Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by John Nelson Darby, [1857-62], at sacred-texts.com
After this general exhortation, brief but important to believers, the apostle takes up the relative walk of Christians in a world where on the one hand God watches over all, yet where He permits His own to suffer, whether for righteousness' sake or for the name of Christ, but where they ought never to suffer for having done wrong. The path then of the Christian is marked out. He is subject for the Lord's sake to human ordinances or institutions. He gives honour to all men, and to each in his place, so that no one shall have any reproach to bring against him. He is submissive to his masters, even if they are bad men, and yields to their ill-treatment. Were he subject only to the good and gentle, a worldly slave would do as much; but if, having done well, he suffers and bears it patiently, this is acceptable to God, this is grace. It was thus that Christ acted, and to this we are called. Christ suffered in this way, and never replied by reproaches or threats to those who molested Him, but committed Himself to Him that judges righteously. To Him we belong. He had suffered for our sins, in order that, having been delivered from them, we should live to God. These Christians from among the Jews had been as sheep going astray; [See Note #5] they were now brought back to the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls. But how entirely these exhortations, shew that the Christian is one who is not of this world, but has his own path through it: yet this path was the way of peace in it !
Likewise wives were to be subject to their husbands in all modesty and purity, in order that this testimony to the effect of the word by its fruits might take the place of the word itself, if their husbands would not listen to it. They were to rest, in patience and meekness, on the faithfulness of God, and not be alarmed at seeing the power of the adversaries. (Compare Phi 1:28)
Husbands were in like manner to dwell with the wife, their affections and relationships being governed by christian knowledge, and not by any human passion; honouring the wife, and walking, with her as being heirs together of the grace of life.
Finally, all were to walk in the spirit of peace and gentleness, carrying with them, in their intercourse with others, the blessing of which they were themselves the heirs, the spirit of which they ought consequently to bear ever with them. By following that which is good, by having the tongue governed by the fear of the Lord, by avoiding evil and seeking peace, they would in quietness enjoy the present life under the eye of God. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who, moreover, would harm them, if they followed only that which is good ?
This, then, is the government of God, the principle on which He superintends the course of this world. Nevertheless it is not now a direct and immediate government preventing all wrong. The power of evil still acts upon the earth; those who are animated by it shew themselves hostile to the righteous, and act by means of that fear which Satan is able to produce. But by giving the Lord His place in the soul, this fear which the enemy excites has no longer a place there. If the heart is conscious of the presence of God, can that heart tremble at the presence of the enemy ? This is the secret of boldness and peace in confessing Christ. Then the instruments of the enemy seek to turn us aside, and to overwhelm us by their pretensions; but the consciousness of God's presence dissipates those pretensions, and destroys all their power. Resting on the strength of His presence, we are ready to answer those who ask the reason of our hope, with meekness and holy reverence remote from all levity. For all this it is necessary to have a good conscience. We may carry a bad conscience to God, that He may pardon and have mercy on us; but if we have a bad conscience, we cannot resist the enemy we are afraid of him. On the one hand, we fear his malice; on the other, we have lost the consciousness of the presence and the strength of God. When walking before God, we fear nothing; the heart is free: we have not to think of self, we think of God; and the adversaries are ashamed of having falsely accused those whose conduct is unblamable, and against whom nothing can be brought except the calumny of their enemies, which calumnies turn to their own shame.
It may be that God may see it good that we should suffer. If so, it is better that we should suffer for well doing than for evil doing. The apostle gives a touching motive for this: Christ has suffered for sins once for all; let that suffice; let us suffer only for righteousness. To suffer for sin was His task; He accomplished it, and that for ever; put to death, as to His life in the flesh, but quickened according to the power of the divine Spirit.
The passage that follows has occasioned difficulties to the readers of scripture; but it appears to me simple, if we perceive the object of the Spirit of God. The Jews expected a Messiah corporeally present, who should deliver the nation, and exalt the Jews to the summit of earthly glory. But He was not present, we know, in that manner, and the believing Jews had to endure the scorn and the hatred of the unbelieving, on account of their trust in a Messiah who was not present, and who had wrought no deliverance for the people. Believers possessed the salvation of their soul, and they knew Jesus in heaven; but unbelieving men did not care for that. The apostle therefore cites the case of Noah's testimony. The believing Jews were few in number, and Christ was theirs only according to the Spirit. By the power of that Spirit He had been raised up from the dead. It was by the power of the same Spirit that He had gone without being corporeally present to preach in Noah. The world was disobedient (like the Jews in the apostle's days), and eight souls only were saved; even as the believers were now but a little flock. But the spirits of the disobedient were now in prison, because they did not obey Christ present among them by His Spirit in Noah. The long-suffering of God waited then, as now, with the Jewish nation; the result would be the same. It has been so.
This interpretation is confirmed (in preference to that which supposes that the Spirit of Christ preached in hades to souls which had been confined there ever since the flood) by the consideration that in Genesis it is said, " My Spirit shall not always strive. with men but their days shall be a hundred and twenty years." That is to say, His Spirit should strive, in the testimony of Noah, during a hundred and twenty years and no longer. Now it would be an extraordinary thing that with those persons only (for he speaks only of them) the Lord should strive in testimony after their death. Moreover, we may observe that, in considering this expression to mean the Spirit of Christ in Noah, we only use a well-known phrase of Peter's; for he it is, as we have seen, who said, " The Spirit of Christ which was in the prophets."
These spirits then are in prison, because they did not hearken to the Spirit of Christ in Noah. (Compare Pe2 2:5-9.) To this the apostle adds, the comparison of baptism to the ark of Noah in the deluge. Noah was saved through the water; we also; for the water of baptism typifies death, as the deluge, so to speak, was the death of the world. Now Christ has passed through death and is risen. We enter into death in baptism; but it is like the ark, because Christ suffered in death for us, and has come out of it in resurrection, as Noah came out of the deluge, to begin, as it were, a new life in a resurrection world. Now Christ, having passed through death, has atoned for sins; and we, by passing through it in spirit, leave all our sins in it, as Christ did in reality for us; for He was raised up without the sins which He expiated on the cross. And they were our sins; and thus, through the resurrection, we have a good conscience. We pass through death in spirit and in figure by baptism. The peace-giving force of the thing is the resurrection of Christ, after He had accomplished expiation; by which resurrection therefore we have a good conscience.
Now this is what the Jews had to learn. The Christ was gone up to heaven, all powers and principalities being made subject to Him. He is at the right hand of God. We have therefore not a Messiah on earth, but a good conscience and a heavenly Christ.
An allusion, I suppose, to the last Verse of Psalm 119 (Psa 119:176).The apostle constantly puts the christian Jews on the ground of the blessed remnant, only making it a soul salvation.