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Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible
I Peter 3:15
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts - In Isaiah Isa_8:13 this is, "sanctify the Lord of hosts himself;" that is, in that connection, regard him as your Protector, and be afraid of him, and not of what man can do. The sense in the passage before us is, "In your hearts, or in the affections of the soul, regard the Lord God as holy, and act toward him with that confidence which a proper respect for one so great and so holy demands.
In the midst of dangers, be not intimidated; dread not what man can do, but evince proper reliance on a holy God, and flee to him with the confidence which is due to one so glorious." This contains, however, a more general direction, applicable to Christians at all times. It is, that in our hearts we are to esteem God as a holy being, and in all our deportment to act toward him as such. The object of Peter in quoting the passage from Isaiah, was to lull the fears of those whom he addressed, and preserve them from any alarms in view of the persecutions to which they might be exposed; the trials which would be brought upon them by people.
Thus, in entire accordance with the sentiment as employed by Isaiah, he says, "Be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts." That is, "in order to keep the mind calm in trials, sanctify the Lord in your hearts; regard him as your holy God and Saviour; make him your refuge. This will allay all your fears, and secure you from all that you dread." The sentiment of the passage then is, that the sanctifying of the Lord God in our hearts, or proper confidence in him as a holy and righteous God, will deliver us from fear. As this is a very important sentiment for Christians, it may be proper, in order to a just exposition of the passage, to dwell a moment on it:
I. What is meant by our sanctifying the Lord God? It cannot mean to make him holy, for he is perfectly holy, whatever may be our estimate of him; and our views of him evidently can make no change in his character. The meaning therefore must be, that we should regard him as holy in our estimate of him, or in the feelings which we have toward him. This may include the following things:
(1) To esteem or regard him as a holy being, in contradistinction from all those feelings which rise up in the heart against him - the feelings of complaining and murmuring under his dispensations, as if he were severe and harsh; the feelings of dissatisfaction with his government, as if it were partial and unequal; the feelings of rebellion, as if his claims were unfounded or unjust.
(2) to desire that he may be regarded by others as holy, in accordance with the petition in the Lord's prayer, Mat_6:9, "hallowed be thy name;" that is, "let thy name be esteemed to be holy everywhere;" a feeling in opposition to that which is regardless of the honor which he may receive in the world. When we esteem a friend, we desire that all due respect should be shown him by others; we wish that all who know him should have the same views that we have; we are sensitive to his honor, just in proportion as we love him.
(3) to act toward him as holy: that is, to obey his laws, and acquiesce in all his requirements, as if they were just and good. This implies:
(a) that we are to speak of him as holy, in opposition to the language of disrespect and irreverence so common among mankind;
(b) that we are to flee to him in trouble, in contradistinction from withholding our hearts from him, and flying to other sources of consolation and support.
II. What is it to do this in the heart? Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; that is, in contradistinction from a mere external service. This may imply the following things:
(1) In contradistinction from a mere intellectual assent to the proposition that he is holy. Many admit the doctrine that God is holy into their creeds, who never suffer the sentiment to find its way to the heart. All is right on this subject in the articles of their faith; all in their hearts may be murmuring and complaining. In their creeds he is spoken of as just and good; in their hearts they regard him as partial and unjust, as severe and stern, as unamiable and cruel.
(2) in contradistinction From a mere outward form of devotion. In our prayers, and in our hymns, we, of course, "ascribe holiness to our Maker." But how much of this is the mere language of form! How little does the heart accompany it! And even in the most solemn and sublime ascriptions of praise, how often are the feelings of the heart entirely at variance with what is expressed by the lips! What would more justly offend us, than for a professed friend to approach us with the language of friendship, when every feeling of his heart belied his expressions, and we knew that his honeyed words were false and hollow!
III. Such a sanctifying of the Lord in our hearts will save us from fear. We dread danger, we dread sickness, we dread death, we dread the eternal world. We are alarmed when our affairs are tending to bankruptcy; we are alarmed when a friend is sick and ready to die; we are alarmed if our country is invaded by a foe, and the enemy already approaches our dwelling. The sentiment in the passage before us is, that if we sanctify the Lord God with proper affections, we shall be delivered from these alarms, and the mind will be calm:
(1) The fear of the Lord, as Leighton (in loc.) expresses it, "as greatest, overtops and nullifies all lesser fears: the heart possessed with this fear hath no room for the other." It is an absorbing emotion; making everything else comparatively of no importance. If we fear God, we have nothing else to fear. The highest emotion which there can be in the soul is the fear of God; and when that exists, the soul will be calm amidst all that might tend otherwise to disturb it. "What time I am afraid," says David, "I will trust in thee," Psa_56:3. "We are not, careful," said Daniel and his friends, "to answer thee, O king. Our God can deliver us; but if not, we will not worship the image," Dan_3:16.
(2) if we sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, there will be a belief that he will do all things well, and the mind will be calm. However dark his dispensations may be, we shall be assured that everything is ordered aright. In a storm at sea, a child may be calm when he feels that his father is at the helm, and assures him that there is no danger. In a battle, the mind of a soldier may be calm, if he has confidence in his commander, and he assures him that all is safe. So in anything, if we have the assurance that the best thing is done that can be, that the issues will all be right, the mind will be calm. But in this respect the highest confidence that can exist, is that which is reposed in God.
(3) there will be the assurance that all is safe. "Though I walk," says David, "through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me," Psa_23:4. "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psa_27:1. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble: therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof," Psa_46:1-3.
Let us ever then regard the Lord as holy, just, and good. Let us flee to him in all the trials of the present life, and in the hour of death repose on his arm. Every other source of trust will fail; and whatever else may be our reliance, when the hour of anguish approaches, that reliance will fail, and that which we dreaded will overwhelm us. Nor riches, nor honors, nor earthly friends, can save us from those alarms, or be a security for our souls when "the rains descend, and the floods come, and the winds blow" upon us.
And be ready always - That is:
(a) be always able to do it; have such reasons for the hope that is in you that they can be stated; or, have good and substantial reasons; and,
(b) be willing to state those reasons on all proper occasions.
No man ought to entertain opinions for which a good reason cannot be given; and every man ought to be willing to state the grounds of his hope on all proper occasions. A Christian should have such intelligent views of the truth of his religion, and such constant evidence in his own heart and life that he is a child of God, as to be able at any time to satisfy a candid inquirer that the Bible is a revelation from heaven, and that it is proper for him to cherish the hope of salvation.
To give an answer - Greek, "An apology," (apologian.) This word formerly did not mean, as the word apology does now, an excuse for anything that is done as if it were wrong, but a defense of anything. We apply the word now to denote something written or said in extenuation of what appears to others to be wrong, or what might be construed as wrong - as when we make an apology to others for not fulfilling an engagement, or for some conduct which might be construed as designed neglect.
The word originally, however, referred rather to that which was thought not to be true, than that which might be construed as wrong; and the defense or "apology" which Christians were to make of their religion, was not on the supposition that others would regard it as wrong, but in order to show them that it was true. The word used here is rendered "defense," Act_22:1; Phi_1:7, Phi_1:17; answer, Act_25:16; 1Co_9:3; 2Ti_4:16; 1Pe_3:15; and clearing of yourselves in 2Co_7:11. We are not to hold ourselves ready to make an apology for our religion as if it were a wrong thing to be a Christian; but we are always to be ready to give reasons for regarding it as true.
To every man that asketh you - Anyone has a right respectfully to ask another on what grounds he regards his religion as true; for every man has a common interest in religion, and in knowing what is the truth on the subject. If any man, therefore, asks us candidly and respectfully by what reasons we have been led to embrace the gospel, and on what grounds we, regard it as true, we are under obligation to state those grounds in the best manner that we are able. We should regard it not as an impertinent intrusion into our private affairs, but as an opportunity of doing good to others, and to honor the Master whom we serve. Nay, we should hold ourselves in readiness to state the grounds of our faith and hope, whatever maybe the motive of the inquirer, and in whatever manner the request may be made.
Those who were persecuted for their religion, were under obligation to make as good a defense of it as they could, and to state to their persecutors the "reason" of the hope which they entertained. And so now, if a man attacks our religion; if he ridicules us for being Christians; if he tauntingly asks us what reason we have for believing the truth of the Bible, it is better to tell him in a kind manner, and to meet his taunt with a kind and strong argument, than to become angry, or to turn away with contempt. The best way to disarm him is to show him that by embracing religion we are not fools in understanding; and, by a kind temper, to convince him that the influence of religion over us when we are abused and insulted, is a reason why we should love our religion, and why he should too.
A reason of the hope that is in you - Greek, "an account," (logon.) That is, you are to state on what ground you cherish that hope. This refers to the whole ground of our hope, and includes evidently two things:
(1) The reason why we regard Christianity as true, or as furnishing a ground of hope for people; and,
(2) the reason which we have ourselves for cherishing a hope of heaven, or the experimental and practical views which we have of religion, which constitute a just ground of hope.
It is not improbable that the former of these was more directly in the eye of the apostle than the latter, though both seem to be implied in the direction to state the reasons which ought to satisfy others that it is proper for us to cherish the hope of heaven. The first part of this duty - that we are to state the reasons why we regard the system of religion which we have embraced as true - implies, that we should be acquainted with the evidences of the truth of Christianity, and be able to state them to others.
Christianity is founded on evidence; and though it cannot be supposed that every Christian will be able to understand all that is involved in what are called the evidences of Christianity, or to meet all the objections of the enemies of the gospel; yet every man who becomes a Christian should have such intelligent views of religion, and of the evidences of the truth of the Bible, that he can show to others that the religion which he has embraced has claims to their attention, or that it is not a mere matter of education, of tradition, or of feeling.
It should also be an object with every Christian to increase his acquaintance with the evidences of the truth of religion, not only for his own stability and comfort in the faith, but that he may be able to defend religion if attacked, or to guide others if they are desirous of knowing what is truth. The second part of this duty, that we state the reasons which we have for cherishing the hope of heaven as a personal matter, implies:
(a) that there should be, in fact, a well-founded hope of heaven; that is, that we have evidence that we are true Christians, since it is impossible to give a "reason" of the hope that is in us unless there are reasons for it;
(b) that we be able to state in a clear and intelligent manner what constitutes evidence of piety, or what should be reasonably regarded as such; and,
(c) that we be ever ready to state these reasons.
A Christian should always be willing to converse about his religion. He should have such a deep conviction of its truth, of its importance, and of his personal interest in it; he should have a hope so firm, so cheering, so sustaining, that he will be always prepared to converse on the prospect of heaven and to endeavor to lead others to walk in the path to life.
With meekness - With modesty; without any spirit of ostentation; with gentleness of manner. This seems to be added on the supposition that they sometimes might be rudely assailed; that the questions might be proposed in a spirit of evil; that it might be done in a taunting or insulting manner. Even though this should be done, they were not to fall into a passion, to manifest resentment, or to retort in an angry and revengeful manner; but, in a calm and gentle spirit, they were to state the reasons of their faith and hope, and leave the matter there.
And fear - Margin, "reverence." The sense seems to be, "in the fear of God; with a serious and reverent spirit; as in the presence of Him who sees and hears all things." It evidently does not mean with the fear or dread of those who propose the question, but with that serious and reverent frame of mind which is produced by a deep impression of the importance of the subject, and a conscious sense of the presence of God. It follows, from the injunction of the apostle here:
(1) that every professing Christian should have clear and intelligent views of his own personal interest in religion, or such evidences of piety that they can be stated to others, and that they can be made satisfactory to other minds;
(2) that every Christian, however humble his rank, or however unlettered he may be, may become a valuable defender of the truth of Christianity;
(3) that we should esteem it a privilege to bear our testimony to the truth and value of religion, and to stand up as the advocates of truth in the world. Though we may be rudely assailed, it is an honor to speak in defense of religion; though we are persecuted and reviled, it is a privilege to be permitted in any way to show our fellow-men that there is such a thing as true religion, and that man may cherish the hope of heaven.