A Witness And A Partaker
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed.”
1 Peter 5:l
KINDLY notice, dear Friends, the Apostle’s great gentleness. Peter was not always thus gentle, but the Spirit of God had rested upon him and now he writes with much tenderness. He does not say, “As an Apostle, I command,” but, “As an elder, I exhort.” It is always well to combine the suaviter in modo , that is, suavity in ourmethod blended with strength in the thing, itself. There are some who are very blustering in their style of speech and there are others who, if they do not bluster, yet in the smallest matter always put forth their greatest force, or what they think to be so. They command and rebuke with all authority–yet here is Peter, who certainly was not a whit behind the very chief of the Apostles–and he speaks, not by way of command, but, addressing the elders, he tenderly exhorts them. Oh, that we may always manifest such a meek and gentle spirit–not drive men, but draw them to Christ–not terrifyand threaten, but entice and woo to the Savior those to whom we are speaking or writing!
Next, notice Peter’s humility. “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder.” He was an elder, most truly, as are all those who, in word and doctrine, feed the flock of God and who, at Christ’s command, take the oversight of the souls of men. But Peter was much more than an elder, he was an Apostle. There were but few Apostles and those who were called to that high dignity were greatly favored–yet Peter does not mention his higher office, but, with true humility, he puts himself on a level with his Brothers. “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder.” My Brother, if God has given to you extraordinary talent, do not exalt yourself on that account. If others willingly follow your leadership and you have the privilege of rendering to the Lord greater service than they can give, what have you that you have not received? And should not the chief among the saints be the servant of all? Is not he really the highest in Christ’s esteem who is willing to be counted the lowest? Therefore, let no man exalt himself, or think highly of himself, for this he ought not to do. We admire in Peter–the once headstrong, impetuous Peter–the gentleness blended with humility which leads him to say, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder.”
At the same time, let us especially note the wisdom of Peter, for it would have been an unwise thing for him to speak to the elders as an Apostle, for they might have replied to him, “You do not know the worry and toil and trouble of our service. You labor in a higher sphere. You, sitting on the Apostolic benches, are far above us. We, poor plain elders, cannot hope to attain to such eminence as yours.” “No, my Brothers,” says Peter, “I am one of you, for I, also, am an elder and, as a brother speaks to brother, so I exhort you. Knowing all your travail of heart and all your hard service in the cause of the Master, I, sympathizing with you, and altogether one with you, speak from my heart to your heart. Exhorting you, the elders, I, who am also an elder, say to you, Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a crown of glory that fades not away.”
It will always be our wisdom, dear Friends, to put ourselves as much as we can into the position of those whom we address. It is a pity for anyone ever to seem to preach down to people–it is always better to be as nearly as possible onthe same level as they are. Paul knew this and, therefore, he became “all things to all men.” To the Jew, he was a Jew. Among Gentiles, he was a Gentile, for it so happened that he belonged to both classes. He was one with all men, barbarian, Scythian, bond or free. If he had to argue with the learned upon Mars' Hill, he could be a match for them. If he had to speak with the rough and illiterate, he threw out all beauty of language and talked to them in the plainest style. And you and I, if we want to win men to Christ, must act after the same wise fashion. Dear Sunday school teachers, would you be the means of blessing to the children under your charge? Then, be yourselves, children! Keep a child’s heart throbbing beneath a manly breast. If you are a mother, go to the girls in your class as though you were still a girl, yourself, and you shall soon find the key of their heart and enter into the innermost chambers of their spirit. A true man welcomes a fellow man–he sees that he is a member of the great family of mankind and he says to him, “Come in.” But if you, in your majestic greatness, speak to me like Jupiter thundering from a cloud, I shall not be likely to regard you. Or, if I do regard you, your message will be forgotten in the grandeur and glory of yourself! This is what never ought to happen, my Brothers–that people should think of us ! Let us belittle ourselves that we may magnify ourGod. Let the Truth of God be borne before us like a shield! And though we are the Lord’s armor bearers, let us hide behind the great shield which we lift up before the eyes of men. “‘The elders which are among you I exhort’–not as Peter, the head of the College of Apostles–but as one who is a fellow elder with you.” Therein, we see Peter’s gentleness, humility and wisdom combined–and we shall be wise if we imitate him in all those respects.
With this introduction, I now come to speak of the two great offices which Peter said that he filled. I cannot help calling them great, yet they are open to you and to me–and I hope that, by God’s Grace, we have also, in our measure, been what Peter said that he was–“A witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed.”
- First, then, let us think of Peter as “A WITNESS OF THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST.” And, as far as possible, let us be witnesses with him.
Peter was what we have not been, an eyewitness of the suffering of Christ. He actually and in very deed saw our Divine Master in His terrible griefs. Peter could never forget that he saw the Lord Jesus in His agony in the Garden. He was one of the three disciples who failed to watch with their Lord even for one hour and who, for very sorrow, fell asleep within a stone’s cast of the place where Christ was “exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death.” Peter remembered how, when the Master rose from prayer, and said, “He is at hand that does betray Me,” he was there and saw the traitor imprint that cruel kiss upon the cheek of Him who still called him, friend. Peter was, about that time, drawing his sword and cutting off the ear of Malchus–and he could not fail to remember the look upon his Master’s face when he who had eaten bread with Him did lift up his heel against Him, and the Son of Man was betrayed with a kiss from the apostate Apostle. Peter was also an eyewitness of our Lord’s being hurried away to the bar of Annas where He underwent His preliminary examination. He remembered seeing one strike Him on the mouth. He could recall how they charged Him with blasphemy. He could remember how, after the first examination was over, Annas sent Him, bound, to Caiaphas. Peter was in the palace of Annas, warming himself by the fire, so he was an eyewitness of all that transpired. I do not quite know how far that witnessing went, for the time came when he denied his Master, but he could never forget that gaze of concentrated agony and pity when Jesus looked at him–not so much reproachfully, perhaps, as mournfully–feeling in His own soul that sorrow which He knew that Peter must, before long, feel. A spark from the torch of the Savior’s anguish set the heart of Peter on fire and he went out and wept bitterly.
I believe–I cannot help believing–that Peter rallied, by-and-by, from his fit of cowardice and that he came to the front, again, and saw the Master in Pilate’s judgment hall. You know the story of our Savior’s griefs and woes and I think that Peter and others of the Apostles were eyewitnesses of His sufferings. They saw Him after He had been scourged. They marked Him after He had been despised, flouted and mocked. They saw Him as the Cross-Bearer and heard Him say,“ Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.” They watched Him as He went in awful anguish along the Via Dolorosa to the Mount of Crucifixion. And they stood and sawHim nailed to the tree, to die there, like a felon, with no relief or succor, for God Himself forsook Him. And the bitterest pain of all was that He had to cry,“ My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Possibly, Peter saw it all. Certainly he was an eyewitness of Christ’s sufferings and, I think, when he was writing to these elders, he seemed to say to them, “Feed the flock of God, for I saw the Great Shepherd when He bought that flock. I was there when He purchased the sheep with His own blood. And, after He had risen from the dead, three times He said to me, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, Do you love Me?’ And when I answered, ‘'Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You,” He said to me,’ Feed My lambs. Shepherd My sheep. Feed My sheep.‘ Therefore, O my Brethren, by His agony and bloody sweat, by His Cross and passion, by His precious death and burial, by His glorious resurrection and ascension, I beseech you, 'feed the flock of God which He has purchased with Jesus’ own blood.‘“ I see great force in this exhortation by the eyewitness who is writing to his fellow elders.
But, dear Brothers and Sisters, you and I, never having seen Christ in His sufferings, might never have had a participation in this part of our text if there had not been another kind of witnessing, namely, the faith-witness. I do not placethis second in importance, though I put it second in order, for, indeed, it is of the very greatest importance. There were thousands who were eyewitnesses of our Lord’s sufferings who, nevertheless, saw not the true meaning of them. They saw the dear Sufferer besmeared with His own blood, but into His wounds they never looked by faith. Thousands saw the Savior die, but they simply went their way back to Jerusalem, some of them beating on their breasts, but none of them believing in Him, or really knowing the secret of that wondrous death. I trust that I am addressing many who could be grouped together as faith-witnesses of the sufferings of Christ. Speaking for myself, I remember well when my sins, like an intolerable burden, crushed me down. I dared not look up and I never would have been able to look up, or to speak toanyone of the joy which is now within my bosom if I had not, by faith, seen–
“One hanging on a tree,
In agonies and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me
As near His Cross I stood.
Sure never till my latest breath
Can I forget that look!
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.
A second look He gave, which said,
‘I freely all forgive.
This blood is for your ransom paid,
I die, that you may live.’”
Then I saw not only that Christ Jesus died upon the Cross, but I also perceived who He was and why He died–and what He accomplished by that death. I was helped to learn that He “loved me and gave Himself for me.” I understood that He took my place that I might take His place–that He took my sin that I might take His righteousness–that He bore my woe that I might share His joy. And when I saw that–I do not meanwhen I read of it–but when I saw it with my soul’s inner eyes and not only understood it, but perceived my share in mySavior’s Sacrifice, and believed in Him to the saving of my soul, oh, it was a blessed day for me! Many of you, dear Friends, know well what I mean, for you also had just such a sight as I have described. You were faith-witnesses of Christ’s sufferings! With some of us, many days have passed since we had that first sight of our suffering Lord, yet that sight has been often renewed to us. Sitting at the Communion Table I have seen it most clearly–the bread and the wine have set forth Christ’s broken body and poured out blood–and my soul has realized within herself His Godhead and His Manhood, His perfection and His grief, His sinlessness and yet His sin-bearing, His suretyship and the way He smarted for it. And it has been a great joy to see it, and to be able to sing–
“He bore on the tree the sentence for me,
And now both the Surety and sinner are free”–
for Jesus redeemed us completely and effectually when He died upon the Cross. Many of you, Beloved, have been in like manner, faith-witnesses of Christ’s sufferings.
There are some who depreciate this faith-witness, but, Sirs, it is faith that saves! You may be an eyewitness and yet perish as Judas did. You may be an eyewitness and yet be lost as Pilate was. You may be an eyewitness and still hate Christ as Caiaphas did. But if you become a faith-witness, then shall you be included among those of whom it is written, “They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.” Such a faith-view begets repentance, hope and love–and brings salvation to every soul that has it!
Peter, then, was an eyewitness, but, better still, he was a faith-witness. And this being the case, he went on to be atestifying witness. If a man sees anything happen, he is a witness of it. But he is more manifestly a witness when he comes and says that he saw it–when he appears in court and bears a public testimony concerning it. I judge that the principal business of any minister of Christ, or of any elder of the Church of Christ, is to bear testimony to the sufferings of Christ. If the atoning sufferings of Christ are left out of a ministry, that ministry is worthless. “The blood is the life thereof,” is as true about sermons as it is about animals and sacrifices. A bloodless gospel, a gospel without the Atonement, is a gospel of devils and not the Gospel of God. Many are laboring hard, till their oars bend, to get away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ–I mean hundreds of so-called ministers of Christ–but in proportion as they forsake the Gospel, they cease to be what they pretend to be. They are not the ministers of God, or of His Christ! They are not ambassadors telling ofreconciliation to men if in their teaching the sufferings of Christ are hazy and their cause and motive and objective are obscured. It is the glory of some of us that whatever else we bear witness to, we certainly are witnesses of the sufferings of Christ. We declare to men that there is no hope for them but in Christ who died! We testify to them that we have, ourselves, exercised faith in His death and have, thereby, received eternal life! We tell them that we know that what we say is true–we are as sure of it as was that disciple who, when he saw the blood and water flowing from Christ’s side, bore witness to it, and added–“He knows that what he says is true, that you might believe.” These things are not like dreams to us, they are part of our very being! We have believed in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ and our troubled conscience has therein found peace. Our soul has been filled with all the fullness of God and, therefore, we are and must be witnesses to the sufferings of the crucified Son of God, to the reality of the Atonement that He made on the Cross and to the effect of that Atonement upon the heart and conscience of all those who receive it.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, this is not only the minister’s work, but it is your work, too. We are all to be constantly bearing our witness to Christ and saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.” You know what the people said of John the Baptist when he was dead–it is a kind of epitaph which any one of us might be glad to have put on our tombstone–“John did no miracle, but all things that John spoke of this Man were true.” He had no great talents. He was not noted for His eloquence. He was not s man of commanding presence. He had no recondite knowledge. He had no profound logical power, but all that he said concerning Christ was true! I would like to have John the Baptist’s epitaph as my own and I would be glad for you to have it, too–that in life and death we might be known as true witnesses to the sufferings of Christ, the power of which we have felt in our own souls.
There is one other view of this witness-bearing, and that is that Peter was, to a very large extent, a partaking witnessin the sufferings of Christ. He does not say so in our text, but in the 13 th verse of the fourth Chapter he wrote, “Rejoice,inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.” And he could write like that because of what he had, himself, endured for Christ’s sake. He had been mocked, despised, persecuted. His life had been sought and he knew that he would have to suffer a painful death, for His Master had said to him, “When you shall be old, you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall gird you, and carry you where you would not.” Putting all these things together, Peter could truly say that he was a witness of Christ’s sufferings because he had, in a measure, participated in them.
I hope I am addressing some who can also say–though to a far smaller degree than could the saints of old–“Yes, for Christ’s sake we have been accounted fools. We have been reckoned among those who have not the courage to advance with the times. We have been willing to be mocked in the workshop, or in the pulpit, or wherever our lot has been cast among men. And we would cheerfully have borne far more if it had been imposed upon us.” As the persecuted Believer looks up to his Lord, he can truthfully say–
“If on my face for Your dear name,
Shame and reproaches be,
All hail reproach, and welcome shame,
If You remember me.”
Thus you see how Peter was a witness of the sufferings of Jesus Christ. May each of us be appointed to the same high and honorable position!
II. The second thing which Peter says of himself is, perhaps, more remarkable than the first. He says that he was ‘A
I like to see that word, “partaker,” coming after the word, “witness,” for I do not think that any man can really be a useful witness for Christ unless he is a partaker. Can you go and talk to others about the bitterness of sin when you have never wept over it or repented of it, yourself? Can you speak of the sweets of Divine mercy of which you have never tasted? Will you magnify “precious faith” when you are, yourself, a stranger to the faith of God’s elect? Will you set forth Christ, evidently crucified among men, when you have never seen Him, yourself? Can you describe the love which has never cheered your own heart? Will you tell of communion with Christ when you know nothing of its blessedness? Unhappy man! Your office would be, indeed, terrible if you were called to such a work! It were better for you to perform the most menial labor with the most grievous sweat and wear and tear of your very marrow and bones, than have to occupy a pulpit to talk of things which you have never tasted, handled and felt yourself. I would sooner not exist than be a preacher of the Truths of God which I had never believed in my own soul! The old writers used to speak of men who served in the shambles and butchers' shops and who saw and handled and sold the meat, but who, themselves, died of hunger. And they spoke of wretched folk who prepared dainties for their fellow men, but who did not, as they expressed it, get so much as a lick of their own fingers, but died of famine while they were feasting others.
Oh horrible, horrible, must it be to be sick unto death and yet to be selling medicines that will heal! Oh, dreadful must it be to be hammering away building an ark, as Noah’s carpenters did, and yet never to enter it, but to die in the deluge while the ship which you helped to build bears others over the wild waste of waters! Get home, minister! Tear off your gown and lay aside the very name that makes you appear to be a servant of God! Get down on your knees and cry, “God be merciful to me, a sinner, and forgive me for ever having dared to assume an office whose duties I could not fulfill! For how can I, who am blind, be the guide of others? And how shall I, who am spiritually deaf and dumb, make others hear? And how shall I tell of God and of His Covenant, and of His Grace, while I know not God experimentally and have no evidence that I am in the Covenant and have never tasted of His Grace?” That is right, Brother–you are getting on the right lines–if you would be a witness, you must first be a partaker! And you who teach in the Sunday school, you who preach at the street corners, you who go from house to house with your tracts–whoever you are who profess to be witnesses for Christ, take care that you are both witnesses and partakers. Join the two together–you cannot witness ifyou do not partake, or if you witness and do not partake, you only witness to your own condemnation!
Very strangely, Peter here writes of himself as “ a partaker of the glory.” Did he mean that he was on the holy Mountof Transfiguration and saw the splendor of that sight when Christ was all aglow with a white light which gathered up all brightness and beauty into its solitary ray? Was he thinking of that memorable scene? I know not. It may have flitted across his mind but, in this passage, he says that he is “a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed.” Not the glory thathad been revealed. Is that possible? Can a man be a partaker of a glory that, as yet, is not revealed?
I answer that he may, first, by the closeness of his union with the glorified Christ. If I am, by faith, indissolubly onewith Christ, then in His Glory I am glorified. On His Throne I am enthroned. By His victory I am “more than conqueror.” If we are one with Him, then we are raised up together with Him and made to sit together with Him in the heavenly places. Oh, it is grand when a Believer does not so much think of himself as himself, but as part and parcel of his Lord! This is a very high attainment, yet Peter had reached it–and if you are vitally joined to Christ, you may reach it, too. If you have been, indeed, planted with Him in the likeness of Hs death, you shall also share the likeness of His resurrection–and you even now share it with Him, for as He is, so are you in this world! Was He humbled? Every saint underwent humiliation in Christ. Is He glorified? All His elect are virtually glorified in the glorification of their Covenant Head. It is indeed a blessed thing to know your union with Christ so completely that you are made “a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed” as far as you are personally concerned, but which is already revealed to Christ and, therefore, is already yours.
I am sure that Peter also means that he had become a partaker of this glory to be revealed by the absolute certaintywhich he felt in his own soul that he should be ultimately, in very deed, a partaker of it. When a man knows that he has such-and-such a possession in reversion, if he is very poor, he discounts it and begins to live upon its present worth. It is a very blessed thing when a child of God knows that because he is in Christ by faith, therefore, whatever things God has laid up for His people in general, He has laid up for him in particular! Whatever Christ has prepared for His redeemed, He has prepared for this redeemed one. Often his faith does, as it were, appropriate the future glory, and cry, “It is mine.” The Believer begins to glorify God for it, though as yet he has not actually partaken of it, for faith brings him the substance of things hoped for, and is to him the evidence of things not seen. Brothers and Sisters, the next best thing to being actually in Heaven is to be assured that you will be there, and also to have this thought at the back of the assurance–that you may be there within the next five minutes! Oh, how speedily may you and I be in Glory! Before the clock ticks again, I may see the face of the King in His beauty, in the land that is very far off, in some respects, but very near in others. You know how John Newton puts it–
“In vain my fancy strives to paint
The moment after death,
The glories that surround the saint,
When yielding up his breath.
One gentle sigh the fetter breaks–
We scarce can say, ‘They’re gone!’
Before the willing spirit takes
Her mansion near the Throne.”
Well, since this glory is certain and may be so near, let us sit down and look at the golden gates–look until we see them–until they seem to come nearer and nearer and nearer, until the vision becomes so vivid that it ceases to be a vision and we are actually where we were thinking that we should soon be! It has so happened to many a child of God. There is one whom God favored with great wealth and to whom a friend said, “What a paradise this lovely garden is!” “Yes,” he replied, “and I bless God for the assurance that, when I leave it, I shall go from one paradise to another and a better one.” Some have said to a poor Christian, “What an ill-furnished place your room is! How scanty are your worldly goods!” “Ah,” the man, has answered, “but I have enough to last me till I get Home, for I have the promise that bread shall be given me, water shall be sure and then I shall have Heaven to crown it all.” When we have faith like that, then are we partakers of the Glory that shall be revealed!
There is a step even beyond this when we advance from faith to positive enjoyment. There is such a thing as anticipating the glory to be revealed with such a full, realizing faith that we begin to enjoy it even now! Surely, you have, at times, sat down with your fellow Believers, when the Word has been preached in the demonstration of the Spirit, and you have said, “Well, Heaven must be glorious, indeed, to be any better than this! My soul is all ablaze with love to Christ and even while my poor body is lingering here–
“My heart is with Him on His Throne,
And ill can brook delay.
Each moment listening for the voice,
‘Rise up, and come away.’”
And when the service has been over, you have said, “My soul was like the chariots of Amminadib–whether I was in the body or out the body, I could not tell.” On your bed, sometimes, or in the chamber of sickness, or sitting alone in quiet meditation after you have been enraptured with a vision of your Lord, has it not seemed as if God had taken some dainty dish from off the table of the angels and passed it down to His waiting child below? Have you not heard stray notes of which you could almost say, “I am persuaded that is the angels' song”? And sweet sounds have reached your ears, like the music of “harpers harping with their harps,” making you impatient of your exile here, but, at the same time, making you unspeakably happy until you shall be called up to join in the grand chorus of the Church of God above! “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever!”
Yes, Beloved, Peter could truly say that he was a partaker of the Glory yet to be revealed. I have no doubt that, sometimes, when he preached the Word, his soul was all aglow with holy fervor. I know that, often, I have been so graciously helped by the Holy Spirit to uplift my Lord and Master from this platform, that I have not wanted to go up those stairs any more. I would have liked to just finish up my discourse and say, “Amen,” on earth, and at once begin to sing the everlasting song above! Have not you, dear Friend, also reached that blessed state? I am sure that Peter was often in that condition. And when he was persecuted, despised, imprisoned and his own brethren cast him out, there was often within his own bosom a company of the angels of God, Christ’s sacred host–a very Mahanaim–and, still better, there was the Prince of Princes, the Angel of the Covenant, the Lord and Master of all the angels, speaking deep bliss into His servant’s soul and filling him with unspeakable joy and glory!
Now, my Brother or my Sister, if you get that Presence of Christ–and I pray that you may–you will be qualified to be a witness for Christ. People will say, “What makes those eyes so bright? What causes that man to be so happy? What is it that produces that calm, quiet spirit in the house? How is it that that man is not troubled as others are? He does not seem to have much cause for joy, but he is very serene and placid in spirit.” They will perhaps say to you, “What is the secret of it all?” Then you will have an opportunity of saying, “I am a witness of Christ’s sufferings, but I am also a partaker of the Glory that shall be revealed.” Come with me, in thought, to Calvary, that you may learn the meaning of His sufferings, that you may afterwards be taught how you may share His Glory.
I wish I could speak right to the very soul of some of you who do not know my Master–how I wish you did know Him! I cannot imagine what some of you have to comfort you which you can, for even a moment, compare with the bliss of knowing my Lord! I have seen your joys. I know something of what mirth can do and what relief laughter may be able to bring, but I also know that these things are of little use in the time of sickness, or when one is near death. It is just at such times that true joy in Christ becomes more deep, more sweet than ever! The less there is of the creature, the more room is there for the Creator. The more of suffering and sorrow we have to endure, the more of content and bliss can we enjoy. And oftentimes, when the body is weak and the head is aching, and the soul is faint, there is, as it were, a sweet swoon of Divine delight which comes over the spirit, which has more strength in it than strength, more joy in it than joy, and almost as much of Heaven in it as there is in Heaven! May you know this, for the sake of Him who has loved us and given Himself for us! God bless you all! Amen.