Wherefore laying aside. -This signifies that we are naturally prepossessed with these evils, and therefore we are exhorted to put them off. Our hearts are by nature nothing more than cages of those unclean birds—malice, envy, hypocrisies, &c. The Apostles sometimes name some of these evils, and sometimes others of them, but they are inseparable,—all one garment, and all included under that one word, the old man, which the Apostle exhorts Christians to put off—and here it is pressed as a necessary evidence of their new birth, and furtherance of their spiritual growth, that these base habits be thrown away; ragged, filthy habits, unbecoming the children of God. They are the proper marks of an unrenewed mind, the very character of the children of Satan, for they are his image. He has his names from enmity, and envy, and slandering; and he is that grand hypocrite and deceiver, who can transform himself into an angel of light.
So, on the contrary, the Spirit of God who dwells in His children is the Spirit of meekness, and love, and truth. That dove like Spirit which descended on our Savior, is communicated from Him to believers. It is the grossest impudence to pretend to be Christians, and yet to entertain hatred and envyings upon whatever occasion; for there is nothing more recommended to them by our Savior’s own doctrine, nothing more impressed upon their hearts by His Spirit, than love. Kakia may be taken generally, but I conceive it intends that which we particularly call malice.
Malice and envy are but two branches growing out of the same bitter root; self-love and evil-speakings are the fruit they bear. Malice is properly the procuring or wishing another’s evil, envy the repining at his good; and both these vent themselves by evil speaking. This infernal fire within smokes and flashes out by the tongue, which St. James says, is set on fire of hell, and fires all about it; misjudging the actions of those they hate or envy, aggravating their failings, and detracting from their virtues, taking all things by the left ear; for (as Epictetus says,) Every thing has two handles. The art of taking things by the better side, which charity always does, would save much of those janglings and heart-burnings that so abound in the world. But folly and perverseness possess the hearts of most people, and therefore their discourses are usually the vent of these; For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The unsavory breaths of men show their inward corruption. Where shall a man come, almost, in societies, but his ears shall be beaten with the unpleasant noise (surely it is so to a Christian mind) of one detracting and disparaging another? And yet this is extreme baseness, and the practice only of false counterfeit goodness, to make up one’s own esteem out of the ruins of the good name of others. Real virtue neither needs nor can endure this dishonest shift; it can subsist of itself, and therefore ingenuously commends and acknowledges what good is in others, and loves to hear it acknowledged: and neither readily speaks nor hears evil of any, but rather, where duty and conscience require not discovery, casts a veil upon men’s failings to hide them: this is the true temper of the children of God.
These evils of malice, and envies, and evil speakings, and such like, are not to be overlooked by us, in ourselves, and conveyed under better appearances, but to be cast away; not to be covered, but put off; and therefore that which is the upper garment and cloak of all other evils, the Apostle here commands us to cast that off too, namely, hypocrisies.
What avails it to wear this mask? A man may indeed in the sight of men act his part handsomely under it, and pass so for a time; but know we not that there is an Eye who sees through it, and a Hand that, if we will not pull off this mask, will pull it off to our shame, either here in the sight of men, or, if we should escape all our life, and go fair off the stage under it, yet that there is a day appointed in which all hypocrites shall be unveiled, and appear what they are indeed before men and angels? It is a poor thing to be approved and applauded by men while God condemns, to whose sentence all men must stand or fall. Oh! seek to be approved and justified by Him, and then, who shall condemn? How easily may we bear the mistakes and dislikes of the entire world, if He declares Himself well pleased with us! It is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment; he who judges me is the Lord, says the Apostle.
But these evils are here particularly to be put off, as contrary to the right and profitable receiving of the word of God; for this part of the exhortation (Laying aside) looks to that which follows (Desire, &c.), and is especially so to be considered.
There is this double task in religion—when a man enters upon it he is not only to be taught true wisdom, but he is also, yea, first of all, to be untaught the errors and wickedness that are deep-rooted in his mind, which he has not only learned by the corrupt conversation of the world, but brought the seeds of them into the world with him. They improve and grow indeed by the favor of that example which is round about a man, but they are originally in our nature as it is now; they are inherent to us, besides continual custom, which is another nature. No one comes to the school of Christ suiting the Philosopher’s word, ut tabula rasa—as blank paper—to receive his doctrine: but, on the contrary, all scribbled and blurred with such base habits as these, malice, hypocrisies, envies, &c.
Therefore, the first work is to raze out these, to cleanse and purify the heart from these blots, these foul characters, so that it may receive the impression of the image of God. And because it is the word of God that both begins and continues this work, and draws the lineaments of that Divine image on the soul, therefore, in order to receive this word rightly, and to be properly affected by it, the conforming of the soul to Jesus Christ, which is the true growth of the spiritual life, it is required beforehand that the hearts of those who hear it be purged of these and other such impurities.
These dispositions are so opposite to the profitable receiving of the word of God, that while they possess and rule the soul, it cannot at all embrace these Divine truths; while it is filled with such guests, there is no room to entertain the word.
They cannot dwell together, because of their contrary nature; the word will not mix with these. The saving mixture of the word of God in the soul is what the Apostle speaks of, and he assigns the lack of it as the cause of unprofitable hearing of the word—not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For by that the word is concocted into the nourishment of the life of grace united to the soul, and mixed with it, by being mixed with faith, as the Apostle’s expression means: that is the proper mixture it requires. But with the qualities here mentioned it will not mix; there is a natural antipathy between them, as strong as in those things in nature, that cannot be brought by any means to agree and mingle together. Can there be any thing more contrary than the good word of God, as the Apostle calls it, and those evil speakings? than the word, which is of such excellent sweetness, and the bitter words of a malignant tongue? than the word of life, and words full of deadly poison? For so slanders and defamings of our brethren are termed. And is not all malice and envy most opposite to the word, which is the message of peace and love? How can the gall of malice and this milk of the word agree? Hypocrisy and guile stand in direct opposition to the name of this word, which is called the word of truth; and here the very word shows this contrariety, sincere milk, and a double, insincere mind.
These two are necessary conditions of good nourishment: 1st, That the food be good and wholesome; 2ndly, That the inward constitution of those who use it be so too. And if this fails, the other profits not. This sincere milk is the only proper nourishment of spiritual life, and there is no defect or undue quality in it; but the greatest part of hearers are inwardly unwholesome, diseased with the evils here mentioned, and others of the same nature; and, therefore, either have no kind of appetite to the word at all, but rather feed upon such trash as suits with their distemper (as some kind of diseases incline those who have them to eat coals or lime, &c.), or, if they are in any way desirous to hear the word, and seem to feed on it, yet the noxious humors that abound in them make it altogether unprofitable, and they are not nourished by it. This evil of malice and envying, so ordinary among men (and, which is most strange, amongst Christians), like an overflowing of the gall, possesses their whole minds; and not only are they not nourished by the word they hear, but are made the worse by it; their disease is fed by it, as an unwholesome stomach turns the best meat it receives into that bad humor that abounds in it. Don’t they do so, who observe what the word says, in order to be better enabled to discover the failings of others, and speak maliciously and uncharitably of them, and vent themselves, as is too common—This word met well with such a one’s fault, and this with another’s?—Is not this to feed these diseases of malice, envy, and evil speakings, with this pure milk, and make them grow, instead of growing by it ourselves in grace and holiness?
Thus, likewise, the hypocrite turns all that he hears of this word, not to the inward renovation of his mind, and redressing what is amiss there, but only to the composing of his outward carriage, and to enable himself to act his part better—to be more cunning in his own faculty, a more refined and expert hypocrite; not to grow more a Christian indeed, but more in appearance only, and in the opinion of others.
Therefore it is a very necessary admonition, considering these evils are so natural to men, and so contrary to the nature of the word of God, that they be purged out, so that it might be profitably received. A very similar exhortation to this has the Apostle St. James, and some of the same words, but in another metaphor: Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word. He compares the word to a plant of excellent virtue, the very tree of life, the word that is able to save your souls; but the only soil in which it will grow is a heart full of meekness, a heart that is purged of those luxuriant weeds that grow so rank in it by nature; they must be plucked up and thrown out to make place for this word. ~ Robert Leighton, commentary from 1 Peter chapter two