22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Pe 1:22–25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
1:24, 25 Quoting Is. 40:6–8, Peter stresses the enduring nature of the word of the Lord. Flesh and all other material things are destined for destruction. In none of these can one afford to place his trust. But what God says is permanent, enduring, and trustworthy.
|1:24–25 In these two verses, Peter quotes Isa 40:6–8 to contrast the assured and lasting nature of God’s message of redemption with the temporary suffering of His people.
1:25 word that has been proclaimed to you The Greek word used here, euangelizō, describes the proclamation of good news and often references the gospel in the nt. Peter may have equated the word of the Lord from Isa 40:8 with the gospel (compare Luke 4:16–30).
1:24–25 Peter cites Isa. 40:6, 8 to contrast the weakness of human flesh with the power of the word of the Lord that has granted new life to believers.
1:24 withers … falls away: Peter reminds his readers of our transitory nature with an OT quote, comparing us to the temporary things of this world—a direct contrast to God’s permanent work and His eternal word (vv. 23, 25; Is. 40:6–8).
1:25 the word which by the gospel was preached: A better understanding of this phrase is “the word, the gospel which was preached.” Thus, the Good News of Jesus Christ, the gospel, is that which will last forever.
1:24. This quotation from Isa 40:6–8 is a contrast between the faithfulness of God and transitoriness of men. Isaiah uses a pair of similes to say that, compared to the eternal God, men are just as transitory as “grass” and its “flower”.
1:25. The word but emphasizes the contrast between man’s inability to keep any promise forever and God’s eternal ability to keep His word. Confidence in one’s spiritual birth (regeneration) is based on the truthfulness of God in keeping His promises, called “the word of the Lord which endures forever”.
The eternally enduring word is the message preached to Peter’s readers in the content of the gospel. This shows how important it is to preach a clear gospel. Works are not the means of assurance of salvation (“fruit proves life”). If they were, then believers must look to themselves for their hope rather than to the trustworthiness of God in keeping His promises.
1:24 The transitory character of human nature is emphasized by a quotation of Isaiah 40:6, 7. Human life is as impermanent as grass. Physical beauty is as short-lived as the flowers of the field. The grass withers, and the flowers droop and die.
1:25 In contrast, the word of the Lord endures forever (Isa. 40:8). Therefore, the new life of the believer is equally incorruptible. This incorruptible word is the message of good news which was preached to Peter’s readers and which caused them to be born again. It was the source of their eternal life.
1:23–25. Peter again reminded his readers that they had experienced the new birth (cf. v. 3): For you have been born again. This supernatural event made it possible for them to obey the truth, purify themselves, and love the brethren. This change in their lives would not die, because it took place through God’s Word, which is imperishable (aphthartou, the word in v. 4 that described a believer’s inheritance), living and enduring. Peter supported his exhortation (v. 22) by quoting Isaiah 40:6–8 (1 Peter 1:24–25). All that is born of perishable seed withers and falls, but God’s Word stands forever. This imperishable Word was the content of Peter’s preaching (cf. v. 12). His hearers must be affected by its life-changing power, as indicated in 2:1–3.
1:22–25 Loving other Christians
In vs 2 and 14 Peter has already spoken of the place of obedience in the Christian life. As a response to the proclamation and hearing of the truth, it has a twofold effect: it purifies the soul from the sins of the past and it develops a genuine love for other believers which is not a piece of play-acting. The reality of this love should be seen in its intensity and depth. Such love is prompted by the fact that Christians share a new birth made available by the living and enduring word of God. This regenerating word is declared when the gospel is preached.
Notes. 22 Deeply is used here and in 4:8 of love, and in Lk. 22:44 and Acts 12:5 of prayer. It denotes supreme effort, lit. ‘with every muscle strained’. The niv mg. shows that some early mss add the word pure to heart. This is quite a possible reading; as the Greek words ‘pure’ and ‘heart’ both begin with the same two letters it would have been easy for copyists to have overlooked one. 23 The Greek is unclear whether it is God or his word that is living and enduring. In a sense both are true, as the word proceeds from God. 24–25 Quotation of Is. 40:6–8 stresses the enduring and dynamic quality of the word of God.
1:22–25. Since Peter’s readers have responded in saving faith, a change has occurred in their lives. Peter pictures their souls as having been purified (“to be set apart,” “to consecrate” is the sense). One result of this consecration must be unqualified love (v. 22). By loving surrounding individuals, that quality is best demonstrated. This love must be sincere, not pretended, and fervent, used of competing athletes straining every muscle. The readers had been born again (v. 23; cf. 1:3) through an imperishable seed, the living and enduring word of God. Isaiah 40:6–8 was written originally to encourage the Jewish people that God would enable them to return to their land after the Babylonian exile, and that His promise would be fulfilled. The promise made through Isaiah would be equally encouraging for Peter’s audience who were also in exile (see 1Pt 1:1), and that as persecuted Jewish believers, they were promised not only that their salvation was certain, but that they too would some day be restored to their land. This would surely take place because the word of the Lord endures forever. word (v. 25) is the Greek rhema, an uttered word, which had been preached to Peter’s readers.
1:23–25. We can demonstrate this love in such fashion only because we have entered into a new way of life with Jesus Christ by faith. Everything in our lives turns on this axis, which explains Peter’s constant reference to this subject. Verse 23 reminds us that we have been born again. We have been given a new start spiritually. Part of the demonstration of that new start appears in the way in which we relate to each other.
The new birth is brought about through the agency of the Word of God. The Word of God is the instrument for the communication of the new birth. The word here includes the Old Testament Scriptures, the New Testament apostolic proclamation, and the presentation of both in the message of the first-century evangelists.
Living suggests the power of the Word of God to awaken new life and to initiate change in our lives through the application of its teaching. Enduring reinforces the idea of the permanence of the new life that God’s Word generates as well as the permanence of the Word itself.
This latter focus is emphasized in verses 24–25. The permanence of the Word is contrasted with the impermanence of people and vegetation. The focus of this section is the Word of God that endures or stands forever; it can never be made ineffective. It is an unchanging, vital, ever-present word of truth. It meets people’s needs, providing them with a sense of direction and wholeness. This is of crucial importance when everything around us seems to be coming apart. The Word of God stands forever because the God who speaks it is the eternal, faithful, powerful one who always keeps his promises. This Word stands as the foundation for Christian preaching. Through it you may come to know Jesus Christ as Savior and receive the eternal, living hope.
1:24 Verses 24–25a are a quote from the LXX of Isaiah 40:6–8 (cf. Job 14:1–2; Ps. 90:5–6, 103:15–17) which also emphasized the frailty and finitude of human life (cf. James 1:10–11) versus the eternality of God’s Word (cf. James 1:21). In their original context these verses referred to Israel, but now they refer to the church (cf. 2:5, 9). This is characteristic of I Peter.
1:25 “the word of the Lord” There are two Greek words usually translated “word” or “message.” In Koine Greek logos (cf. John 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:23) and rēma (cf. the OT quote from the Septuagint in 1:25a and alluded to in v. 25b) are usually synonymous. Context, not a lexicon, determines synonymity.
“All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25a. but the word of the Lord stands forever.”
Peter appeals to the Old Testament Scriptures to substantiate his teachings. Admittedly, he does not introduce the quotation from Isaiah’s prophecy with the formula it is written (v. 16) or in Scripture it says (2:6). Yet the conjunction for is sufficient to demonstrate that the quotation is from the Old Testament Scriptures. Throughout his epistle Peter repeatedly quotes them. He seems to have a preference for the prophecy of Isaiah, because he cites it more than any other book.
The wording of this quotation differs slightly from the text in Isaiah. Peter omits the lines “because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass” (Isa. 40:7). And in the line “but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:8), he has changed the words our God to “Lord.”
“All men are like grass.” The term all excludes no one. Furthermore, man is frail, as the literal translation of the text shows: “All flesh is like grass.” Man’s frailty is compared with grass that is here today and gone tomorrow (Ps. 103:15; and see Matt. 6:30).
“And all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall.” The beauty of a flower is short-lived, especially in a tropical or subtropical climate; so is the glory that man radiates because of his talents, achievements, or riches (see James 1:11). The winds of change blow and quickly remove all glory and honor. Peter gives no reason for the passing of man’s glory. He uses the illustration of the grass and the flowers only to stress the contrast between temporal man and the abiding Word of God.
“But the word of the Lord stands forever.” Even if we should forget everything else in this quotation, its concluding sentence is etched in our memories. In the Greek, the term word differs from its earlier use in verse 23, “the living and enduring word of God.” In verse 25 it can mean “utterance.” However, because Peter may have intended to do no more than use a synonym, we ought not to be dogmatic in our translation (e.g., see Acts 10:36–37, which gives one translation for these two different words in Greek).
Peter’s change from the wording “but the word of our God” to “but the word of the Lord” is deliberate. In the Old Testament, the word Lord signifies “the self-disclosed name of the covenant-God of Israel, Yahweh, ‘Jehovah.’ In the New Testament it is a standard designation for Jesus Christ.” With the term Lord Peter highlights Jesus’ divinity; he shows that the word of God is identical with the word of the Lord Jesus. For that reason, Peter concludes this section in these words:
25b. And this is the word that was preached to you.
The word the apostles preached was the gospel of Jesus. God revealed himself in Jesus Christ, whose gospel the apostles proclaimed to Jew and Gentile. This abiding word of God’s revelation in his Son also was brought to the recipients of Peter’s letter, for they themselves had heard the authoritative message of Jesus’ gospel (see v. 12). In fact, a literal translation of verse 25b is, “This word is the gospel that was preached to you.”
Vers. 24, 25. All flesh is as grass.—
Change and continuance:—“What is wanting here?” said a courtier to an illustrious prince, as they stood together, the spectators of a most splendid triumph in the city of Rome. To him who spake, there appeared to be nothing wanting. The gaiety and splendour of the spectacle were in his sight complete. The supreme power represented by the entire body of the senate was there. The spoils taken from the enemy, filling many carriages and piled upon movable platforms, were there. The ministers of justice, clad in official costume, and bearing the insignia of their office, were there. And there was the victorious general, attired in the triumphalia and crowned with laurels. “What is wanting here?” “What,” answered the prince, as he watched the procession pass along, and in passing pass away, “What is wanting? This is wanting, continuance.” The procession would pass along the appointed route, and then all would be dispersed, and the triumph would be a thing of the past. All thoughtful men feel seriously, if not sorrowfully, the changeful character of all the things which we see and handle on this earth. Where is continuance upon this planet? God has established the earth, and it abideth, but what beside abideth? Yea, even the earth is doomed to be burned up; and while it abides, great changes are continually occurring, even in the crust of the earth, and in the waters which fill its hollow places. And where continuance would be most valued, and where one should have expected it, even there it is not. The difference between poor men and rich men, famous men and men without renown, is just the difference between grass and the flower of grass; but as both grass and the flower of grass wither, so it is appointed unto all men once to die. There are things, however, which continue, good and precious things with which men have to do, and one of these things is mentioned in our text. Let us examine it. Words are lasting things. The breath which inspires them perishes, the lips which form them return to dust, the instruments which inscribe them are destructible, but words spoken and heard, written and read, have a boundless life and an immeasurable power. A good word may continue to enlighten, to invigorate for ever and for ever. All this is true of the words of man, but still more enduring in all their effects and influences are the words of the Lord. Many words has God spoken to us men. Among these words of God there is one communication which, on account of its singularity and importance, is called “the Word of the Lord,” and which, by reason of its pleasantness and graciousness, is called “the gospel.” Now, the Word of the Lord endureth for ever, and this is the Word which by the gospel is preached unto you. It lives in God’s mind; it lives, in fact, as a thing done and a provision completed; and it lives in the life of those who have been born again. 1. The nature of God, as revealed to us in the Scriptures, is the nature from which a gospel might be expected. 2. The gospel, so far as we appreciate it, and so far as we understand the thirsts and wants of human nature, is an all-sufficient gospel for man. 3. A gospel less than the gospel of the grace of God must have left some thirst unslaked, or some necessity unmet, or some wound unhealed, or some tears unwiped away; and while those tears were falling, that wound smarting, that want craving, that thirst burning, there could not have been the experience and enjoyment of complete salvation. 4. A gospel more real and substantial, or more worthy of the world’s acceptation, could not have issued even from God. 5. And this gospel is abiding, because it is the incorruptible seed of life everlasting. The old spiritual nature is impregnated with the seed of a new man, a Divine seed and incorruptible, the seed of the truth of the gospel; and the man who has thus received the gospel enters upon a new and eternal life. The gospel now lives in a living mind, and in a living heart, and in a living character; it repeats itself in the believer; and as the character and mission of Jesus Christ may be learned from the written life of Christ, so the gospel may be learned from the spiritual life of him who believes it. Let us now indicate the practical bearing of this doctrine. 1. The text magnifies the gospel. Let us be devoutly careful to preserve its gloriousness in our own eyes. And in order to do this we must reverence the gospel. 2. The text shows that the gospel is intended to be to us personally, and thereby furnishes us with a test of our religious state. The gospel is intended to be the germ of a Godlike life within us, and if it fail of this, it fails of its chief effect. 3. The text points out that in which is continuance; let us take care to handle perishable things as perishable, and to demean ourselves toward the gospel as everlasting. 4. The text suggests the strongest motives for the immediate and universal preaching of the gospel. Flesh is as grass. The man whose days are as grass is dying daily. And it is only here, while he is breathing out his brief life, that his nature can be impregnated with this incorruptible seed. 5. The text encourages us to sustain, and in all respects to provide for, the continuous preaching of the gospel. One after another the preachers of the gospel enter that valley, and are seen no more. But what do they leave behind? The sanctuaries in which they ministered? Yes; but something more. The flocks they tended? Pleasant memories? Yes; but much more. They leave that gospel, written not on tablets of stone, but upon the fleshy tablets of the heart; they leave that gospel more than written—they leave it in many hearts, a seed with a germ of Godlike and eternal life in it; they leave it as a new man, in many who have been born again by it as by incorruptible seed; they leave it in the rich experiences and holy activities of the new man; they leave it in a state imperishable, and they may leave it without anxiety. (S. Martin.) Autumn: life’s contrast:—The form of thought here used illustrates a common principle in the operation of the human mind—that principle of contrast by which one thing suggests its opposite. Life is made up of contrasts. The secret of this influence of contrast lies in man’s twofold nature, allied on the one side to the frail and perishing, on the other to the stable and enduring; one hand grasping dust and ashes, the other seizing upon the very throne of God; the outward eye seeing only what fades and passes away, the inward eye beholding glories which nothing can destroy or dim. There is something beyond the reach of change and decay and mortality—God’s truth, as it has been revealed to man; God’s promise, which by His Son He has made—this cannot fail. It will outlast all the forms of outward life, and all the splendours of nature; and, though heaven and earth pass away, it shall not pass away. The connection of the text makes it more emphatic. The apostle had been speaking of Christ’s resurrection, and of the faith and hope which this fact excites; and he alludes to the wasting away of all material things, so as to fix attention more joyfully on the soul’s undying nature. He leaps from the vessel that is sinking with all earth’s treasure in the sea of time, to the firm shore of immortality. Let the grass then wither, and the glory of man fade away. God willing, we would not have the present scene to be our permanent dwelling. The transient and the abiding in the nature and experience of man—this is, indeed, a contrast which it well becomes us to consider. The great mistake that human beings make is in regarding perishable things as though they were imperishable, and so fastening on them the feelings and expectations which belong only to the imperishable. Christianity does not forbid us to have any regard for what is perishable and passing away. Jesus Christ brought no ascetic religion into the world. He does not bid us dig a cave, and hide ourselves from all that is bright and gladsome around us, fleeting though it be. But what He and His apostles insist on is, that we shall graduate and proportion our interest in all things according to their worth. To put in its right light the contrast, I would bring out, suppose some inhabitant of that upper world—as it is thought departed spirits may—to lift the curtain, and look in upon these scenes in which we mingle. To one whose eye looks from his high station, how small and obscure this lower world, the dim, narrow entrance-way to the more glorious mansions of the Father’s house! He knows that authentic tidings of the great region He dwells in, have reached the ears of that crowd of mortals who move along through this entry of the spiritual world. As the sickly generations of creatures advance, the angel-spectator scans the occupations in which they engage. What a thrill of amazement shoots through his breast to observe such multitudes living as though these narrow earthly steps to the great temple beyond were themselves the whole universe, studiously averting their eyes from the gate that leads to the immense splendours of the inner sanctuary. One is wholly absorbed in giving free scope to sense and appetite and superficial fancy. Another seems taken up entirely with swelling his pile of gold. He bends steadily down over it, and, as he stoops, gives up the lustre of heaven for its glitter. But yet another sight that angelic witness as surely beholds, and oh, there is not a pleasanter sight beneath the sun than that of a rich man for this world and for the world to come; yea, of a man who rejoices more than an old alchemist over the supposed discovery of the philosopher’s stone, at the opportunity to transmute his temporary into everlasting treasure. Here surely the principle is illustrated aright in a contrast just and holy. This, then, without further illustration, is the lesson of our text. Be not deceived in your estimate. Distinguish the things that differ. Observe the contrasts that God has established. Is the New Testament true? Shall these great scenes of judgment and doom, according to the deeds of the flesh, be soon ushered in? Make not, then, the enormous miscalculation of leaving so vast an element out of your account. Even in this life, the contrast between things earthly and things heavenly sometimes demonstrates itself in striking results. The distinct consequences of diverse characters are especially marked, as men advance in life towards old age; and the rewards and retributions already bestowed seem to anticipate the judgment-day. As I walked through the lanes of yonder growing forest, on our beautiful common, the dry leaves crushing under my feet, and the sinking sun taking his last look at the bare boughs of the trees, I met a man on whom the blow of grief had descended as sorely as upon any, and with oft-repeated stroke. A new sorrow had just fallen on his grey head and long-diseased, emaciated frame. He spoke of faith. He spoke of loyalty to God and duty. He spoke of heaven as though it were near. He said nothing of being hardly dealt with, nor hinted aught about not understanding why he should be selected for such trials, but seemed to think there was nothing but God’s mercy and kindness in the world. But he seemed to me, as I looked upon him, to have an inward stay that would hold him up when all earthly props had fallen to the ground. For once, the contrast between earth and heaven was revealed to my mind; and the dissolving emblems of mortality under my feet, and the cold, shifting mists over my head, were transformed from sad tokens into symbols of hope and joy. (C. A. Bartol.)
The death of a servant of God:—Two doctrines naturally arise from this text—
- That man and his glory are fading and withering. All flesh is grass. 1. It is weak, and low, and little as grass. Mankind is indeed numerous as the grass of the field, multiplies, replenishes, and covereth the earth; but like grass, it is of the earth, earthy, mean, and of small account. Alas, the kingdoms of men which make so great a noise, so great a figure, in this lower world, are but as so many fields of grass compared with the bright and glorious constellations of stars, made up of the holy and blessed inhabitants of the upper regions. Proud men think themselves like the strong and stately cedars, oaks, or pines, but they soon find themselves as the grass of the field, liable to be nipped with every frost, trampled on by every foot, continually insulted by common calamities. 2. It is withering, and fading, and dying as grass; having both its rise and maintenance out of the earth, it hastens to the earth, and retires to its root and foundation in the dust. In the morning, perhaps, it is green and growing up, its aspect pleasing, its prospect promising; but when we come to look upon it in our evening work we find it cut down and withered. If it be not cut down by disease or disaster, it will soon wither of itself; it has in it the principles of its own corruption. Is all flesh grass? All, without exception of the noble or the fair, the young or the strong, the well-born or well-built, the well-fed or well-bred? Is all grass, weak and withering? (1) Then let us see ourselves to be grass, and humble and deny ourselves. Is the body grass? Then be not proud, be not presumptuous, be not confident of a long continuance here; forget not that the foot may crush thee. Grass falls; let me not be such a fool as to lay up my treasure in it. Is the body grass? Then let us not indulge it too much, nor bestow too much time and care and pains about it, as many do, to the neglect of the better and immortal part. After all, we cannot keep it from withering, when its day shall come to fall. (2) Let us see others also to be as grass, and cease from man, because he is no more than thus to be accounted of. We are now to consider, not common men, but men of distinction, and to see them withering and falling. 3. Let us inquire, What is the glory of man in this world? There is indeed a glory of man which is counterfeit, and mistaken for glory. Solomon says, “For men to search their own glory is not glory” (Prov. 25:27). The glory men commonly pursue and search for is no glory at all. Is beauty and comeliness of body the glory of man? So they pass with some who judge by the sight of the eye; but at the best they are only the goodliness of grass; they are a flower which death will certainly cut down; or the end of time will change the countenance; either wrinkled age, or pale death. We should therefore make sure the beauty of grace, the hidden man of the heart, which neither age nor death will sully. Is wealth the glory of man? Laban’s sons thought so when they said concerning Jacob, Of that which was our father’s hath he gotten all this glory (Gen. 31:1). But this also is a fading flower. Is pomp and grandeur the glory of a man? That also withers away. Great names and titles of honour are written in the dust. Give me leave to show you some instances of the glory of a man. (1) Is a large capacity of mind the glory of a man? (2) Is learning to be reckoned the glory of a man? (3) Is tenderness and humility, modesty and sweetness of temper, the glory of a man? (4) Is the faithful discharge of the ministry of the gospel the glory of a man? (5) Is great usefulness the glory of a man, and a delight in doing good? Well, here is the glory of man: let us be ambitious of this glory, and not of vain-glory. See true honour in the paths of wisdom and virtue, and seek it there. This is honour that comes from God, and is in His sight of great price. 4. Having seen this flower flourishing, we are now to see it withering. As to himself, this glory is not lost, is not stained, by death; it is not like worldly honour, laid in the dust, and buried in the grave; no, this flower is transplanted from the garden on earth to the paradise in heaven, where it shall never fade. The works of good men follow them, but they forsake us, and we are deprived of the benefit of them.
- Though man and glory are fading and withering, yet God and His Word are everliving and everlasting. The glory of the law was done away, but that of the gospel remains. The glory of ministers falls away, but not the glory of the Word they are ministers of. The prophets, indeed, do not live for ever, but the words which God commanded them did, and will take hold, as words quick and powerful. 1. There is in the Word of the Lord an everlasting rule of faith and practice for us to be ruled by. (1) It is our comfort that Christianity shall not die with our ministers, nor that light be buried in their graves. (2) It is our duty not to let our Christianity die with our ministers, but let the word of Christ contained in the Scriptures still dwell in us richly. 2. There is in the Word of the Lord an everlasting fountain of comfort and consolation for us to be refreshed and encouraged by, and to draw water from with joy, and an everlasting foundation on which to build our hopes. (Matthew Henry.)
Man compared to grass:—We are like “grass.” 1. We are like grass in our relation to the earth. 2. We are like grass in the frailty of our nature. 3. We are like grass in the uncertainty of our lives. The blade dies in all seasons. 4. We are like grass in the unnoticeableness of our dissolution. Blade after blade withers and dies, and the landscape appears as ever. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The fleeting and the durable:—
- The transitory nature of all the things which appertain to this our earthly state. “All flesh is grass,” &c. 1. How affectingly is this sentiment verified in the personal endowments of man, beauty and strength! Survey that animal structure, once so lovely, when it is wrinkled by the hand of time; when it is withered by the action of disease; when it is blasted by the stroke of death. Survey these melancholy changes which await the sons and daughters of Adam, and you will feel the propriety of the sentiment in the text. 2. The wisdom of man, no less than his beauty and strength, serves as an example of the sentiment in the text. In the present age we are accustomed to denounce the systems of former generations as fanciful or crude, and to smile when we hear them dignified by the names of philosophy and science; boasting at the same time that the perfection of philosophy and the arts have been reserved for our own age. Alas! for us, generations will arise that will look back on the nineteenth century, and in their turn laugh at the rudeness of our inventions, the infancy of our science, and the blunders of our philosophy. The fact is, that all knowledge merely human is destined to pass away (1 Cor. 13:8). 3. We may also adduce as an example of the truth in the text the passing away of all those things which constitute the elegancies and decorations of civilised life; all that is designed to gratify the taste and imagination. Whatever the pencil of the painter has portrayed; whatever the chisel of the sculptor has wrought out; whatever the skill of the architect has raised; whatever the imagination has devised of rare and ornamental in furniture, dress, or manners—all must serve in its turn to show that the goodliness of man is as the flower of the field. 4. I must not omit to bring forward riches as furnishing a verification equally strong of the sentiment of the text. 5. These remarks apply with equal propriety to that idol of many hearts—fame. The historian’s pen, the poet’s muse, the tablet of marble and brass, all the means which have been employed to perpetuate a name, have only served as a comment on the text. 6. Power and dominion, desired by some and envied by others as the most abiding of human things, are only exemplifications on a larger scale of the truth affirmed in the text. Empires rise and fall; sceptres change hands, thrones are overturned, and one dynasty succeeds another. 7. One other illustration of the affecting sentiment of the text yet remains. The great globe itself, the habitation of fallen man, is destined to pass away!
- The durability of that dispensation of truth with which Jehovah has blessed the world. By the Word of our God I understand Messiah’s dispensation, the gospel of the Son of God, with all the fulness of its grace and truth. 1. It is proved that this Word of our God shall stand for ever, in spite of all that can be effected to the contrary by persecution. Evangelical truth has outlived the memory of her once mighty foes; has overturned the monuments reared to commemorate her own destruction; and, clothed in celestial radiance and power, has gone on from conquering to conquer! 2. The course of events has shown that the Word of our God shall stand for ever, notwithstanding the hostility of infidel men. The religion of Christ Jesus may be compared to an exceeding strong citadel, erected on the summit of an everlasting rock. They alone tremble for its security who are ignorant of its impregnable strength. 3. As a confirmation of the position in the text, that the Word of our God shall stand for ever, we may with holy exultation advert to that spread of the Christian religion which has taken place in our day. 4. I may mention as a further proof that the Word of our God shall stand for ever, that holy energy with which it is still accompanied. (J. Bromley.) The withering work of the Spirit (with Isa. 40:6–8):—In every one of us it must be fulfilled that all that is of the flesh in us, seeing it is but as grass, must be withered, and the comeliness thereof must be destroyed. The Spirit of God, like the wind, must pass over the field of our souls, and cause our beauty to be as a fading flower. There must be brought home to us the sentence of death upon our former legal and carnal life, that the incorruptible seed of the Word of God, implanted by the Holy Ghost, may be in us, and abide in us for ever. The subject is the withering work of the Spirit upon the souls of men.
- Turning then to the work of the Spirit in causing the goodliness of the flesh to fade, let us, first, observe that the work of the Holy Spirit upon the soul of man in withering up that which is of the flesh, is very unexpected. You will observe that even the speaker himself, though doubtless one taught of God, when he was bidden to cry, said, “What shall I cry?” Even he did not know that in order to the comforting of God’s people, there must first be experienced a preliminary visitation. Many preachers of God’s gospel have forgotten that the law is the schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. It cannot be that God should cleanse thee until He has made thee see somewhat of thy defilement; for thou wouldst never value the precious blood if thou hadst not first of all been made to mourn that thou art altogether an unclean thing. The convincing work of the Spirit, wherever it comes, is unexpected, and even to the child of God in whom this process has still to go on, it is often startling. We begin again to build that which the Spirit of God had destroyed. Having begun in the Spirit, we act as if we would be made perfect in the flesh; and then when our mistaken upbuilding has to be levelled with the earth, we are almost as astonished as we were when first the scales fell from our eyes. The voice which saith, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people,” achieves its purpose by first making them hear the cry, “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field.” 2. Furthermore, this withering is after the usual order of the Divine operation. If we consider well the way of God we shall not be astonished that He beginneth with His people by terrible things in righteousness. Observe the method of creation. What was there in the beginning? Originally nothing. “The earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” There was no trace of another’s plan to interfere with the great architect. So it is in the new creation. When the Lord new creates us, He borrows nothing from the old man, but makes all things new. He does not repair and add a new wing to the old house of our depraved nature, but He builds a new temple for His own praise. 3. I would have you notice that we are taught in our text how universal this process is in its range over the hearts of all those upon whom the Spirit works. “All flesh is grass; and all the goodliness thereof”—the very choice and pick of it—“is as the flower of the field,” and what happens to the grass? Does any of it live? “The grass withereth,” all of it. The flower, will not that abide? So fair a thing, has not that an immortality? No, it utterly falls away. So wherever the Spirit of God breathes on the soul of man, there is a withering of everything that is of the flesh, and it is seen that to be carnally minded is death. If the work in us be not the Spirit’s working, but our own, it will droop and die when most we require its protection. 4. You see, then, the universality of this withering work within us, but notice the completeness of it. The grass, what does it do? Droop? nay, wither. The flower of the field: what of what? Does it hang its head a little? No, according to Isaiah it fades; and according to Peter it falleth away. There is no reviving it with showers, it has come to its end. Even thus are the awakened led to see that in their flesh there dwelleth no good thing. 5. Let us further notice that all this withering work in the soul is very painful. As you read these verses do they not strike you as having a very funereal tone? This is mournful work, but it must be done. All that is of nature’s spinning must be unravelled. It was a great mercy for our city of London that the great fire cleared away all the old buildings which were the lair of the plague, a far healthier city was then built; and it is a great mercy for a man when God sweeps right away all his own righteousness and strength, when He makes him feel that he is nothing and can be nothing, and drives him to confess that Christ must be all in all, and that his only strength lies in the eternal might of the ever-blessed Spirit. 6. Observe that although this is painful it is inevitable. Why does the grass wither? Because it is a withering thing. “Its root is ever in its grave, and it must die.” How could it spring out of the earth and be immortal? The seeds of corruption are in all the fruits of manhood’s tree; let them be as fair to look upon as Eden’s clusters, they must decay. Moreover, it would never do that there should be something of the flesh in our salvation and something of the Spirit; for if it were so there would be a division of the honour. It gives me great joy when I hear that you unconverted ones are very miserable, for the miseries which the Holy Spirit works are always the prelude to happiness. 7. It is the Spirit’s work to wither. Better to be broken in pieces by the Spirit of God than to be made whole by the flesh! What doth the Lord say? “I kill.” But what next? “I make alive.” He never makes any alive but those He kills. He never heals those whom He has not wounded.
- Now, concerning the implantation. According to Peter, although the flesh withers, and the flower thereof falls away, yet in the children of God there is an unwithering something of another kind. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed,” &c. “The Word of the Lord endureth for ever,” &c. Now, the gospel is of use to us because it is not of human origin. If it were of the flesh, all it could do for us would not land us beyond the flesh; but the gospel of Jesus Christ is super-human, Divine, and spiritual. In its conception it was of God; its great gift, even the Saviour, is a Divine gift; and all its teachings are full of deity. Now this is the incorruptible Word, that “God was made flesh and dwelt among us”; that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” This is the incorruptible Word, that “whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Do you receive it? Then the Holy Spirit implants it in your soul. Do you leap up to it, and say, “I believe it”? Then you possess the living seed within your soul. And what is the result of it? Why, then there comes, according to the text, a new life into us, as the result of the indwelling of the living Word, and our being born again by it. Now observe wherever this new life comes through the Word, it is incorruptible, it lives and abides for ever. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Man and his glory—the grass and its flower:—These verses institute a comparison and bring out a contrast between the natural life and the spiritual. Every son of man is born into one life, and every son of God is born again into another. There is a mystery in every man, but a greater mystery in every Christian. Nature is deep, but grace is deeper. The two lives brought into contrast here are the natural life of man in the body which soon fades away, and the new life of the regenerated which will for ever flourish. These two lives are not in all their aspects opposite, for the same person may at the same time possess both. He holds them, however, by different tenures: the first or natural life will soon depart, but the new or spiritual life will be his for ever. The analogy employed is exact and full and beautiful—“All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.” Man is like the grass, and his glory like its flower. Life is short, and the period of its perfect development is shorter still. The history of a man consists of a gradual growing to maturity, and a gradual declining to the grave. Such is his best estate, when no accident cuts him off in mid-time of his days. But if this is true of the flesh—the sensitive nature which man has in common with the brutes—what shall be said of all his distinguishing features as a moral and intelligent being? Although the mere flesh is evanescent, what of the glory wherewith his Maker has crowned his head? The text has two things to say of this glory—the first, that it greatly excels in worth and beauty the animal structure on which it grows; the second, that it is still more short-lived. If all flesh be as grass, all its glory is only as the flower of grass. The flower is indeed the glory of the grass, but it comes up later and withers earlier. What shall we say, then, of all that is peculiar to man—of all that distinguishes him from the beasts of the field—of that human face divine, and that articulate speech, and that calculating mind, which mark him off as chief of God’s creatures here and ruler of His world? Can the glory of man be compared to the herbage as well as his sentient nature? No; for though it is more brilliant while it lasts, it is sooner over. Beauty of form is one of the distinguishing glories of humanity. It has pleased God our Father so to arrange the features of our frame, and so to constitute our minds, that we count them comely. We admire the flower of the herbage, and devoutly see in it the Creator’s wisdom. Shall we not look with deeper interest on a lighted human countenance, and see in that glory of man a glory to the Lord? This glory does not last long; it is a flower—fragrant, attractive; but it withers soon. The flower is later blown and earlier faded than the frail green stem that bears it. But the beauty of the new creature in Christ does not fade like a flower. It is an interesting speculation—although it can be nothing more—to imagine the beauty of man unfallen. The peculiar sweetness sometimes imparted to the countenance of an ordinary person by the sudden influx of a “great peace” in periods of spiritual revival suggests the probability that we lost by sin an external loveliness so great that we lack now the power of conceiving fully what it was. But, great though the loss be, Christians sorrow not over it as those who have no hope; for their gain is greater. Where sin abounded to mar, grace will much more abound to renew. Whatever is lost by sin is more than restored by redemption. The risen Christ is glorious, and risen Christians will be like Him. Humanity redeemed will be humanity perfect. I would fain realise the beauty of the resurrection body, as well as the spiritual purity of the saints in light. (W. Arnot.) The Word of the Lord endureth for ever.—
The living and enduring Word:—On what grounds does the apostle assign to the gospel exclusively this high character, that it endureth for ever?
- The righteousness which the gospel reveals for justifying the ungodly is everlasting. Mankind are guilty before God; and what blessing is so necessary as justification? Of what avail are rank, power, wealth, learning, and even Church privileges, of which so many boast, for acceptance with God? What, then, is the glory of the self-justiciary? It is fading and transient as the flowers of the field. And what presumption in sinful mortal man to hold up any of these things, or all of them put together, if that were in his power, as his righteousness, in direct opposition to the declared will of his Creator and Lord. Is the God who made him to be dictated to by him? No. That Word, fixing the mode of acceptance, endureth for ever, while the glory which man opposes to it shall wither, and leave its worshippers covered with confusion. The certainty and the perfect reasonableness of this result must impress us more deeply if we consider the character of the righteousness which the Word of the Lord reveals and establishes. It is absolutely perfect, for it includes obedience to both the precept and the penalty of the law of God; it is divinely excellent, for it was performed by the Son of God, who condescended to assume our frail nature that He might perform it; it is the most glorious production of Divine wisdom and love: it hath magnified the law and made it honourable; it hath thus propitiated God and abolished death.
- The vital principle which the Word of God inspires is imperishable. The only life which we derive from Adam is feeble, terrestrial, mortal. Its activities, aims, and enjoyments correspond to its nature and origin. They all centre in things worldly and perishing. The gospel is “the ministration of life.” The Lord Jesus conveys by it the influences of His quickening Spirit into the soul that was alienated from God and absorbed in earth, and produces in it the new creature, even faith working by love. The truth which the Word testifies concerning Christ being thus known and believed becomes the principle of a new life, the activities of which appear in the outgoings of the soul towards Him in trust, hope, love, gratitude, submission. By the illuminations of His Word Christ lives in that soul, and exerts a mighty power over all its faculties—a power which inspires it with His own views, spirit, and aims. Actuated by the vital principles which His words create—for His words are spirit and life—the mind connects all things with Christ and with God, converts them into means of instruction, into motives to love and obedience, into materials for praise. It regards its most common mercies as the fruits of Divine bounty, the expressions of the Divine goodness and care. It submits to privations and afflictions, and endures them as the salutary discipline of a wise father; and the most ordinary occurrences it contemplates as the dispensations of Him who makes “all things work together for good” to them that love Him. The relations, then, and pleasures, and pains, and intercourse, and pursuits, and occurrences which are peculiar to the present transient state, and which are so insignificant in themselves, because the state to which they belong is so fluctuating and evanescent, rise into dignity and importance, from the influence which the Divine Word exerts on the mind in which it lives, and become the means at once of present fellowship with God and of training up an immortal spirit for a holy and blessed eternity. Now this vital principle, so excellent in itself, is imperishable. In the present state, indeed, its power is small, its activities are feeble and irregular, and, of course, its influence is very limited. But let us recollect that it is only very lately since it came into being, and that it exists in the midst of much which is most hostile to it, and which continually opposes its growth. It shall exist, and notwithstanding the bleakness of the soil in which it is planted, and the noxious exhalations which rise around it and the storms which assail it, shall wax stronger and stronger; for the seed is the Word of the Lord which liveth and abideth for ever.
III. The honour to which the gospel raises believers, and the beauties with which it adorns them, are unfading. It dignifies them with intimate relations to Christ, introduces them into God’s favour, exalts them to be His sons, gives them access with confidence to His gracious presence, a claim on His protection and care, and makes them kings and priests unto God. And these are not only enduring, but ever-increasing honours; at least their transcendent excellence and glory shine with increasing lustre, and the longer and the more fully they are enjoyed they are the more highly valued, and their power to ennoble and to bless is more abundantly experienced and more humbly and gratefully acknowledged. They are enduring, for the lovingkindness of God, which is the sum of them all, is immutable, and the charter which conveys them is irrevocable, for it is confirmed by the blood of Christ and the oath of God.
- Every hope which is founded on this Word shall be more than fulfilled. What blessed hopes does it authorise and encourage the believer to cherish!—the hope that God will never fail him nor forsake him, that the Divine Spirit shall be his guide and comforter, that his heavenly Advocate shall secure to him mercy and grace in every time of need, that the Lord will perfect that which concerneth him. Oh! are not these glorious hopes, not only worthy of intellectual and immortal beings, but hopes which ennoble and purify and bless them! Can the greatest and best portion of worldly good which human heart ever ventured to anticipate bear comparison with them for a single moment? And that hope rests on a sure foundation. It is built on the living and imperishable Word of Him who is eternal and almighty, whose name is Faithful and True, and sooner shall heaven and earth pass than one iota or tittle of His Word remain unfulfilled. (Jas. Stark, D.D.)
The Word of God a living thing:—
- The Word of God is the seed of life. It is a principle having life and energy, which sown in man’s heart grows there, expands, and bears fruit to such an extent that the whole man is transformed into a new creature, and henceforth lives to God. It is not so often a broad outline of Christian truth that strikes its root into the conscience as some word or two; some thought; some blessed promise, such as 1 John 1:7; some touching invitation, like Matt. 11:28; some alarming note of warning, as Luke 13:3; some fearful description, as 1 Tim. 5:6. In the private history of almost every one amongst us who has dared to confess Christ there has been, previous to that step, a time of reading and of praying over the Word of God. Schoolboys in their private rooms, trembling, it may be, at their fellows’ laugh, clerks in their intervals of business, a wife in her husband’s absence at his daily work, soldiers and sailors, have placed the Bible on their tables, read, prayed, applied the Word, made it their own, and so been “born again of this incorruptible seed,” &c.
- The Word of God liveth and abideth for ever; and if we need to receive it into our hearts as the seed of life, so have we need to cherish it there as the support of life—of that life which, beginning here, goes on throughout eternity. Distinctly and for ever shall we think of and see before us the Lamb who has redeemed us to God by His blood. Distinctly and for ever will His holy law stand out as the law by which we tried to live on earth and by which we cannot fail to live in heaven. (F. Morse, M.A.)
Human changes and the Divine unchangeableness:—Human changes and the Divine unchangeableness—this is the subject suggested by our text. Its first clause is an utterance of the despondency which comes over us as we contemplate the frail lives of men. The second clause answers that despondency by affirming that the Word of the Lord is not changeful like the thought of man, but enduring as God Himself. The third clause declares that in the gospel we have the abiding Word of God; and the whole passage is intended to illustrate the foregoing declaration that faith in the gospel makes men as immortal as God; we are “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” Now the Bible is not a despondent book. Prophets and apostles give expression to our despondency only to correct and to console it.
- The first consolation our text has for this depression is that it contrasts with our frailty the Word of the Eternal God. It matters little that the worker passes if his work endures. If we had but as firm a faith in “the Word of God” as we have in the results of human investigation, if we were as earnest in the Divine work as in our own, despondency would be at an end. Piety will never be checked, faith will never languish, because “all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.” For piety is bent on serving God, and faith receives God’s revelation; and though “the grass withereth and the flower thereof falleth away,” “the Word of the Lord endureth for ever.”
- The next thought suggested by our text is that man’s changefulness illustrates the eternal purpose of God. The Divine intention is brought out in His dealing with the fleeting generations of men; it becomes venerable in retrospect, while it is ever revealing itself in the freshness of a progressive history. An unvarying history would be a history of death; we gain a vaster idea of permanence by advance than we could ever gain by the continuance of unchanging forms. “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth for ever”—depository of God’s creative energy. Another spring sees the grass revive; the trees look down on the renewed face of the earth. So, though men die, humanity endures; the same in its great necessities, the same in its sense of dependence and obligation, with quenchless aspirations ever rising; there is an abiding human heart. And humanity finds the same eternal God, the same object of piety, the inspirer and rewarder of faith, the fountain of an everlasting hope; finds the same salvation, the same Saviour—“Jesus Christ, yesterday and to-day the same, and for ever.” There is development in humanity as there is evolution in nature; and this development witnesses to the abiding God, who needs ages to work out His will and reveal His eternal purpose of goodness and grace to waiting man.
III. It is not of the eternity of God or of God’s rule over the world that our text speaks; it is “the Word of the Lord,” which “endureth for ever.” We need a revelation; an unrevealed were an unknown God. And yet how can we dream of abiding truth in a changing humanity? As mankind advances will not men’s thoughts vary concerning even such fundamental things as moral obligation, the character of virtue, the objects of our devotion, the very being of God? The answer is, there will be development in the Christian faith; a fuller apprehension of its truths, a deeper sympathy with its spirit, a larger experience of its power, a broader application of it to the varying wants of men. But it will be from the old founts that the new inspirations will be drawn; men will turn to Christ and His gospel in every social complication, every conflict of faith, every spiritual need. The world’s morals must be Christian morals; the world’s religion the Christian faith. We are able to apply the test of history to this prediction. What book is there, eighteen hundred years old, which has the interest for all sorts and conditions of men the gospel has? We look inward, and we find the reason of its perpetuity to lie in its appeal to what is deepest in the soul of man.
- The enduring Word of God is the pledge of our endurance. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” The gospel has been “the salt of the earth,” preserving it from decay. Under it the world has renewed its youth, and its last days shall be its best. The love and righteousness, which are first revealed to our faith as ever abiding in God, and then are formed in us—graces of character as well as objects of faith—are the only things that can endure. The man in whom they are not is dead while he liveth; the man in whom they are shall live, although he die. (A. Mackennal, D.D.)
The enduring Word:—
- We have here a Divine gospel; for what word can endure for ever but that which is spoken by the eternal God?
- We have here an everliving gospel, as full of vitality as when it first came from the lips of God, as strong to convince and convert, to regenerate and console, to sustain and sanctify, as ever it was in its first days of wonder-working.
III. We have an unchanging gospel, which is not to-day green grass and to-morrow dry hay, but always the abiding truth of the immutable Jehovah. Opinions alter, but truth certified by God can no more change than the God who uttered it.
- Here, then, we have a gospel to rejoice in, a Word of the Lord upon which we may lean all our weight. “For ever” includes life, death, judgment, and eternity. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Word of the Lord everlasting:—I am glad to have a deliverance like this, so distinct, so comprehensive, and at the same time so authoritative. Men sometimes ask us what it is that we mean when we speak so positively about the Word of the Lord. In one phrase, we answer, we mean the glad tidings of great joy which are unto all people, that unto them was born on a given day in a city of David a Saviour, who was Christ the Lord. This emphatically is the Word of the Lord. The facts which relate to the sufferings of our Redeemer and the facts which relate to His subsequent acts of everlasting glory are a message from God unto man. And the predictions, the narrations, the explanations, the invitations, and the promises altogether make up what the apostle is here designating; put altogether, they constitute the glorious gospel of the blessed God. The adversaries of the Christian faith tell us that our old gospel will presently be disproved. Strange, if it is to come to nothing, that it has survived for nineteen centuries already!
- It is secure, whatever may be the efforts of possible persecution. I do not say that you will not have apparent triumphs on the part of the persecutors. False brethren will fall away, but God’s truth, somehow or other, will still survive, and He to whom that truth pertains and whose Word we are speaking will make it good in spite of opposition, and make it good in the oppressions of His faithful servants, strengthening them with strength in their souls, turning curse into blessing, and making the wrath of man to praise Him, whilst the remainder of that wrath He will restrain.
- The old gospel is in no danger whatever from the intellectual opposition of our modern infidels. Here and there we have the sound of triumph on the part of our adversaries. Reading their literature, as some of us do, we find those triumphs much more frequent perhaps than some of you may suppose; but what are the triumphs? They are not triumphs over the old gospel as it came down from heaven. You have had things incorporated with Christianity which God never put there—they are disproved; you have had opinions foisted upon the gospel from the traditions of men—they are being detached; you have had interpretations of Holy Scripture which are undoubtedly untrue—you have had them put to silence. But need I say that such victories are not against us? They are on our side! To get rid of error is to get rid of so much dead weight; and although the discomfiture of a Christian man, when the traditions which he has maintained are taken from beneath him, may not be that which he likes, yet such discomfiture is so much clear gain to the Christian cause, and that clear gain it will go on to acquire.
III. The old gospel is in no danger from the discoveries of our scientific men. I know of no statement so popular amongst the foes of the Christian faith as this, that the teachings of our sacred books are at variance with the teachings of the natural sciences; at variance, for example, with the teachings of astronomy, of archaeology, and especially of geology. Not one of those sciences whispers a coming contradiction to your Bibles; not one of them foretokens a coming time when you will have either to give up that book or to deny indisputable facts.
- The old gospel is in no danger from the advancement of civilisation. How is civilisation advancing! What a power is that of our commerce, our literature, our science, our art, our philanthropy, our moral and intellectual philosophy! There is much about it to be admired; it softens asperities, conciliates antagonism, refines the manners, elevates the character, combines and consolidates into one the entire family of man. Wondrous is the good which it has been doing, and wondrous is the good of which it is itself the representative and the embodiment. Tell us that civilisation will be the destroyer of Christianity! Why, abstract from your modern civilisation that which Christianity has imparted to it, and you have just that which very presently, by common consent, would be buried and out of sight. Why, it is the very child which your Christianity has brought forth; it is the very creation of which Christianity in her pure exuberance is instrumentally the creator. You might just as well think of this great superstructure in which we are assembled existing without a foundation as to think of modern civilisation existing without Christianity.
- The old gospel is in no danger from the ulterior necessities of humanity. There may be species of human necessity that have never yet come to light in our acquaintance with mankind; and there may be species that never will come to light, except it be in some further and advanced stage of the history of our race. The capacities, the susceptibilities, and the activities of the human soul are perfectly wonderful. Give to that human soul the opportunity, the means, and the appliances which may be requisite, and where is the man that will tell me what deeper depths of the emotional he may evince, what mightier forces of the intellectual he may disclose, what intenser sympathy with the diabolical he may display, and what more glowing apprehensions of the immortal he may manifest? Abide by your old gospel with an unfaltering faith. Let that time come, and be it present to your eye now, when there shall be powers of investigation to which there is no parallel now; there will be the message to the man who possesses that power of investigation—Go and investigate the great “mystery of godliness.” Be your power what it may, it will find its occupation there. Be it so, that there shall be a capability for apprehension to which there is no parallel now: the commandment will be—Go and take the “unspeakable gift” of God, and try and find the occupation for your apprehension there. Be it so that there is guilt perpetrated—and who can tell after what we see ourselves what forms of guilt may be perpetrated?—be it that guilt is perpetrated at which even the devil stands aghast: there is “the blood that cleanseth from all sin”; let the sinner go and be cleansed and pardoned by that. Be it so that there will be unparalleled sympathy with and aspiration for the immortal; let the man who is the subject of such aspirations go and try to understand the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Oh! there is no danger for the old gospel! You may have philosophy sublimated, until that with which we are familiar shall be as nothing side by side with your philosophy; transcendently superior will be the glorious gospel of the blessed God, and so far from being inadequate to man’s requisitions then, it will supply, with an amplitude which is imperial, all that shall be required. So far from being effete and obsolete, it will exist with living and with royal power; so far from being, as we are told, an exploded superstition, an exhausted fountain, an ancient, decrepit, infirm, unavailable messenger of good, there it will be, in all the vigour of its youth, proclaiming salvation through the blood of the Lamb, and declaring to mankind in its highest elevation there is a higher elevation still. “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil, that is understanding.” This Word of the Lord will be all adequate to the necessities and the requirements of humanity. (W. Brock.)
The Word of God everliving:—How wonderfully has the Lord provided for the continuance of the vegetable world; He causes the plant to scatter broadcast a multitude of seeds, and bids the winds convey them far and wide. The fowls of the air are commissioned to bear berries and fruits to their proper soils, and even to bury them in the earth; while scores of four-footed creatures, engaged in storing up food for themselves, become planters of trees and propagators of plants. Seeds bear a charmed life about them; they will germinate after being buried for centuries; they have been known to flourish when turned up from the borings of wells from the depth of hundreds of feet, and when ponds and lakes have been dried the undrowned vegetable life has surprised the beholders by blossoming with unknown flowers. Can we imagine that God has been thus careful of the life of the mere grass of the field, which is the very emblem of decay, and yet is negligent of His Word, which liveth and abideth for ever? It is not to be dreamed of. Truth, the incorruptible seed, is ever scattering itself; every wind is laden with it, every breath spreads it; it lies dormant in a thousand memories; it preserves its life in the abodes of death. The Lord has but to give the word, and a band of eloquent men shall publish the gospel, apostles and evangelists will rise in abundance, like the warriors who sprang from the fabled dragon’s teeth; converts will spring up like flowerets at the approach of spring, nations shall be born in a day, and truth, and God the Lord of truth, shall reign for ever. (C. H. Spurgeon.) This is the Word which by the gospel is preached.—
The same gospel for us:—1. The same Word of the Lord—the same glorious gospel—is now preached to you. And it is this day as young and fresh, and strong and imperishable, as ever it was. It “abideth for ever.” And the flesh is still as frail, and all the glory of the flesh still as fleeting, as of old. There is no spot on this round earth where we can escape the admonition and the rebuke to our levity and pride. It startles the wayfarer in the bright savannas of the south, and amid the sands of the desert and the icy desolation of the pole. It whispers from the green mounds of western forests, and is repeated by the billows of ocean as they roll above the multitudes that have gone down to slumber in the silent depths. There is no hope for man, save only what is provided by that Word of the Lord which in the gospel is preached unto you. 2. But remember that even this mighty Word has power to bless and save only as it is believed and obeyed. Alas! how is this simple truth wilfully forgotten by multitudes who may yet be said to be exemplary in their attendance on public ordinances! 3. Let me ask those of you who profess faith in the gospel whether your obedience of the truth is such as purifies your souls from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit; whether, in particular, it has tended in any measure to a brotherly love unfeigned. (J. Lillie, D.D.)
24–25. The permanency of the word of God, mentioned in verse 23, is emphasized in these two verses. Peter quotes Isaiah 40:6–8 to contrast the frailty of human nature with the permanence of God’s words. All flesh means ‘all natural human existence’ or perhaps ‘every person’—the sense is nearly the same. Grass is a general word for grass (Matt. 6:30; 14:19) or hay (1 Cor. 3:12) which lasts for a season and is gone. All its glory refers to all human beauty, splendour, or fame. As the grass withers and the flower fades and dies, so man’s glory and greatness quickly disappear (cf. Jas 1:10–11). What then can give hope of permanence or significance? The word (rhēma, the actual spoken or written word) of the Lord abides for ever, and it is that word which Peter’s readers have heard and believed. That word—apparently including Old Testament Scriptures, New Testament apostolic proclamation, and the presentation of both in the message of first-century evangelists—is the word which quickened new life within them. Therefore, in contrast to the temporality of the withering grass and the fading flower, believers have an eternally abiding nature (cf. 1 John 2:17). (Peter here uses rhēma, ‘word’, to refer to the same thing as logos, ‘word’, in v. 23, suggesting that he saw little difference between them in meaning.)
These verses intensify the idea of the permanence of God’s word by contrasting it with the fading glory of human achievement. Strength, power, wealth, beauty, fame—all the ‘glory’ of man—will quickly fade. Christians who have been ‘born anew’ (v. 23) will live with God for ever.
24. For all flesh. He aptly quotes the passage from Isaiah to prove both clauses; that is, to make it evident how fading and miserable is the first birth of man, and how great is the grace of the new birth. For as the Prophet there speaks of the restoration of the Church, to prepare the way for it, he reduces men to nothing lest they should flatter themselves. I know that the words are wrongly turned by some to another sense; for some explain them of the Assyrians, as though the Prophet said, that there was no reason for the Jews to fear so much from flesh, which is like a fading flower. Others think that the vain confidence which the Jews reposed in human aids, is reproved. But the Prophet himself disproves both these views, by adding, that the people were as grass; for he expressly condemns the Jews for vanity, to whom he promised restoration in the name of the Lord. This, then, is what I have already said, that until their own emptiness has been shewn to men, they are not prepared to receive the grace of God. In short, such is the meaning of the Prophet: as exile was to the Jews like death, he promised them a new consolation, even that God would send prophets with a command of this kind. The Lord, he says, will yet say, “Comfort ye my people;” and that in the desert and the waste, the prophetic voice would yet be heard, in order that a way might be prepared for the Lord. (Isaiah 40:6.)
And as the obstinate pride which filled them, must have been necessarily purged from their minds, in order that an access might be open for God, the Prophet added what Peter relates here respecting the vanishing glory of the flesh. What is man? he says—grass; what is the glory of man? the flower of the grass. For as it was difficult to believe that man, in whom so much excellency appears, is like grass, the Prophet made a kind of concession, as though he had said, “Be it, indeed, that flesh has some glory; but lest that should dazzle your eyes, know that the flower soon withers.” He afterwards shews how suddenly everything that seems beautiful in men vanishes, even through the blowing of the Spirit of God; and by this he intimates, that man seems to be something until he comes to God, but that his whole brightness is as nothing in his presence; that, in a word, his glory is in this world, and has no place in the heavenly kingdom.
The grass withereth, or, has withered. Many think that this refers only to the outward man; but they are mistaken; for we must consider the comparison between God’s word and man. For if he meant only the body and what belongs to the present life, he ought to have said, in the second place, that the soul was far more excellent. But what he sets in opposition to the grass and its flower, is the word of God. It then follows, that in man nothing but vanity is found. Therefore, when Isaiah spoke of flesh and its glory, he meant the whole man, such as he is in himself; for what he ascribed as peculiar to God’s word, he denied to man. In short, the Prophet speaks of the same thing as Christ does in John 3:3, that man is wholly alienated from the kingdom of God, that he is nothing but an earthly, fading, and empty creature, until he is born again.
25. But the word of God. The Prophet does not shew what the word of God is in itself, but what we ought to think of it; for since man is vanity in himself, it remains that he ought to seek life elsewhere. Hence Peter ascribes power and efficacy to God’s word, according to the authority of the Prophet, so that it can confer on us what is real, solid, and eternal. For this was what the Prophet had in view, that there is no permanent life but in God, and that this is communicated to us by the word. However fading, then, is the nature of man, yet he is made eternal by the word; for he is re-moulded and becomes a new creature.
This is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you, or, which has been declared to you. He first reminds us, that when the word of God is mentioned, we are very foolish if we imagine it to be remote from us in the air or in heaven; for we ought to know that it has been revealed to us by the Lord. What, then, is this word of the Lord, which gives us life? Even the Law, the Prophets, the Gospel. Those who wander beyond these limits of revelation, find nothing but the impostures of Satan and his dotages, and not the word of the Lord. We ought the more carefully to notice this, because impious and Luciferian men, craftily allowing to God’s word its own honour, at the same time attempt to draw us away from the Scriptures, as that unprincipled man, Agrippa, who highly extols the eternity of God’s word, and yet treats with scurrility the Prophets, and thus indirectly laughs to scorn the Word of God.
In short, as I have already reminded you, no mention is here made of the word which lies hid in the bosom of God, but of that which has proceeded from his mouth, and has come to us. So again it ought to be borne in mind, that God designed by the Apostles and Prophets to speak to us, and their mouths is the mouth of the only true God.
Then, when Peter says, Which has been announced, or declared, to you, he intimates that the word is not to be sought elsewhere than in the Gospel preached to us; and truly we know not the way of eternal life otherwise than by faith. But there can be no faith, except we know that the word is destined for us.
To the same purpose is what Moses said to the people, “Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven, &c.; nigh is the word, in thy mouth and in thy heart.” (Deut. 30:12.) That these words agree with what Peter says, Paul shews in Rom. 10:6, where he teaches us that it was the word of faith which he preached.
There is here, besides, no common eulogy on preaching; for Peter declares that what is preached is the life-giving word. God alone is indeed he who regenerates us; but for that purpose he employs the ministry of men; and on this account Paul glories that the Corinthians had been spiritually begotten by him. (1 Cor. 4:15.) It is indeed certain that those who plant and those who water, are nothing; but whenever God is pleased to bless their labour, he makes their doctrine efficacious by the power of his Spirit; and the voice which is in itself mortal, is made an instrument to communicate eternal life.
1:24 / All men are like grass: The contrast between the frailty and transience of all human life (men translates sarx, flesh), the product of perishable seed, and the eternal nature of the divine is underscored by a quotation from Isa. 40:6–8 lxx. This chapter in Isaiah was much used in early nt preaching (Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 1:68; 2:25, 30–31; 3:4–6; John 1:23; 10:11; 11:40; Acts 17:29; 28:28; Rom. 11:34; 1 Cor. 2:16; James 1:10–11; Rev. 1:5; 18:6; 22:12). See C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures (London: Nisbet, 1952), p. 84.
1:25 / Word is rhēma in this verse (twice), though logos is used in v. 23, but no distinction seems to be intended. See TDNT, vol. 4, pp. 69–136; NIDNTT, vol. 3, pp. 74–89, 325–37, 1078–123.
That was preached (euangelizomenai, to preach good news) echoes the “good tidings” of Isa. 40:9 lxx, where the same Greek word is used.
The Lifestyle of Love (1:22–25)
22 Obedience and purification, two important subthemes in the letter, as we noted earlier, are said by the writer to result in a brotherly love (philadelphia, GK 5789) that is “sincere”: “Now that you have purified [hagnizō, GK 49, as opposed to hagiazō, “sanctify,” GK 39, suggesting the need for cleansing] yourselves by obeying the truth …” Love that is “sincere” (anypokritos, GK 537)—i.e., unfeigned or unhypocritical—is hearty and affectionate among the saints. To love one another “deeply” and “from the heart” is particularly important in a social climate of hostility, wherein mutual encouragement, affection, and support would be indispensable to be able to withstand persecution. As Hillyer, 53, and John Piper (“Hope as the Motivation for Love: 1 Peter 3:9–12,” NTS 26 : 212–31) fittingly observe, a community of love will produce and necessarily preserve a community of hope.
23–25 Reinforcement of the enduring nature of love, which undergirds communal bonds, is found in Isaiah 40:6–8. This citation follows Peter’s reiteration of abiding, imperishable seed (spora, GK 5078) of the new birth, i.e., the regenerative and living “word of God” (cf. Mt 4:4; 13:1–23; Mk 4:1–20; Lk 8:1–15; Heb 4:12). The link between community and new birth is not to be lost on the readers. Mutual love cannot exist in unadulterated, unfeigned fashion without the element of purification that only comes by way of a new (i.e., spiritual) birth.
But the citation from Isaiah 40 is important for another reason. Its historical context concerns the experience of exile foreseen by the prophet. The prophetic word of God “comforts” the people of God (40:1) in the midst of sojourning as resident aliens. The message is intended to encourage Israel, to offer hope at a time of social hostility in her exilic experience. This point of contact with Peter’s audience is readily recognized. The purposes of Almighty God stand, and he has not forgotten his Diaspora people, even though their sufferings would seem to suggest such. “The word of the Lord stands forever,” Peter recalls, and this word, furthermore, is that which was “preached to you.” This preached word, let it be remembered, is “good news” (cf. Isa 40:9). And the good news remains: the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him (40:10). His care for his people, declared by the prophet Isaiah, is never far from the mind of Peter (2:25; 5:2): “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isa 40:11).
Why Should Believers Love?
for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you. (1:23–25)
Believers are to love one another to the fullest extent because it is consistent with new life in Christ. The apostle John wrote, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments” (1 John 5:1–2; cf. 3:14; 4:7).
It is almost as if Peter anticipated his readers’ asking why they should love the way he had commanded them. He therefore told them they should be expected to love that way because they had been born again. The perfect tense of the participle anagegennēmenoi (have been born again) emphasizes that the new birth occurs in the past, with ongoing results in the present. One of those results is that believers will show love for one another.
Paul defined this transformation as a death with subsequent new life in Christ:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:3–4)
The truth of that text is actually a “dry” one. That is, Paul is not speaking of water baptism, but of spiritual immersion into Christ Jesus, symbolized by water baptism. Immersion into Christ means believers are placed into His death, by which they die to the old life and God considers them as participating in Christ’s resurrection, by which they share new life in Him. Thus the new birth entails a complete, radical, decisive transformation that has to be described in the extreme terms of death and new birth (2 Cor. 5:17). Believers “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24; cf. Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:10). Those who are born again go from being godless, lawless, and selfish (Rom. 3:9–18; 8:7–8) to manifesting genuine repentance, trust, and love. The Holy Spirit enlightens them to discern spiritual truth (1 Cor. 2:14–15; 2 Cor. 4:6) and empowers them to serve the law of God (truth contained in His Word) rather than the law of sin (Rom. 6:17–18).
The new birth is monergistic; it is a work solely of the Holy Spirit. Sinners do not cooperate in their spiritual births (cf. Eph. 2:1–10) any more than infants cooperate in their natural births. Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8; cf. John 1:12–13; Eph. 2:4–5; Phil. 2:13).
Seed represents the source of life. Everything that comes to life in the created order begins with a seed, the basic life source that initiates plant and animal existence. But nothing in the material world has the capacity to produce spiritual and eternal life. Thus God did not effect the new birth using seed which is perishable. In contrast to how an earthly father initiates human birth with his corruptible seed, God initiates the spiritual birth with an imperishable seed. Everything that grows from natural seeds is a sovereign creation of God (Gen. 1:11–12), but it all eventually dies (Isa. 40:8; James 1:10–11). However, sinners born again of God’s Spirit gain eternal life. That is because He uses the imperishable seed of the living and enduring word of God. Peter’s words echoed what James earlier wrote to his readers about the new birth, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures” (James 1:18; cf. Rom. 10:17).
To strengthen his point, Peter quoted from Isaiah 40:6, 8, which contains a familiar biblical principle about life’s transience (cf. Job 14:1–2; Pss. 39:4; 103:15; Matt. 6:27, 30; James 4:14). All flesh refers to all humans and animals, and grass refers to the wild grass of the typical Middle Eastern countryside. The phrase glory like the flower of grass denotes the beauty of that scenery in which colorful flowers (cf. Matt. 6:28–29) occasionally rise above the grass. So Peter noted that whether something is as common as grass or as uniquely lovely as a flower, it eventually withers or falls off—it dies. Human life is brief in this world. People pass away like dry grass under a withering east wind. In their graves, the poor and illiterate of no influence are equal to the wealthy and highly educated of great influence (cf. Job 3:17–19). In Christ, however, whether people are common or uncommon, they will never deteriorate or die spiritually. Instead they are like the word of the Lord which endures forever.
That saving word is the gospel, as Peter’s choice of words indicates. He used rhēma for word (rather than the usual logos, the more broad reference to Scripture), which denotes specific statements. Preached is euangelisthen, from the same root word that means “good news,” or “the gospel.” He is referring, then, to the particular message of the gospel, that scriptural truth which, when believed, is the imperishable seed producing new life that also endures forever.
Though believers possess new life in Jesus Christ and the capacity to love in a transcendent, godly manner, the continued presence of their unredeemed flesh (cf. Rom. 7:14–25) causes them to fail to love as they should. Thus, as in all matters of obedience, the New Testament contains a number of other exhortations for believers to genuinely love (John 13:34; 15:12; Rom. 12:10; Phil. 1:9; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9; 2 Thess. 1:3; 2 Peter 1:7; 1 John 3:23; 4:7, 21). Those are admonitions for the church to do what it, by God’s grace and power, is already capable of doing. The call in this text is for saints to manifest an undying love for fellow believers, which is consistent with an imperishable new life in Jesus Christ by the power of the gospel word which is itself imperishable.
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