Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9.
The Manifestation of the Power of God in the Old Dispensation
The phrase that has impressed me particularly, is that in the fifth verse - "by the power of God... through faith". That, in itself, marks a very big change. In the old dispensation, the Old Testament times, the power of God was manifested on temporal grounds. You had only to do certain things, and the power of God was manifested, the power of God was seen working for your temporal well-being, and everything was looked at from that standpoint. If a man was prospered in business, if there was money and plenty of it, if you succeeded in any undertaking, if you were triumphant in war, it was all a mark of the power of God working on your behalf. The power of God then, was almost invariably looked at through the temporal blessings and prosperities which came to people. It was a national conception and it was an individual conception so that God's power for them in those times was just a matter of, well, you wanted something and you asked God for it, and if you were not breaking the law of God, you got it. And so it was, day by day, something very tangible, something very manifest here in this life.
The Manifestation of the Power of God in the New Dispensation
Now what Peter is saying clearly in this whole letter is that it is not like that now. It may be that from time to time the Lord blesses you in temporal ways, undertakes for you in temporal difficulties, provides for you in temporal need and gets you out of troubles. But that is not the normal. More often He does not do it. If He does it once, nine times out of ten He does not do it. "The trial or your faith", "put to grief in manifold trials", testings... the whole letter bears down upon this, and says, "No, the dispensation has changed, and you have no longer to interpret the power of God in terms of temporal deliverances and prosperings." Peter may miraculously be delivered from prison, and there were other marks and signs, even in apostolic times, but they are not the normal, they are quite exceptional. If you look, you will see that if he's delivered from prison once, he's left in prison a good many times. If undertaken for on one occasion, there's an overwhelming number of similar occasions where there were no interventions of God. There may be a healing, but Trophimus will be left at Miletus sick (2 Tim. 4:20), and Paul will be left in prison, and there will not be miraculous interventions always as the normal life. The dispensation has changed.
And yet the apostle says that does not mean that the power of God is different or less. It is being manifested in another way in this dispensation, an essentially spiritual way, and it is mainly concerned with one thing. It is not concerned with the temporal blessings of the Lord's people in this dispensation. It is not mainly concerned with such things as we are always asking for and craving and expecting, but which, I think we must agree, ninety-nine times out of a hundred we are not given, we are denied, they are refused us, and sometimes the question arises: "What about the power of God, where is the power of God?" And we feel that such situations are a contradiction to the power of God; there must be something wrong. We are left to go through, instead of being delivered out. There must be something wrong, the power of God is not being manifested. We may have an Old Testament mentality. It is not pleasant teaching, it is difficult, but that is just the whole point of this letter. It is to help people in that very kind of difficulty.
The Power of God and the Salvation of the Soul
Now, what is the focal point of the power of God in this dispensation? "The power of God... through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time". What is that? "Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls". Soul salvation is the point of the concentration of Divine power. When we talk about the salvation of the soul, or souls, we almost entirely limit that to forgiveness and being saved from hell and judgment. But here the salvation of the soul is the ultimate, the end, the object which is in view. The power of God through faith - the end of your faith, the salvation of your soul.
What, then, is the power of God occupied with? Getting our souls into another realm, another position. It was in the soul realm that sin entered and did satan's havoc in the race. The soul desired, the soul lusted, the soul reasoned, and the soul decided, and satan got his purchase and captured the soul, so that all the reasonings and desirings and willings of man naturally, are actuated on the basis of personal interest. The salvation of the soul is the reversing of what satan did in capturing the soul and bringing all reasonings, all desirings, and all willings into another relationship than that of self and satan - into relationship with God and into relationship with heavenly things. It is getting our souls under the absolute government of God instead of the government of satan. It is a soul matter, and it is a life process, and the end of our faith is the salvation of our souls, but the power all the time is centred in this one thing - the salvation of our soul through faith.
Now, it is not exaggerating to say that a thousand times a week that question arises for us. God does not do what He did in the Old Testament times when you are wanting or expecting Him to intervene, deliver, change circumstances, or give you a seal of His approval by prospering in temporal things. It must have been a terrible shock to the Jews to be told that a wealthy, religious man had no more chance of the Kingdom of God than the poor beggar sitting at the gate with a dog licking his sores; that this poor man stood as good a chance, perhaps a better, than the other one - that is all a mark of God's disapproval. This man with all his wealth - "that is the mark of the blessing of God" - that is how they judged. The Lord Jesus said, "No, in this new dispensation that is not the standard at all." It is revolutionary; it was a shock; and other things He said like that. They believed that anything in the way of temporal blessing was a mark of God's favour, and therefore of God's power on their behalf.
If things went wrong, that was the sign of God's disfavour. That is the whole argument of the book of Job. God is judging from another standpoint. You may have a good deal of adversity, the Lord may seem to be leaving you, and yet that may be more the mark of God's presence and power to get your soul into a position, than if you had all prosperity and never went through a trial of faith like this. That can be said in other words, but it is something to be faced.
The Lord does not just come in and prevent things from happening, and He does not just come in and deliver from things that have happened. Sometimes it depends very much upon whether there are spiritual principles involved, whether our soul is at stake over the matter. When He gets our souls into the right place, He can do things, but if we are going to build upon that, build our salvation upon what God does in this world for us, it is too dangerous to the Lord. His power is more concerned with getting our souls saved than with getting our temporal well-being established, and that is a wide field; it covers a lot of ground. But that is what this letter is about, as I see it.
"The power of God... through faith". "The end of your faith, the salvation of your souls", and from the beginning to the end: trial, the trial of your faith.