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Addressed to persecuted believers, Peter's first letter encourages them with the knowledge that it is possible to live victoriously in the midst of hostility—just as Christ, who suffered unjustly, did. He exhorts them to live a holy life that they might be a witness and evangelize the world through their faithfulness. In his second epistle, Peter warns against the more subtle dangers from within the church—false teachers and errant doctrine. He also emphasizes the importance of scriptural knowledge, for only in understanding true doctrine will heresies be known and immoral behavior be exposed.
Robert Leighton and Griffith Thomas's exploration of 1 and 2 Peter's key passages offers resounding wisdom that will both instruct and encourage all Christians.
About the Author
ROBERT LEIGHTON (1611–1684) was Archbishop of Glasgow and a Scottish presbyterian minister. Spurgeon called Leighton's commentary on 1 Peter "a true heavenly work."
GRIFFITH THOMAS (1861–1924) was a leading evangelical writer and Anglican vicar of the central London parish of St. Paul's at the turn of the twentieth century.
Alister McGrath (PhD, University of Oxford) is the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, president of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, and senior research fellow at Harris Manchester College in Oxford. He is also a noted author and coeditor of Crossway's Classic Commentaries series.
J. I. Packer (DPhil, Oxford University) serves as the Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College. He is the author of numerous books, including the classic best-seller Knowing God. Packer served as general editor for the English Standard Version Bible and as theological editor for the ESV Study Bible.
Read an Excerpt
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.
The grace of God in the heart of man is a tender plant in a strange, unkindly soil. Therefore, it cannot grow unless great care is taken by a skillful hand that cherishes it. To this end God has given the constant ministry of the Word to his church, not only for the first work of conversion, but also for increasing his grace in the hearts of his children.
The extraordinary ministers of the Gospel, the apostles, had principally the former for their charge — the converting of unbelievers, Jews and Gentiles, and so the planting of churches, which were to be looked after and watered by others, as the apostle intimates in 1 Corinthians 3:6. However, they did not neglect the other work of strengthening God's grace in the new converts by visiting them and personally exhorting them, and through writing to them when absent from them. Through God's providence God's church in succeeding generations benefits from this.
This excellent letter of 1 Peter, full of evangelical teaching and apostolic authority, is a brief and yet very clear summary both of the consolations and of the instructions needed to encourage and direct Christians in their journey to heaven, elevating their thoughts and desires to a higher happiness and strengthening them against all opposition from corruption from within and from temptations and afflictions from without.
The main doctrines in it are many, but the three dominant ones are faith, obedience, and patience, in order to establish them in believing, to direct them in doing, and to comfort them in suffering. Because faith is the basis for the other two, the first chapter is taken up with persuading the addressees of the truth of the mystery they had received and believed — that is, their redemption and salvation through Christ Jesus, the inheritance of immortality bought for them by his blood, and the evidence and stability of their right and title to it.
Then he uses this belief, this assurance of the glory to come, as a spur to holy obedience and constant patience, since nothing can be too much to give up or go through in order to attain this blessed state. With this aim in mind, in this first chapter he encourages patience and holiness, and in the following chapters the special duties Christians have who are enduring suffering. He often sets before them the matchless example of the Lord Jesus and their need to follow him.
In the first two verses of this chapter, we have the inscription and greeting, in the usual style of the apostolic letters.
The inscription has the author and the readers — from whom and to whom. The author of this letter is named as Peter, and his calling is that of an apostle. This name was given by Christ, as the evangelists teach us (Matthew 16:18; John 1:42). From what is said about Peter in various passages in the Gospels, he was very remarkable among the apostles, both for his grace and for his failings. He was eminent in zeal and courage, and yet often stumbled, and once fell very badly. These are recorded in Scripture by God's providence and check the excess of Rome's conceit about this apostle. Their extolling and exalting him above the rest is not for his sake; much less is it for the honor of his Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, for he is dishonored by it. It is to suit their own wishes. Instead of the cross of affliction, they make the crown or miter the badge of their church and will have it known by prosperity and outward pomp.
An apostle. We see here St. Peter's office or title — an apostle, not "chief bishop." He is not "prince of the apostles" but an apostle, restored after his fall, through repentance, by Christ himself after his own death and resurrection (see John 21). Thus we have in our apostle a special instance of human frailty on the one hand, and the sweetness of divine grace on the other. Free and rich grace it is indeed that forgives and swallows up multitudes of sins, even the greatest sins, not only sins before conversion, as in the case of St. Paul, but foul offenses committed after conversion, as in the case of David, and in the case of this apostle. By God's grace Peter becomes God's messenger.
Of Jesus Christ. Peter is called and chosen by Jesus Christ to preach about him and the salvation that he brought.
An apostle of Jesus Christ. Peter was sent by Jesus Christ, and his message was none other than Jesus Christ. The ministry of the Word today involves being an ambassador for the greatest of kings (see 2 Corinthians 5:20).
To God's elect. This letter is written to God's elect. They are described here by their temporal and by their spiritual conditions. If we look at the order of the words, their temporal condition is only an interjection. For it is said, to God's elect first, and then, to those scattered throughout Pontus ... Peter wants this, as it were, drowned in the other: who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father (verse 2).
Strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. From James 1:1, where the same term scattered is used, it appears that these scattered strangers were Jews: "To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations" (James 1:1). Peter in Galatians 2 is called an apostle of the circumcision since he exercised his apostleship among them, and some parts of this letter are especially directed to believing Jews (see 2:9-10).
Some people argue from the term strangers that Gentiles are meant here, but this does not seem to be the case. Proselyte Gentiles were indeed called strangers in Jerusalem by Jews, but were not the Jews strangers in such places as Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia? The places mentioned here, to which they were scattered, are all in the province of Asia. It should be noted that some of those who heard Peter in Acts 2:9 were from these regions. Although they were scattered in different countries, they were gathered together in God's election, for they were chosen or picked out. They were strangers to the people among whom they lived but were known according to the foreknowledge of God (verse 2).
To God's elect. The apostle here calls all the Christians he writes to true believers, calling them elect and sanctified (verse 2). The apostle Paul writes in the same style in his letters to the churches. Not everyone in these churches was indeed redeemed, but because they professed to be such, they were called by the name Christian. The question about the necessary qualifications of all members of the true visible church cannot be determined from the inscriptions of the letters. But they are definitely useful in teaching Christians and Christian churches what they should be and what their holy profession requires of them, and in sharply reproving them when they act in a way that is not consistent with being Christians.
Because of the difference between today's churches and those of the apostle's days, we may be rebuked to think that if the apostle were to send us a letter today, he might write, "To the ignorant, profane, malicious, etc." Like the man who, when he heard the Gospel being read, said afterwards, "Either this is not the Gospel or we are not Christians" [Dr. Whitaker, Master of St. John's College, Cambridge, who died in 1595]. In the same way, either the characteristics given in the inscription of these letters are not true characteristics or we are not true Christians.
Who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
In this verse we have their condition and the reasons for it. Their condition is that they were sanctified and justified — the former expressed by obedience, the latter by sprinkling by the blood of Christ. The reasons for this are, first, eternal election, and, second, the execution of that decree — that is, their effectual calling, which, I believe, is what is meant here by election (God's elect, verse 1). They are selected out of the world and joined to the fellowship of God's children (see John 15:19). The former, election, is particularly ascribed to God the Father, the latter to the Holy Spirit (through the sanctifying work of the Spirit) and the sprinkling of Christ's blood. So the Son of God is here assigned as the cause of their justification; and so the whole Trinity concurs and dignifies them with their spiritual and happy state.
First I shall look at these separately and then together.
The State or Condition of God's Children
1. Their justification: To God's elect ... (verse 1) — sprinkling by his blood (verse 2). The sprinkling of blood in Old Testament times foreshadowed the true ransom of souls. The purpose of sprinkling was purification and expiation, because sin merited death, and the pollutions of human nature came through sin. Such is the pollution that it can only be removed by blood (see Hebrews 9:22). There is no blood able to purge sin except the most precious blood of Jesus Christ.
Filthiness needs sprinkling; guilt, which deserves death, needs the sprinkling of blood. Everything that the apostle says applies to justification. First, Christ, the Mediator between God and man, is God and man. Second, he is not only an interceding Mediator but also a satisfying Mediator (see Ephesians 2:16). Third, this satisfaction does not reconcile us unless it is applied. Therefore blood is not mentioned by itself, but sprinkling by his blood. The Spirit, through faith, sprinkles the soul, like hyssop. The prophet Isaiah refers to this when he writes, "so will he sprinkle many nations" (Isaiah 52:15). Hebrews prefers this sprinkling to all legal sprinklings (Hebrews 9:12-14).
2. Their sanctification: Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience. It is easy to see who must be obeyed. When submission to God is expressed by the simple absolute name of obedience, it teaches us that to him alone belongs absolute and unlimited obedience, all obedience by all creatures. Here obedience signifies what Paul in Romans 1:5 calls "the obedience that comes from faith." Christ is received, and so the believing soul is united to Christ, who sprinkles us with his blood for the remission of sins. This is the root of all future obedience in the Christian life.
By obedience, sanctification is also meant here. This signifies both habitual obedience, renewal of heart, and conformity to the divine will.
The mind is illumined by the Holy Spirit, so it can know and believe the divine will. This faith is the main part of obedience (see Romans 1:8).
The Causes for This Condition
According to the foreknowledge of God the Father. The apostle tells his readers that they are sanctified and justified because of Jesus Christ. He is to them both righteousness and sanctification. The sprinkling by his blood purifies them from guilt and gives them life so they can obey. We now consider how this is applied. It is achieved by the holy, and holy-making or sanctifying, Spirit, the author of their selection from the world and their effectual calling to grace. The source of this is God the Father.
By the sanctifying work. See 1 Corinthians 1:26, 28. This is the first act of the decree of election, which separates people from the profane world and consecrates them to God. So in relation to election and to its own nature it is appropriately called sanctifying work (see John 15:19; Acts 2:47; 13:48; Romans 8:28, 30).
Sanctification in a narrower sense, when distinguished from justification, signifies the inherent holiness of a Christian, or his being inclined and enabled to perform the obedience mentioned in this verse. But here it means renewal — people being dedicated to God by his Holy Spirit drawing them to him. So it embraces justification and the start of faith, through which the soul is justified by the application of the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Of the Spirit. The Word calls people externally and through that external calling prevails with many to an external receiving and professing of religion. But if it is left like that, it proceeds no further. It is indeed the means of sanctification and effectual calling (see John 17:17). But it does this when the Spirit, who speaks through the Word, works in the heart and causes it to hear and obey. A person's spirit or soul is the chief and first subject of this work, and it is but a slight work if it does not start there.
The Spirit, in this verse, is the Spirit of God, not the spirit of man, who is the subject of sanctification. Therefore our Saviour prayed to the Father that he would sanctify his own through the truth of the Word (see John 17:17). He does this by the concurrence of his Spirit with that Word of truth that gives life, making it become the power of God for salvation for all who believe (see Romans 1:16). It is a suitable means in itself, but it is a prevailing means only when the Spirit of God brings it into the heart. It is a sword. "The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). But the Word does not do this unless it is in the hands of the Spirit and he is penetrating and dividing. The Word calls, but the Spirit draws — not severed from the Word, but working in it and by it.
We must endeavor to have this sanctifying Spirit in ourselves and pray much for it, for his promise to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask (see Luke 11:13) applies to us. Shall we be so foolish as to lack this because we do not ask? When we find our souls weighed down, then let us pray, "Draw me."
According to the foreknowledge of God the Father. God sees everything from the beginning of time to the end of time. But the foreknowledge here relates peculiarly to the elect (see Psalm 1:6; Amos 3:2; Romans 8:29; 9:15). This foreknowledge is his eternal and unchanging love. That he chooses some and rejects others demonstrates his mercy and justice. He appointed one person to be chosen and rejected another. He made Peter receive mercy but Judas wrath. If this seems to be harsh, it is what the apostle taught.
The Connection Between the Two
The effectual calling is inseparably tied to this eternal foreknowledge or election on the one side and to salvation on the other. These two links of the chain are up in heaven in God's own hand. But the middle one is let down to earth, into the heart of God's children; and by taking hold of it they have a firm grip on the other two links, for no power can separate them.
The believer should derive much joy from this. This link is indissoluble, just as the agents are — the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. In the same way election and vocation (and sanctification and justification) and glory cannot be separated. Therefore, believers may, from a sense of the working of the Spirit in them, look back to that election and forward to that salvation, while those who remain unholy and disobedient have as yet no evidence of this love. If election and calling, sanctification and justification, are inseparably linked together, then through any one of them a person may lay hold of the rest and may know that his hold is sure. In this way we may attain, and ought to seek, that comforting assurance of God's love. The person who loves God may be certain that God loved him first. The person who chooses God to delight in may conclude confidently that God has chosen him to be one of those who will be happy in him forever. Discover within yourself sanctification through the Spirit, and this will demonstrate both justification through the Son and election by God the Father. He called those he elected, and he elected those he called.
Grace and peace be yours in abundance. It has always been customary for people to send good wishes to each other in their communications. The apostles did this in their letters in a spiritual way. It is fitting that messengers of grace and peace should send such greetings to each other. We have the Hebrew word for greeting here — peace; and we have the word that the Greeks greeted each other with — grace. Let us consider, first, what the apostle desired for his readers — grace and peace, and, second, how much of this he desired — in abundance.
Grace. Saving grace is understood as follows: First, grace in the fountain, that is, the special love and favor of God. Second, grace in the streams, the fruits of God's love; that is, all the graces and spiritual blessings of God bestowed on those whom he has freely chosen. The love of God can neither diminish nor increase, but it is multiplied and abounds in the manifestation and effects of it. So to desire that grace might be theirs in abundance is to wish them the living spring of grace. This is the first and last of Christian desires. Resolve to seek a share in this grace, the free love of God and the sure evidence of it within you, the fruit of holiness and the graces of his Spirit. Most of us are preoccupied with other things. As long as we neglect our noblest method of growing rich in grace, we act like fools.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "1 and 2 Peter"
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Table of Contents
Series Preface, vii,
1 Peter by Robert Leighton,
2 Peter by Griffith Thomas,