"Much more precious than gold that periaheth."—1 Peter i. 7.
—ETER is very fond of this word " precious." He uses it more frequently than all the other New Testament writers, with the exception of John in the Revelation, where, however, it is only employed in reference to things of material value, such as jewels and costly woods. Paul uses it only once, and in a similar connection, speaking about "gold, silver, and precious stones." James employs it once in regard of the fruits of the earth; and all the other instances of its use are in Peter's writings. It is his stock epithet, not discriminating the various excellences of the things to which he applies it, but, in a naive and beautifully simple fashion, extolling their worth.
Here are the cases in which he uses it. First, in my text, about the process by which Christian faith is tested; then about the blood of Jesus Christ; then, in a quotation from Isaiah, about Christ Himself as the corner-stone. These three are the instances in the first Epistle. In the second we find two, where he speaks of "like precious faith" and of "exceeding great and precious promises."
I mav just note in passing that the persistency of the use of this characteristic word and its cognate in the second Epistle is a little morsel of evidence in favour of the contested genuineness of that Epistle. It does not carry us very far, but it may stand for something.
Now, my purpose in this sermon is to gather together these various applications of this one epithet. In the mass they give us Peter's catalogue of the Christian's treasures, and if we laid them to heart they would rectify our estimates and revolutionise our lives. I classify them a little differently from the order in which they occur in the letters.
I.—I ask you, first, to take this general principle, that our true treasures are all contained in, and clustered round, the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Now, in order to estimate the value of a thing, the first necessity is a correct standard. And this is the misery of men, that, whilst they are prepared to give abundant thought to the means whereby they may compass the ends that they select, so few of them have given anything like adequate, sober, and deliberate consideration to the question of what these ends should be. If we would only fairly set ourselves to settle this question of what is good, and what are the relative degrees of good in the different aims that we can set before us, there would be fewer tragedies in life.
I wonder how many men and women in this congregation have given one serious hour to the question of what really is of value to them; and how many of us could say, "To the best of my ability I have looked at life steadily and completely, and I have 179
come to the reasoned, deliberate conclusion that so-and-so is the course which offers to me the fairest prospect of highest and permanent good." Have you done it, brother? Or have you let yourself, like so tragically many of us, be drifted into a course of life by impulse, accident, example, bodily needs, or like trivial causes?
Now, if we are seeking for a standard of value, surely the following points are very plain. Our true treasure must be such as helps us towards the highest ends for which we are fitted by our make. It must be such as satisfies our deepest needs; it must be such as meets our whole nature; and it must be such as cannot be wrenched from us. These things are as plain as A B C. Ay, and men in crowds, who acknowledge them because they cannot dispute them, are living in flagrant contradiction of every one of them. I do not want to undervalue lower and relative good of any kind, or to preach an over-strained contempt of material, transient, and partial blessing. Competence and wealth, gold and what gold buys, and what it keeps away, are good. High above them we rank the treasures of a cultivated mind, of a refined taste, of eyes that see the beauty of God's fair creation. Above these we rank the priceless treasures of pure, reciprocated human love. But none of them, nor all of them put together, meet our tests, simple and obvious as they are. They help us but a little way towards our goal. They do not satisfy the whole or the depths of our natures; but ever there is the hungry heart, or, worse, the atrophy of the best longings of our souls. You can no more fill a man's nature with creatures and creatural bliss than a child, with its little wheelbarrow and spade, can fill the bed of the ocean by shovelling and tilting barrowfuls of sand into it. Only God can fill a soul. Manchester men do not need to be told that capitalists may become paupers. All of us who have lived long enough in this Lancashire have seen plenty of mills and warehouses "change hands," as they say, and their possessors vanish into poverty. And death comes, and takes all the treasures out of the powerless fingers, and unclasps the linked hands of dear ones.
So, dear brethren, perhaps Peter is right after all, when he points us in a wholly different direction for the true precious things. He numbers in the first rank, as in themselves intrinsically and always precious beyond the estimate of men, Christ, Christ's blood, Christ's promises.
"Christ is precious." Now, the word that he employs there is slightly different from that which occurs in the other verses. And since it is slightly different there is just a shade of difference of meaning in it, which is brought out by observing that the speaker in the original words of the prophet is God Himself. It is the preciousness in God's sight of the stone which He " lays in Zion" that is glanced at in the epithet. I must not dwell upon that; but let me just suggest to you how the preciousness of His beloved Son, in the eyes of the Father who gave Him, enhances the preciousness of the gift to us. God obeys the law which He lays upon His servants; and He "will not give" to us "that which costs Him nothing." His recognition of the preciousness of the Son whom He did not spare invests the work of Christ with a heart-melting aspect and the mystery of a Divine surrender.
But Christ is precious to us. Yes, if we know ourselves and what we want; if we know Him and what He gives ; if our emptiness feels that it is filled by His fulness, as a concavity may be rounded so as to receive, and embrace, and touch at every point, a convexity. Do you want wisdom ?« He is the wisdom of God. Do you seek power? He is the power of God. Do you long for joy? He will give you His own. Do you weary for peace ?" My peace I leave with you." Do you hunger for righteousness ?" He of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness." Do you need fulness and abundance? In Him dwells all the fulness of God; and "of His fulness have all we received." Whatever good any soul seeks, Christ is the highest good, and is all good. And so unto us believing the preciousness of Jesus will surely come. Ah, brethren, let us turn our hearts away from false treasures and lay hold on Him who is the true Riches.
Further, Christ's blood is precious. Peter believed in Christ's atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, and of each single soul therein; and I venture to more than doubt whether any man comes to apprehend, as it may be apprehended, the worth of Jesus Christ, who has not apprehended the worth of His blood. If you strike that aspect and element out of the work of our Lord, what remains, precious as it is, does not seem to me to satisfy human necessities so completely as to make Him the all-sufficient and single treasure and 182
riches of men's souls. I suppose that to say so is considered nowadays to be old-fashioned and narrow. The more is the pity! Brethren, the precious Christ is precious because of His blood shed for the remission of sins, and because in His blood, which is His life, flowing in our veins by the faith that partakes of Him, there is a power which will make our lives pure and gracious and good, as derived from, and kindred with Him. And, as I believe, only they, who in full faith recognise the fact that the death of Christ is the life of the world, can understand or re-echo the raptures of confidence with which apostles and saints exalt His preciousness and magnify His great name. Christ Himself is our true treasure, and in that treasure not the least precious of its contents is the mighty act by which, on the Cross, He takes away the sins of the world. I beseech you to ask yourselves whether, in your conception of Christianity, and what it is and does for the world, you can, with full consent of understanding and heart, accord not only with Peter's extolling of the precious Christ, but with his magnifying the worth of the precious blood of Christ as of "a Lamb without blemish and without spot."
And then there is a third precious thing, clustering round and flowing from .Jesus Christ and His work —and that is, the "exceeding great and precious promises," which are given to us "that by them we may be partakers of a Divine nature."
I presume that the promises referred to by the Apostle are largely, if not exclusively, those which have reference to what we call the future state. And they are precious because they come straight to meet one of the deepest needs of humanity, often neglected, but always there—an ache, if not a conscious need. What about that dark, dim beyond? Is there any solid ground in it? Is there any place on which a firm foot may be planted? any fast holding-ground in which the anchor of our souls may be fixed without dragging? Is there anything that we can know and believe and trust to? anything which we can be so sure of that it has a right to influence our lives and to press in amongst the seeming solidities of the present? or is it but shadow and cloud-wrack, or, as people say, "subjective impressions" thrown upon the black curtain beyond? Christ comes with the answer, "I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth on Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." Then it is not mist; then I can fling my grappling-iron into it, and it will hold, and I can hold on to it. Then I can be sure of the farthest point of boundless Time which men call Eternity; as sure as I am—I was going to say, of the next moment, but I can be surer—as sure as I am of yesterday. For Christ's future is as fixed as my past. So, brethren, His promises are precious. They are not coin, they are cheques with a good Name on them; and that is quite as reliable and as true wealth as if you had the shining metal in your hands to-day which they represent.
Thus, dear friends, Christ, Himself, and in Christ Christ's blood, and from Christ's lips Christ's promises —these are the true treasures which we should seek to amass and call our own. "My God shall supply all your need, according to His riches in glory in Christ J esus."
II.—If so, that which puts us in possession of the precious things is itself precious.
So the Apostle speaks, in his second Epistle, about "like precious faith," using a compound word, which, however, is substantially identical with the simple expression in the other cases. Now, I am not going to diverge from my present purpose to say anything about that very significant little addition, "like precious faith," except just to drop a passing remark that, seeing that it occurs in the salutation at the beginning of the letter, it presents us with a very beautiful instance of the Apostle's humble and joyful identification with himself of all those, of whatever nationality, degree in life, or attainment in Christianity, who were trusting in Jesus Christ. He, the Apostle of Jesus, addresses the whole multitude of believers, he, the Jew, addresses the whole multitude of Gentiles, as having obtained "like precious faith with us."
But I pass from that for the purpose of making one observation, and that is, that the only preciousness of that faith, which the New Testament magnifies so greatly, is that it brings us into possession of the things that are intrinsically precious. I believe that hosts of people in all our congregations who have had Christian teaching dinned into their ears ever since they were babes have but the haziest notion, both of what the New Testament means by faith, and of why it magnifies it so much. If only you would understand that it is nothing more than simple trust, and that the only reason why it is worth anything is because it gives you the possession of that which is worth everything, mountains of misapprehension and clouds of mist would be cleared away from the whole system of Christian teaching; and you would come to understand how it was no arbitrary appointment, the reasons of which were not discernible, but a necessity, arising from the very nature of the case, that the only way by which a man could obtain possession of the Christ, "in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," was by the . simple act of opening his heart and saying, "Come in, Lord, and fill me with Thyself." That is the preciousness, and it is the only preciousness that attaches to faith.
Suppose a door worth half a crown; yes! but it is the door of a storehouse full of bullion. Here is a bit of lead pipe, worth twopence.; yes, but through it comes the water that keeps a besieged city alive. And so your faith, worth nothing in itself, is worth everything as the means by which you lay hold of the durable riches and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, cherish it. A cultivated mind is a treasure because it is the key to many treasures. Refined tastes are treasures because they bring us into possession of lofty gifts. ^Esthetic sensibilities are precious because they make our own a pure and ennobling pleasure. And, for precisely the same reason, high above the cultivated understanding, and refined tastes, and the artistic sense, ay, and even above the loving heart that twines its tendrils round another heart as loving, we rank the faith which joins us to Christ. It is like a hand uplifted, and with open fingers, eager to close round the outstretched hand in which alone is strength. If Christ, His blood, His promises, are precious, then in the second rank of a derived preciousness is the faith which clasps and keeps Him and them.
III.—If so, the process which strengthens that faith is precious.
My nominal text speaks about "the trial of your faith " as being "much more precious than of gold that perisheth though it be tried with fire." There are ambiguities about the phrase, and this is not the place, nor is there now time, to say a word about these. Suffice it to say, I accept the common understanding of the words as the correct one, and suppose that Peter meant that the process by which faith is tested, purified, and perfected is a precious treasure. Ah, that is a strange reversal of our lazy and sensebound estimates, but it is plainly true, if what I have been saying in the previous part of this sermon is true. Tf Christ and what pertains to Him are real wealth, and if our faith is the means of our coming into possession of our property, then everything that tightens our grasp upon Him, and increases our capacity of receiving Him, is valuable.
Let us lay that to heart, brethren, and it changes all our estimates of this world's mistaken ill and good. Let us lay that to heart, and it interprets much. We do not understand life until we have got rid of the prejudice that enjoyment, or any lower thing, is the object of it. Let us understand that the deepest meaning of all our experience here is discipline, and we have come within sight of the solution of most of our perplexities. Education, character-building, the widening of our capacity to desire and to receive God—that is what we are sent into the world for, and what we are schooled and tormented and bothered and gladdened for. Sorrow and joy, light and darkness, summer and winter, sunshine and storm, life and death, gain and loss, failures and successes—they all have the one end, that we may be partakers of the wealth of His holiness. So, brethren, take the lamp of that simple truth in your hands, and the dark places of life will be less dark, and you will understand that not enjoyment and not sorrow, but God-likeness and the full possession of Jesus Christ is the purpose of all.
Lapidaries will tell you that the most precious pearls are black. The white ones strike the vulgar eye, but they are worth less than the dark ones. If you have wisely dealt with your sorrows, they are your truest treasures. Take care that you do not waste them; take care that you get out of them all that they are meant to bring.
And, dear brethren, let us try to clear our minds of the delusions of this world, and to rectify our estimates of true good. A very perverted standard prevails, and we are too apt to fall in with it. Many of us are no wiser than savages who will exchange gold for trash, and barter away fertile lands for a stand of old muskets or a case of fiery rum. Think of yourselves, your nature, your wants, your aching hearts, your sure departure from life, and the eternity that is before you. Think of your necessities in their depth, their sweep, their duration. Listen to Jesus Christ counselling you to buy of Him gold tried in the fire. Turn away from the fairy gold which by daylight will be seen to be but a heap of yellow, fading leaves, and cling in faith, which is precious, to Him who is priceless, and in whom the poorest will find riches that cannot be corrupted nor lost for ever.