Reading: 1 Peter 1:10-17.
The special point in that section is the new dispensation with its new manner of life. It is rather impressive to note two things which are said as to an attitude toward this dispensation from outside. The prophets had an intimation that the things that they were being caused to say did not relate to themselves, but related to a people and a time ahead of themselves. They were prophesying for a time to come and for the benefit of a people not yet present, a people of a coming dispensation; they were made aware of that. And their reaction to the intimation was that they were found in a state of earnest and eager enquiry: "What does this mean? We would very much like to know what these people are going to experience, what they are going to inherit, what they are going to come into." They sought and searched diligently to know the meaning and value of the things which they were saying which belonged to the people of a coming dispensation. They were tremendously impressed with something which was beyond their own time and beyond the present and immediate application of the things which they were saying.
Then the other thing which seems even more than that is "which things angels desire to look into", and the force of the language actually used by the apostle is that angels bend down to scrutinise; they are in that attitude of poise and eager interest and enquiry, "Which things angels bend down to look into", "desire to look into".
If both of those things are true, it surely does mean that if this is the dispensation, as Peter is saying, of those things, there is something tremendous bound up with this dispensation, that we have come into something which the prophets and angels have not entered into, but eagerly and earnestly desire to know about. It is difficult, perhaps, to grasp, but here is Scripture, here is the Word of God, saying this. Well, what is it?
We look again, and we find that it has to do with the sufferings of the Christ and the glories that should follow. The prophets testified to the sufferings of the Christ and the glories that should follow but not as to Himself alone. It is "to you", "It is to you that they did testify these things" - "the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow" are concentrated upon a people in this dispensation. The meaning of His sufferings has a peculiar value for the people of this dispensation. The glories following His suffering are peculiarly bound up with the people of this dispensation.
Where do all the Old Testament saints come in? Are they excluded? No, that is not so. That is put right by the letter to the Hebrews. "These all, having had witness borne to them through their faith, received not the promise, God having provided some better thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect" (Heb. 11:39-40); that is, they had to wait for us before they got their inheritance. It was all pointing onward to us. It is only a re-emphasis upon the tremendous significance of this dispensation, for all other dispensations meet in this dispensation, all other dispensations derive their value from this dispensation in which the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow are concentrated.
Then Peter says that there are two things which relate to this tremendous inheritance: two things so far as we are concerned. One is faith, and the other is the effect of that faith - the saving of our souls.
The Dispensation of Faith
Now, this is a dispensation of faith. Paul says that to Timothy - "a dispensation of... faith" (1 Tim. 1:4). There is no doubt about it, there is no getting away from it, it is as well that we face it fairly and squarely - a thing that we have not done and we find it the most difficult thing to do. It is all very well to reduce it to a matter of faith in the Lord Jesus for salvation; that is, to be saved from condemnation, to become the Lord's, but that is a mere fragment of the whole. In this dispensation God is dealing with His people in an entirely different way from what He dealt with then, in the other dispensation. Then you had only to obey the Lord's commandments and you had temporal prosperity. All the marks of your faithfulness to God were manifest and obvious. But in this dispensation, that is not the way of the Lord's dealing with His people. You may be utterly faithful to God without any reservations, and not get any material seal in the realm of temporal things.
There are times, of course, when the Lord does work for us and make provision and deliver us, but that is not the normal state of this dispensation. The normal state of this dispensation is that it is a dispensation of faith, and that works out that, even when you are utterly abandoned to the Lord, sometimes the Lord does not get you out of your difficulties. You are in trouble, you are in distress, you are in straitened circumstances. It is so clear. Why should Paul tabulate all those adversities: hunger, thirst, nakedness, peril, shipwreck, imprisonment, treachery, robbers, enemies amongst supposed friends, sickness, infirmity, and the Lord not intervening except at certain times for special purposes giving special intervention, as in getting Peter out of prison on that occasion. But He did not eventually get him out of prison and deliver him from the executioner, nor did He with Paul. These all suffered in those ways, and it was all a matter of faith. If I am hungry, where is my heavenly Father? If I am in difficulty and adversity, and the Lord does not do anything, does it mean the Lord is not faithful, the Lord is not good, the Lord is not true? No! In thousands of ways that is the nature of this dispensation, and I say we have not faced it and we are not squarely facing it and accepting it. It is the nature of this dispensation. It is a dispensation of faith.
The Way of Soul Salvation
The apostle says that the effect of that is that your souls are being saved. It is soul salvation, and that is shown to be a much bigger thing than what we mean when we talk about the salvation of souls. We mean getting them out of sin and the grip of satan and to the Lord, but the New Testament shows that soul salvation is a very much bigger thing than that, that salvation is infinitely bigger than conversion, and 'the salvation of your souls' goes right on to the end. "Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls". In what way is soul salvation going on? Is it not just bound up with this - I am in difficulty, I am in adversity, I am in trial, my whole soul craves for a change of situation. It is the soul realm. But is not the Lord rather more concerned to have me on top of the situation in spirit, where my soul is not dictating the terms and governing me and bringing me down into oppression because of its longings for different conditions? I am denying my soul and in my spirit I am walking with the Lord, and my soul is not dominant.
You see how this follows on in the matter of conduct in this dispensation, "not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts in the time of your ignorance", not being governed by that soul life; but now to live above the soul life and its dictates and its cravings, in strength of spirit. In the old days if your soul craved for something, you went after it to satisfy your soul, and that kept you bound in a natural realm, and it is absolutely opposed to faith. The satisfaction of the soul, the gratifying of the soul is positively opposed to faith. Here you are, like Paul or Peter, suddenly clamped in prison: "This is horrible, I do not like this, please let me get out!" Your whole soul begins to writhe and to demand and crave. Your souls will never be satisfied until you are out, break out, or somehow or other bribe somebody to let you out, and what spiritual gain is there? Where have you got spiritually? But supposing like Paul, you are a prisoner on a chain, and while your soul would very much like to be free - for Paul said, "I would to God, that... all that hear me this day, might become such as I am, except these bonds" (Acts 26:29). The chain was there, he was conscious of it, his soul did not like the chain, but he is on top of his chain. When he is writing those letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians, his spirit is above, he has brought his soul into the captivity of Christ, his soul is saved.
Now Peter says that faith is the way of the salvation of the soul, and as the soul is saved through the triumph of faith, something happens. The glories following the suffering come into your spirit. You rejoice "with joy unspeakable and full of glory". It is very true to experience, that if in the spirit we get victory over our own souls, when we bring those soul activities and cravings into captivity to Christ and get on top of our own souls in spirit, even in a little way, a wonderful joy comes in. But the other way of gratifying the soul, giving it what it wants, does not bring much joy. We say, "I wish I had never done that! I simply pandered to my own lower nature!" Bring that soul into captivity to Christ and in spirit gain the ascendance, and the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of glory, at once witnesses within, and you have some of the glory that follows. It is in a spiritual way now entering into the glories of the coming age. It is through severe testings of faith and the triumph of faith which is itself the salvation of the soul. The soul must see; faith, of course, is faith and does not see. The triumph of faith is the salvation of the soul, and the salvation of the soul is inheriting the glories that do follow.
We must ask the Lord to strengthen us to look square in the face of this dispensation of faith. I am all the time asking the Lord for this, that, and the other, but why do I want it? Is that my soul? Is it 'I'? It may be the Lord will never be able to grant that until I have come to the place where I am prepared to go without it. That is the victory of your soul. The Lord may give you the thing then, but while for yourself you want it, you are contradicting the very law of this dispensation - your faith.