(T. Weston, 1906.)
It will be observed that this Exposition of Peter’s Second Epistle, does not extend beyond the 7th verse of the concluding chapter, this being as far as was written by the Author when called away to his rest.
Whilst it would have been easy to have added some comments on the remaining verses of this Epistle from the Author’s other writings, yet, as they would not be of the same detailed character as is here presented, it has been thought best to issue this little book as it now stands, with the earnest desire that the Lord may graciously bless it to the refreshing and edification of the reader, to whom its writer, though dead, yet speaks.
The authenticity and genuineness of the First Epistle needed not a word. It seems never to have been disputed from the first. Not so the Second. Eusebius P., who died about A.D). 340, tells us (H.E. iii. 25) that among those scriptures that were controverted, but recognised by most (the many), was this Epistle. Even he did not dare to class it (as the Epistles of James, Jude, and John’s second and third, or the Revelation) with the spurious; but he does not count it like the other books of the N.T. accepted by all without question.
Yet on its face the writer declares himself with yet more carefulness than when he wrote before, not “Peter” only but “Symeon Peter,” name and surname. So, at the Jerusalem conference on the Gentile question, James speaks of him (Acts 15:14) as “Symeon” (the Aramaic form of “Simon”), though historically designated “Peter” just before (ver. 7). A forger would have strenuously avoided any such shade of difference, superficial though it be; as he never would have conceived still greater care to attest thus minutely the Peter who added this Second Epistle. For he now was led with all holy energy and apostolic authority to denounce the false teachers that were to corrupt more and more the Christian profession, and the scoffers walking after their own lusts, wilfully blind to the day of the Lord, through unbelief and materialism.
The late Bp. Christ. Wordsworth, though loyally defending the true inspiration of this Epistle, seeks to palliate the hesitation raised (at least in the third and fourth centuries). He pleads that, as “Writings were forged in early times by heretics in the names of Apostles, especially in the name of St. Peter,” it was therefore incumbent on Christian churches to be on their guard, and not to receive any book as written by an apostle and as dictated by the Holy Spirit, before they were-convinced by irrefragable proofs that it was apostolic and inspired. “Little harm would arise from a temporary suspension of judgment. If the Epistle was what it professed to be, viz., a work of the Apostle St. Peter, then in due time it would not fail to be universally received as such. But if it was not what it claimed to be, then perhaps heresy might steal into the church under the venerable guise of an apostolic name, and the church might be convicted of reading a forgery as the word of God; and then the credibility and inspiration of those other books, viz., the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the thirteen Epistles of St. Paul, which had already been received by the Church, would be impugned; they too might be exposed to suspicion; and thus the foundation of the faith would be in danger of being overthrown. It was therefore the duty of all churches to take time to consider, before they received any book as the writing of an Apostle. It was their duty to doubt.”
The error here is serious enough; and Dr. W., a grave and sincere prelate (far above trickery), puts it in its naked deformity. “It was the duty of all churches” to doubt! How little did he mean to surrender the ground of faith! Ecclesiasticism led him thus astray. It is never a duty, even for the simplest Christian, to doubt Scripture, but only to believe; and if so, what about the duty for all churches, or even for any church, to doubt? Really it was suicidal, and an utter dishonour to God who inspired the Scriptures, and a shameless failure on the church’s part. One of the haughtiest sins of Popery is to set up the claim of the church to decide what is scripture. Whether they vest this prerogative in the church, in the ecumenical council, or in the Pope, makes no radical difference. In every form the bringing in of any authority but God’s is treason against His glory.
So far is man, whatever his position, privileges, powers or responsibilities, from having the duty of judging God’s word, it is what judges man. For man to doubt God’s word, or to sit in judgment to pronounce it His or not, is an overthrow of all righteousness and of all grace, one might add of all decency. It is at the peril of any soul, and peculiarly inconsistent with the Christian, or the church, to question what He has written. The Lord has decided for the intrinsic authority of His own words, to say nothing of His unvarying reverence for all scripture as the full and final sentence of God’s mind. “He that rejecteth me and receiveth not my sayings hath him that judgeth him: the word which I spoke, that shall judge him in the last day. For I spoke not from myself, but the Father that sent me, himself hath given me commandment what I should say and what I should speak; and I know that his commandment is life eternal. What therefore I speak, as the Father hath said to me, so I speak” (John 12:48-50).
The Holy Spirit is no less precise in affirming the same principle in Heb. 4:12, 13. “For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight ; but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” What words could more directly refuse the monstrous assumption of the church in pretending to accredit scripture, or the still more unseemly assertion of its duty to doubt?
There is no evidence that the question as to 2 Peter was raised in the first century. We hear of it much later in the fourth century when unbelief and unspirituality had long prevailed to the decay of faith and the prevalence of heterodoxy, to which the open and sanctioned worldliness that followed gave great impetus and wide currency. The death of Peter no more invalidated his Second Epistle, than Paul’s death did his Second to Timothy. This is a mere imagination of circumstances to account for a much later and a wholly ungrounded hesitation about our Epistle. The supposition of delay at first, and the collection of evidence from various parts, before the Epistle was received on the church’s verdict of its genuineness, are but an amiable dream.
The Second Epistle, like the First, eminently bears on daily life, but with less doctrine, as is natural, being avowedly written afterward to the same persons. Both are hortative; but the Second pronounces, as the First does not, a solemn warning on closing evils, with the severest denunciation of false teachers denying the Sovereign Master that bought them. These bring on themselves swift destruction, and mislead many into their dissolute doings, whereby the way of truth shall be blasphemed; as also by covetousness with feigned words they make merchandise of the saints. Hence prominence is given to these appalling enormities under the garb, not only of professing Christians, but of accepted teachers. This, at a later date at least, struck superficial observers so strangely as to raise a question of the authorship. But they ought to have recognised the selfsame spirit in the early episode of the apostle’s dealing (Acts 8:18-24) with Simon of Samaria, the sorcerer of old. The fervour of love which characterised his evangelising kindled into a flame against the profanity of the baptised man, who thought to obtain the gift of God with money. Peter therefore pointed him out for the warning of others, yea, of himself too, as in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity. The advance and spread in corruption now descried by the Spirit called for still more energetic terms of abhorrence; as the last chapter exposes the latter day mockery of infidels in a philosophic form.
After the suited salutation in 2 Peter 1:1, 2, the apostle presents grace’s foundation of all things for life and godliness in what was already given, even to becoming partakers, not of human nature ameliorated, but of a divine nature through God’s precious and exceeding great promises, having escaped he corruption that is in the world through lust. But for this very reason there is need of diligence to make our calling and election sure (3-11). This he shows them in view of his speedy departure, not by any hint of apostolic succession, but by leaving the truth with them, and recalling the wondrous sight vouchsafed to him and two other chosen witnesses of the power and coming of our Lord on the holy mount, even in the days of His flesh, and the Father’s voice out of the excellent glory: the divine miniature of the kingdom, in confirmation of the prophetic word, with a hint of a blessedness and hope more surpassing still for their hearts (12-21). And he explains that no prophecy is of its own solution, but rather forms a whole by divine purpose and power converging on God’s kingdom in Christ.
Then in 2 Peter 2 is the apostle’s indignant prediction of the ungodly issue, the germ of which was already at work, and its judgment sure and unswerving from God. It is thus the complement of the First Epistle. As the latter was occupied with the suffering of the righteous from a hostile world turned to their good; so the former tells of the doom that must fall on the corrupting false teachers who hypocritically made truth and righteousness a mockery. The judgment on angels that sinned, on Noah’s ungodly despisers, on godless and unclean Sodom and Gomorrah, are set out as fore-runners of the punishment that awaits the still more guilty that now follow Balaam in his unrighteousness. Whatever their high-flown words of vanity, they despised lordship, and were slaves of corruption.
2 Peter 3 follows up God’s righteous government of the world to the uttermost, in dissolving the heaven and earth that are now, and so, purging the world of all associations with ungodliness, to bring in new heavens and a new earth wherein righteousness dwelleth. But the apostle is not content with withdrawing the veil from the destruction, not only of the corrupt, of the covetous and insubordinate, but of the sceptical who rest on the stability of things material, which also perish. The saints who believe in God’s promise, and wait for these awe-inspiring displays of divine retribution to come, he would have to be found of Him in peace without spot and blameless.
Thus any unbiassed Christian apprehends clearly, even if he had not the inspired writer’s word for it, that the two Epistles came in the power of the Holy Spirit from the same hand, mind, and heart: the one specially regarding God’s present government of the righteous; the other as specially that of the unjust in the future. Only together do they complete the great theme, and this in the style of the great apostle of the circumcision, wholly different from that of James, or John, or Paul, while Jude has his own distinctive character, as can readily be proved in its season. “Ye therefore, beloved, as knowing [things] beforehand, take care lest, being carried away with the error of the wicked, ye fall from your own stedfastness; but grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him the glory both now and to eternity’s day! Amen.” The close is as directly practical as the beginning; so in measure, rightly applied, is all scripture, and every scripture, as surely profitable for man, as it is inspired of God. But through Peter it is peculiarly evident, and in his Second Epistle no less than in the First. Yet all is based on Christ’s accomplished redemption, the possession of a new and divine nature to preserve from corruption, and a living hope through His resurrection Who is gone into heaven, angels and authorities and powers being made subject to Him.
But the Catholic principle is false, that the church teaches; for it is taught by those given as teachers by the exalted Head. Nor is it the church that preaches, but evangelists equally given by Christ in glory. The Protestant is just as false, who asserts the right of every man to private judgment. This directly tends to rationalism, and deifies man, as the Catholic does the church. The truth is that God has the right and the authority to send His gospel to every man; and woe be to every man that despises it. So God addresses His word in general to the christian and the church; and woe be to such as do not bow and bless Him for it. Hence it is quite exceptional when those divine communications, however deep, are sent save to the faithful as a whole, either in this or that place, or quite unrestrictedly. There are three letters to two chief rulers, who had a special place as His servants in the word, and as apostolic envoys. Yet the richest unfoldings of grace and truth in the Epistles were not addressed to officials, but expressly to all the saints or to the church. Now is it not almost blasphemous to say that the saints or the church addressed had the duty of doubting? How a Christian could be beguiled so to think is the marvel. But human tradition and prevalent ecclesiastical habits account for many a mistake.
Take the N.T. facts. Did the church of the Thessalonians doubt the first of Paul’s Epistles, unexampled as it was? Did they not accept without question his written testimony, as they had his oral a little before, not as men’s word — but just as it truly is — God’s word, which also works in the believer, certainly not in the doubter? It is the more pertinent, because the Second of these Epistles exposes the fraud of a letter pretending to have come from the apostle, which had imposed on some at least. Thenceforward his salutation with his own hand in every Epistle is the token to guard the saints; yet far from him, or even them, the pestilent and unbelieving thought that their church, or any other church, was temporarily to suspend judgment, — no, not even when they, or some of them, had just been drawn into error by a deceiver.
And if the sign-manual of Paul sufficed, surely also that of Peter, or Symeon Peter! The name might be a possible question; and this it was not difficult to ascertain. Silvanus a prophet (Acts 15:22) was the bearer. But this settled, there was nothing, when the Second came, but to receive as from God what His inspired servant conveyed to the same saints who had his First Epistle. Examining its contents for the church to accept it would have been a snare of the enemy. The inspired word was to judge their conscience; not they to judge it, but to have their hearts invigorated and souls cheered by His grace and truth through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Again, not only did the inspired writer preface his name and apostolic title in fuller fashion than when he wrote before, but he refers to personal facts, one of the weightiest import, the other of the most exclusive nature, early in the Second Epistle. He pathetically tells them of his knowledge that he was speedily to put off his tabernacle, as his motive for sending them a permanent testimony of what they needed for their continued remembrance Then he introduces the most magnificent and unique scene ever vouchsafed on earth to saints, himself, and his two companions: the transfiguration of the Son of man, acknowledged by the Father as His beloved Son, far above Moses or Elijah, with whom the apostle then foolishly placed Him, as if they could be on common ground. “Hear Him;” and as the voice out of the cloud came, Jesus was found alone. Therefore this Epistle must be either a base imposture, or the last words of love from that apostle.
Nor is there a part of the N.T. more pregnant with wise and holy counsels, suited to the wants of the saints, or more characteristic of him that wrote it, following up his former letter. For as his First set forth God’s righteous government of His children, founded on His grace which called unto His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, so his Second adds that righteous government about to fall on the corrupt false teachers, such as bring in by the bye heresies of perdition (2 Peter 2), as well as on the sceptics that rest on the world’s stability to mock at the coming of the Lord (2 Peter 3). The Second accordingly is needed to complete the First; just as that to Colossian saints from the apostle Paul completes what he wrote to Ephesians (the fulness of the Head, and the body His fulness). It is to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The two Epistles of Peter dwell alike on the all-importance of the gospel, so blessed already, yet on the one hand surrounded by a world of persecutors as well as by immense dangers from evil men within and without. It is this development of evil which draws out the energetic sketch of the misleaders in all the second chapter, and of the sceptical enemies and their doom, down to the dissolution of all things, in 2 Peter 3. Both led speculative persons, like the untaught and ill-established of whom he himself speaks in 2 Peter 3:16, to question that Peter wrote it. No doubt that solemn warning has a stamp of its own necessarily different, not only from the First Epistle, but from what precedes and follows it in the Second. But can any objection be shallower? Its nature demanded an unsparing denunciation entirely out of season elsewhere. But when he is occupied with the souls of the saints as in the First Epistle, his style in the Second is impressed and instinct with the same ardent, fervent, practical earnestness in love and godliness, peculiar in its manner to him beyond any other writer in the N.T. And how beautiful his allusion to “our beloved brother Paul also”! and how marked the contrast with well-known patristic impostures which set the one against the other!
The case of the Epistle to the Hebrews illustrates that of 2 Peter, though the circumstances differed widely. For there were reasons of gracious consideration why the former had no name prefixed, whilst it contain) marks at the end only appropriate to the sole apostle who could have written a letter so comprehensive, profound, and wise in a style that rises in grandeur to the height of his argument, as he employed when required to the Romans (Rom. 8), the Corinthians, and the Colossians. Here it is sustained from first to last; but he is teaching the latent value of the O.T. to saints familiar with its letter, rather than as an apostle and prophet communicating the mysteries of the N.T. of which he was the most honoured steward. Paul was here inspired outside his allotted province to write the final call to the believing Jews, that by it they might realize, as they had not hitherto, their proper Christian place of entering within the rent veil, and of going forth to the rejected Messiah without the camp, and bearing His reproach. The “new” covenant, the spirit of which is embodied in the gospel had made the first old; and what grows old and ages is near vanishing away. Now God claimed this after long patience before providential judgment fell on the city and its sanctuary. Nor should we fail to admire the divine care in sending God’s last message to the converted Jews by Paul as He sent His first apostolic call to the Gentiles by Peter.
Yet leading men in the Roman church stood in doubt of Paul’s writing to the Hebrews. So Eusebius P. tells us (H. E. iii. 3; vi. 14, 20) not only of Caius and Hippolytus (commonly called bishop of Portus R.), but of others till his own day. Baronius labours in vain to get rid of this shame: but Photion confirms it in his Bibl.
μή. ρκα Ed. Hoesch 1653. So does Jerome, more than six times in his letters, expositions, etc., to the general effect that “the Latin custom did not receive it among the canonical Scriptures.” Nevertheless the Roman church as such never went so far as to reject the Epistle; and from the middle of the fourth it was as fully owned there as elsewhere. The Novatian trouble had tended to its prejudice, because such passages as the early verses of Hebrews 6 had been abused to justify their extravagance as of others before that. Nor was one known in those days of faith to broach the idea that it was the church’s duty to sit in judgment on an inspired communication. The danger lay rather in the second century, at any rate of publicly reading what was not inspired, as we know was done.
Had people but known the Scriptures in faith and power, no such question had ever risen about the Epistle to the Hebrews. God had taken care to cut off all excuse for unbelief by the unusual verification of 2 Peter 3:15, 16. For as it is certain that Peter wrote his two Epistles to Christian Jews (1 Peter 1:1, 2 Peter 3:1), so is it that he declares Paul to have written to such also. What can this be other than that to the Hebrews? Therein are the same topics as spoken of here: the Lord’s longsuffering and salvation, far more than in the letters to the Galatians, the Ephesians, or the Colossians; His coming for the blessed glory of His own, and the judgment of all that refuse His voice and are adversaries. Nor is it to be passed by, that, as Peter speaks of some things therein, as in all his Epistles, hard to be understood, which the untaught and ill-established wrest to their own destruction, so Paul in that Epistle (Heb. 5:11-14) tells the Hebrews that he had much to say and hard to be interpreted, because of their dulness in hearing.
So in the next chapter (Heb. 6:1) he exhorts them, leaving the word of the beginning of Christ (certainly not the principles of His doctrine, but what was known before redemption and the descent of the Holy Spirit), to go on to perfection i.e. full growth by the truth. Luther and Calvin were as unappreciative of this as Cajetan and Erasmus, and indulged in dreams from which some few have not recovered down to Dean Alford and others in our own day, putting forward Apollos, Barnabas, Luke, Silas, Clemens Rom. and even Tertullian! With equal show they might have contended for sixty more, besides those six; for there is no sound reason for any one of them. What more frivolous than the pleas for attaching any one of these names to this noble Epistle? What can excuse the slight of the Holy Spirit’s attributing it to Paul, as we have just seen?
It is interesting to note too that the letter from the Roman church, which passes under the name of Clemens R., refers repeatedly to the Epistle to the Hebrews, and proves that no doubt of its inspiration existed at that early date (probably before the first century had run out). Its chap. 36. not only makes much use of Heb. 1 but this under the solemn formula
γέγραπται, It is written. The doubts of individuals were long after.
Calvin, whose repute as an expositor is high enough, passes this over, as indeed his comment is meagre and vague. Yet he did not doubt that Peter wrote the First to the converted Jews in Asia Minor, but (painful to say) he was guilty of the same hesitation as Origen and others as to the Second. He holds cheap the anonymous doubter of whom Eusebius speaks, but is influenced somewhat more by Jerome’s mention of such as reasoned on the difference in style. “I confess however that there is the manifest distinctness that indicates (or, proves) different writers.”. . . “At the same time by consent of all it has so far nothing unworthy of Peter as to express everywhere the force and grace of an apostolic spirit. But if it is received as canonical, Peter ought to be confessed its author, since not only has it his name inscribed, but he also attests that he had lived with Christ. Whereas to personate another would be a fiction unworthy of Christ. So then I determine that if the Epistle be counted worthy of credit, it must have proceeded from Peter; not that he himself wrote it, but that some one of the disciples by his command composed the things which the necessity of the time required.” Who can fail to see a vacillation unworthy of one who could be firm in matters of less moment than what touches the honour of the written word? (J. Calv. Opp. vii. Arg. in loco.) Real ground for a doubt among ancients or moderns there was none.
It is remarkable that the only other Epistle to the Hebrews once suffered without any just cause from a similar doubt of unbelief. There may be occasion to treat of this fully where it is more directly called for. Here a few words will suffice in confirmation of what has been said against any question of Peter’s Second Epistle. And it is a pleasure to say that Dr. Wordsworth’s prefatory defence of Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews is as excellent, as any palliation of the hesitation as to Peter is deplorable.
The church in Rome, or some of its notable leaders, it was that indulged in this unwarrantable prejudice. So Jerome says in more than six places that “the Latin custom did not receive it among the canonical Scriptures.” Baronius in his history combats the allegation of Eusebius and tries to excuse Jerome as misled by him. Yet the Novatian dispute, with its mistaken abuse of Heb. 6, did dispose those in Rome against the Epistle, till that bias gave way before the bright light of truth chased away all clouds and mists.
But the remarkable fact is that at the beginning no doubt was entertained. Nor can evidence be asked earlier or weightier than its frequent citation as the written word in the letter from the church in Rome, which goes under the name of Clemens R. to the Church in Corinth. So many are they that Moses Stuart, the American Prof., even divides these quotations into four classes. And Justin M., following not long after in the first half of the second century, makes clear references to it, both in his Apology, and in his Dialogue with the Jew Trypho. But we need not here say more on these external evidences. There is not a little to show that, notwithstanding its peculiarities, no doubt was expressed till long after it had been received as an undoubtedly inspired document. Peter himself affords a divinely given proof that Paul wrote to Hebrew saints, and that this is the blessed Epistle in question. That to the Christian should be the end of controversy. “But if any one is ignorant, let him be ignorant.”
These two Epistles are eminently characteristic of the two apostles, whatever the peculiar features in each owing to the urgent need which called for them. Nor is there any real ground to infer that any one but Paul and Peter had to do with those peculiarities. Both display the unmistakable power of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration. Both wrote with the moral power and doctrinal precision and divine majesty and love to the saints proper to the grace of God, with authority and not as the scribes.