trouble. But the consolations of God do temper our experience of evil so that, while we suffer, we have joy.

For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye, and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled. 1 Peter 3:12–14.

It ought to be enough to take the sting out of whatever evil we suffer that we are under the eyes of the Lord and that in his own good time he will come to our help. The sum of the matter, therefore, is that the well-being which he speaks of depends upon God’s protection. For, if the Lord did not keep watch upon his own, they would be like sheep exposed in advance to wolves for destruction. And if the slightest trouble makes us cry out, or if we are kindled so quickly to fury and burn with a desire for vengeance, it is doubtless because we neither take to heart that we are under God’s care, nor acquiesce in his help. We are taught patience in vain, unless our spirits be first imbued with the teaching that God cares for us and will come to our aid in his good time. If we are persuaded that God wills to defend the cause of the righteous as a Father, our first and single-minded concern becomes to be innocent of evil; and then, when we become beset and troubled by the unjust, we flee to God’s protection. The apostle’s purpose in telling us that the ears of the Lord are open to our petitions is to move us to persevere in prayer.

But the face of the Lord. With this phrase Peter points out that since the Lord is our vindicator, the godless shall not be permitted to flourish forever in their insolence. At the same time, he threatens that if we take it upon ourselves to defend our lives against the wicked, we shall have God himself against us. But, it may be objected, experience teaches us far otherwise; for the more just a man is, and the more he loves peace, the more he is vexed by the wicked. To this I answer, No one follows justice and peace so far that he does not sometimes, some way, sin in this matter. But we must observe above all that in this life we are promised nothing beyond what we need for doing our duty. Hence, our peace with the world is often turned into trouble, in order that our flesh may be subdued for obedience to God; hence, whatever causes us trouble, nothing should be a loss to us (but it should contribute to the same end of obedience).

And who is he, etc. He again confirms the above with an argument derived from common experience. It happens often that the wicked pick a quarrel with us, or that they are cut to the quick by us. We may fail to put ourselves out to win their favor; for the truth is that anyone who keeps being kind is able to soften hearts which are otherwise like iron. This same truth is set forth by Plato in the First Book of The Republic: στάσεις γάρ που ἤ γε ἀδικία καὶ μάχας ἐν ἀλλέλοις παρέχει. η δὲ δικαιοσύ (ομεγαηατ)η ὁυόνοιαν καὶ φιλίαν . . “Injustice provokes seditions and hatreds and quarrels; but justice, concord and friendship.” However, even though this happens commonly, it is not always so. No matter how much the children of God try to pacify the wicked with goodness, and to show kindness toward all, they are nevertheless often attacked without any just cause. Therefore, Peter adds: If ye suffer for righteousness’ sake. . . . His point in short is that the believers try to obtain in this life a state of tranquillity, more by being good than by being violent and quick to avenge. And then, if having left nothing undone toward peace, they still suffer, even in this they are happy, for they suffer for righteousness’ sake. This last phrase is a far cry from the judgment of the flesh. But it is not a rash statement of Christ; and Peter himself does not repeat it rashly when he takes it from the mouth of the Master. For God will ultimately come forth as our liberator; and he will establish openly what at present seems unbelievable: that the miseries which the godly bear with patience are in truth rich with happiness. To suffer for righteousness’ sake means not only to be subject to some privation or discomfort in espousing a good cause, but also to suffer injustice, as happens when a man who fears God and does no evil finds that those around have turned against him.

For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well-doing, than for evil-doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. . . . 1 Peter 3:17–18.

For it is better. This phrase qualifies not only the next sentence, but also the whole passage. Peter has spoken of the confession of faith, which at that time was a perilous affair. He now adds that it is much better for them to bear privation in defense of a good cause, and so to suffer unjustly, than to be chastised for their own infamy. But this encouragement is understood when we ponder it inwardly, rather than by much talk around it. We read often in profane writers that, when we suffer evil and must needs go through with it, a good conscience is help enough. This sounds very courageous. But it still is true that the spirit is strong only when it looks to God. Therefore he adds the conditional phrase if it be God’s will. By these words he tells us that when we suffer any evil unjustly it comes about not by accident, but rather, and surely, by the will of God. And he assumes and confesses that God neither wills nor appoints anything except for the best of reasons. Hence, the believers have this comfort in their miseries, that God knows all about it; they know that it is God who leads them to the scene of contest, in order that under his auspices they may show forth their faith.

For Christ also. It is another comfort that, if in our afflictions we have a good conscience, we suffer after the example of Christ: and in so doing, we are blessed. And at the same time the apostle proves, from the purpose for which Christ died, that it is not fitting for us to be chastised for doing evil. He reminds us that Christ suffered to lead us to God: and what does he mean except that by the death of Christ we have been so consecrated to God that we are to live and die to him! There are then two parts to this statement. The first is that we are to bear persecution with equanimity, since the son of God himself shows us the way; the other is that, since by the death of Christ we have been set aside for obedience to God, we are to suffer not because of our misdoings, but for righteousness’ sake.

But now someone may bring up the question, is it not true God chastises believers when he allows them in some way to be afflicted? I answer that God often inflicts upon believers the punishment they deserve. And this Peter himself does not deny. But he reminds us what a great comfort it is to have our cause bound up with God! We shall see in the next chapter that those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are not being punished by God for their sins. We shall also consider in what sense they are called innocent.

Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed: but let him glorify God on this behalf. 1 Peter 4:16.

After having forbidden Christians to hurt or do any harm so that they may not, like the unbelievers, arouse the world’s hatred by their evil-doing, he now bids them to thank God when they suffer persecution in the name of Christ. Certainly, it is no ordinary kindness on God’s part that he not only has freed us and exempted us from the common punishment of sins, but also calls us to an honorable warfare, in which we may suffer exile or privation, or insults, or even death itself. It is therefore plain ingratitude to God that, when persecutions come upon us, we murmur or cry out, as though some grave injustice were being done to us; we ought rather to count it gain and favor from God.