The first notable trait in this Epistle is that the writer not only repeats the new name Christ gave him (Matt. 16:18) with his apostolic office, but adds his old one, object of divine mercy, with the confession of absolute subjection to his Master conveyed in “bondman.” Paul loved so to call himself, and Jude, and John. The Lord Jesus had drawn it out of that shame and degradation which only it could have in the estimate of the first man, and had invested it in His own person, when the Word became flesh, with all that is right and lovely and devoted in the sight of God, and of all moment to the faith of those who have communion with Him.
For who such a bondman as He that, being originally in the form of God, counted it not an object for grasping to be on equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking a bondman’s form, becoming in likeness of men; and losing found in figure as man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even to death, yea death of the cross? Nor did it atop there; for He gave before His departure the beautiful pledge of carrying on in heaven the lowliest service of washing the feet of His own, as the Advocate with the Father. Nor did this satisfy His love; for He also intimated that, when those bondmen of His, whom at His coming He shall find watching with girded loins and burning lamps, are thenceforward blessed on high at His coming again, He will gird Himself, and make them recline at table and come forth and serve them. Nay, when He shall deliver up the kingdom to the God and Father, all things having been subjected to Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subjected to Him that subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all. As He will never cease to be man, He will abide throughout eternity bondman, without derogating from that deity which He ever shares as Son equally with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is Christ who alone gives us the full truth, and so of bondman as of all else. It is in an evil world, the place of active and suffering divine love which He loved so well that He will never give it up.
The same privilege and duty of love the Lord laid on His disciples, as we read repeatedly in all the Gospels, and in varying form. Let it suffice to quote what Luke (Luke 22) gives us at the last Supper; for he it is who brings together the deepest moral contrasts, if to man’s shame, for the believer’s profit, and above all to Christ’s glory. “And they began to question together among themselves which of them it could be who was to do this [i.e., give Him up]. And there arose also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted to be greatest. And he said to them, The kings of the nations have rule over them, and those that exercise authority over them are called benefactors. Ye however [shall be] not thus; but let the greater among you be as the younger, and the leader as he that serveth. For which [is] greater, he that reclineth at table, or he that serveth? [Is] not he that reclineth? But I am in the midst of you as he that serveth?”
The apostles by grace were enabled to make His bondman character their own. O what a contrast with His servants too soon, and ever since, especially with such as claimed to have the succession, though by no means confined to them! It is no doubt a hollow name of pride where taken up in word only; but what is comparable with it when in power? To be somebody is the desire of fallen man, the world’s spirit; to give up all in love and obedience is Christ’s, who alone really had all things. It is our pattern now. Greatness according to Him is to be a true servant; and to be chief is to be a slave, as He became, who not only served every need, but gave His life a ransom for many, His peculiar glory.
Peter therefore in his later Epistle, while he does not hide his Jewish name of nature with all its failure, puts forward before his apostolic title that lovely name of “bondman”; which more than ever shone in his eyes, so needful and good for the saints to ponder, delight in, and appropriate.
“Simon Peter, bondman and apostle of Jesus Christ to them that obtained like precious faith with us in virtue of [the] righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (ver. 1).
“Bondman and apostle of Jesus Christ,” he writes to the same saints as before (2 Peter 3:1). But the terms now employed strikingly differ, yet have they an equally appropriate application to those of the Jewish dispersion in Asia Minor, who believed in Christ. In his First Epistle he was careful to describe them as sojourners elect according to foreknowledge of God the Father by the Spirit’s sanctification unto obedience and blood-sprinkling of Jesus Christ. This was a pointed and elaborate contrast with their previous position as of a chosen nation to Jehovah, severed from others by the fleshly ordinance of circumcision, and held to obedience of the law under the penal sanction of the blood of victims (Ex. 24) which kept death before them if guilty of transgression. Here in the Second Epistle they are said to have obtained like precious faith with the apostle and his brethren and theirs, in virtue of their God and Saviour Jesus Christ’s righteousness.
“Like precious faith” raises no question of measure of faith in those who believe, but asserts that what is believed is equally precious for the simplest Christian as for an apostle, in its source, agent, object, and result. It is that full revelation of God in Christ, and not merely from God as had been from the first.
There is however a remarkable expression that follows, differing wholly from “the righteousness of God” as used by our Lord in Matt. 5:33, as this does from its use by the apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Romans and elsewhere. Yet one is as true as the others, and all are in harmony as alike from God. It is therefore of interest and moment to distinguish them, whilst they all three agree in meaning God’s moral consistency with Himself in varying aspects. In the First Gospel the disciple is enjoined to seek first, not the supply of our natural wants for which we may count on our Father’s care, but “the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” This was then revealed in Christ, God’s power and authority supreme, and in all goodness but consistency with Himself. To this the new nature responds in subjection and love; and this the disciples were to seek first, assured that He would see to all their need. But there is not a word about redemption, or saving lost sinners, but saints answering to what the Christ brought out to faith in Himself and His teaching.
Again, in Rom. 1, 3, 8, 10:4, we have the gospel of God based on the work of Christ, and sent out to all mankind on the very ground that they are lost. It is therefore a righteousness that justifies the sinner through the faith of Christ; God’s righteousness, not man’s, grounded on His redemption, so that He, believing His witness to Christ, is justified by Christ’s death and resurrection. God can afford through the Saviour to bless him, whatever may have been his ungodliness, according to His cleansing blood and risen power.
But in our text it is not the believer obtaining God’s righteousness through faith, but obtaining faith by the righteousness of their God and Saviour Jesus Christ1: a quite different truth, and peculiar to the remnant which God ever has in Israel. Branches may be and are broken off, but some, not all. There are ever the elect that obtain, while the rest are blinded; so it is at the present time, and so it was of old. They only of all men have this privilege, a remnant according to the election of grace. Of no other nation can it be predicated. As theirs were the fathers, so still better the promises. Accordingly the apostle here attributes their receiving like precious faith to the righteousness of Jehovah Messiah, Jesus their Saviour and God. He at least was faithful to the promise, and in virtue of it they were given to believe, no less than the apostle and the saints in Jerusalem. So Peter had preached on the day of Pentecost; “for to you is the promise and to your children, and to all afar off, as many as Jehovah our God may call.” Them too He called, and they by grace believed; but it was in His righteousness — “our God and Saviour Jesus Christ’s.”
“Grace to you and peace be multiplied in knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (ver. 2).
The text of the salutation in ver. 2 differs from that in the First Epistle only by the addition of the words, “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord”; which reappear in its course substantially elsewhere. They are characteristic of the Second Epistle, and of great weight and worth where living faith accompanied that full knowledge.
Yet the solemn fact is shown in 2 Peter 2:20-22 that such a full knowledge might be only in the flesh, and end in a last state worse than a first, or total ruin. So we read in Rom. 1:18 of men that hold the truth in unrighteousness: very zealous for an orthodox creed, but quite unrenewed, and hence holding fast the truth with unrighteousness. The faith, Christianity, is so rich in knowledge of the utmost interest, that the natural mind, where the conscience is not before God, nor the soul purified by obedience of the truth, may deceive itself and readily acquire much, which only puffs up, instead of building up. It is never in this case receiving the love of the truth, that they may be saved; but their mastering the truth, as they would any department of art or science, rather -than being searched by truth, and subject to it, unto salvation. In a word there is no repentance Godward, but intellectualism. When Christ is the object and the life, the truth is known and loved, while it also frees from bondage of every sort to make one all the more bondman of Jesus. Thus it was that the apostle desired “grace and peace multiplied in full knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”
It was of great moment for the Christian Jews to learn (and indeed it is imperfectly understood in Christendom) that, before our Lord came, the knowledge of God though true was vague, comparatively speaking. Yet all the O.T. saints looked away from themselves to Him in the sure hope of the woman’s Seed to destroy the enemy. They knew Him as a faithful Creator and Preserver and Saviour, and by sacrifice too. His ways with Adam and Abel, with Enoch and Noah, gave ever-increasing light; though but partial, it was blessed. To Abraham more was vouchsafed, and the name of the Almighty, as a present help in the midst of the race ripening for judgment, was no small thing. Much more became known when through Moses He gave the name of Jehovah the Eternal, as the grand national watchword to Israel His people, the security of their final and everlasting blessing on earth under His government, whatever their changes meanwhile.
But the Lord Jesus has given us the knowledge of God His Father as He knew Him, generally in the days of His flesh, fully in His resurrection and ascension, that we might know Him as His Father and our Father, His God and our God, in the new creation consequent on His atoning death. What was all before in many modes and many measures, compared with this fulness? As the “beloved” disciple says in his First Epistle (1 John 5:20), “We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true; and we are in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.” Is anything so wonderful, gracious, and practical, as the truth now made fully known? It could not be till He came who knew it Himself perfectly, and died and rose and ascended that we might be brought, as far as is possible, into His relationships, and have the Holy Spirit given to know it this day (John 14:20). Such is Christian knowledge of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As the Father is revealed, so the Son reveals, and this only in its living reality by the Holy Spirit. It is the full revelation of God, confessed in our baptism, and needed, as it ought to be enjoyed, every step of the way till our pilgrimage closes in His coming to take us on high that where He is, we also may be.
“As his divine power hath granted to us all things that [are] for life and godliness through the knowledge of him that called us by his own glory and excellence” (ver. 3).
Such is the apostle’s testimony to the intervention of God’s grace in salvation. Who knew better than the chief workman on the great Feast of Pentecost when three thousand souls were added in one day? Who could testify as he of the power of God that wrought outside to save multitudes, and against evil within judicially, and assuredly not less in the devotedness with one heart and soul to Christ in love, which rose above all selfishness? Who could speak more nearly of the miraculous energy vouchsafed in those early days when, notwithstanding the awe that reigned, the sick were even carried into the streets and laid on beds and pallets, that, as he passed by, at least his shadow might overshadow some one of them; and this not of Jerusalem alone, but from the cities round about, the sick and the possessed, who were heeled everyone?
Here however he speaks only of the divine power in its ordinary but supernatural operation. It is God’s prerogative to quicken souls that were dead in their offences and sins; the Father in communion with the Son gives life. He calls out of darkness into His wonderful light — yes, makes us, once darkness, now light in the Lord; once tasteful and hating, to love because He first loved us. Think, too, of the relationships He confers on the Christians, His children and sons, also, as the First Epistle said, a holy priesthood, and a royal one. Others we might recount; for, being Christ’s, all things are ours, with the Holy Spirit ever indwelling since we rested by faith on Christ’s redemption, that there might be power as well as capacity. How truly His divine power hath granted all things that are for life and godliness!
Jews, we know, ask signs, Greeks seek wisdom. Never were such signs of power and of goodness as in Christ; yet the Jews rejected Him. Never was such wisdom of God as in Jesus; yet the Greeks, the world, disdained Him. Had the rulers of this world known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but none knew. They were blind in unbelief. And a new thing was brought in; not yet the expected kingdom restored to Israel in power and glory, but “some better thing “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,” who is on the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, angels and authorities and powers being made subject to Him. Hence, carrying out what was surprising even to the Twelve, His divine power has granted to us even now all the things that pertain unto life and godliness. For the Christian is called to the life of faith in all reverence and godly fear, as having nothing yet possessing all things, sharing now Christ’s reproach, while looking at the things unseen and eternal.
Such is Christian faith, which the apostle set before these saints, once Jews, in his First Epistle; and confirms with point and solemnity in the Second against all corruption and scoffing. Therefore from the start he would establish their confidence in the provision of grace for all wants, weakness, and dangers. Even the Jews were counted Atheists, because they had no images. How much more open to the charge were Christians without visible temple, altar, or sacrifice! Yet they, and they alone, knew the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He sent. They alone had, now that Christ was on high, the other Paraclete, the Holy Spirit whom the Father sent in the name of Jesus to be with them for ever, and to be in them, consequent on Christ’s death and their acceptance thereby.
This was but part of the “all things” His divine power has given us for life and godliness. For we have now also an entirely new revelation, fully conforming to the O.T. which they had from of old, but conveying what was now suited to God, no longer hidden in the holiest whence His people were strictly debarred, but fully manifested in Jesus, His Son yet Man, perfect God and perfect man in one person. This involved a total change for all who now believe. We have redemption through His blood, and we await His coming for redemption of the body as well as of the inheritance. We are baptised in the power of the Spirit into one body whether Jews or Greeks, all fleshly distinctions therein gone which were strictly maintained in the O.T. We have a great High Priest gone through the heavens as He is, Jesus the Son of God, to sympathise and intercede; and if any one have sinned, we have with the Father Him as Advocate, the Righteous One that is the propitiation for our sins. And we have a hope no less precious and high, that He is coming for us, we know not how soon, to receive us to Himself for the Father’s house, as well as to display us in the same glory with Himself before the world when we shall reign with Him. Hence we need, and we have, a new and special revelation in what is called the N.T., to guide us, not of the world as Christ is not, in His path till He comes. The Gospels, the Epistles, and the Revelation furnish this perfectly by the Spirit as our guide into all the truth.
We see how carefully the apostle guards the truth from mere speculation or sentiment. Knowledge that puffs up is as far as possible from his thought, save in these who had nothing else along with their dissolute or unrighteous ways. There may be a knowledge of God and of Jesus which never rises above the human mind, leads into no communion with God, has not even moral roots in the conscience and heart, and is ever liable to heterodoxy, because it is only natural. But the knowledge which he commends to the saints is what his fellow-apostle John treats as life eternal, and he himself as the means of life and godliness; for our apostle is ever intent on practical result. For this indeed divine power cannot but be needed, as the saints are here cheered by the assurance of it.
Its working is strikingly expressed, “through the knowledge of him that called us by his own2 glory and excellence.” Man is fallen, and thus is in a condition wholly different from his first estate Then his duty was to obey, in thanksgiving to God for all the goodness that surrounded him. But with his disobedience came ruin not only for himself but for the creation of which he was head. Departing from God, he was an exile from paradise, a sinful dying man; and so the race in and by him. All deliverance hung on Another, the woman’s Seed, who crushed in heel should crush the serpent’s head; a Man, but necessarily more than man thus to deliver by the utter defeat of Satan. From that day forward faith clung to the Coming One, later called Son of God, and Son of man, Messiah, in Psalms and Prophets. But only the N.T. brings out the truth with all simplicity, clearness, and depth; and not His personal glory alone, but His reconciling work shining out in divine light.
This salvation is by God’s call; and one quits self, man, the world, sins and all, for the object of faith He sets before us. Hence God calls us by His own glory and excellence. It is in Christ, but it is His own glory and excellence, not ours. Instead of staying where we are, which had been quite right if sin and ruin had not come in, we turn to One in heavenly glory who here suffered for our sins, that we should be not only forgiven but with Him there; and even here and now, while we are weak indeed, to enjoy that excellence which goes out of Him to preserve and guard us in the present scene of evil. We leave all by faith for Him. Our calling is the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14); and there will the prize be. But there is He, dead and risen now; and to Him the sinner looks to be saved, for His is the power that keeps from the paths of the destroyer. He that rests where he is rests in self and sin, blinded by the enemy. The voice of Christ awakes him to his lost condition; and he, obeying the word, repenting toward God, and believing on the Lord Jesus, is called by God’s own glory and excellence. The Saviour is there, and associates him who believes with Himself above in hope, thus separating him from the evil in him and around him.
It may help souls if we illustrate the same by the words of the apostle Paul in Rom. 3:23; especially as their sound is as familiar as the sense is not. “For all sinned, and do come short of the glory of God.” The first clause is plain; but what of the second? By sin man lost his place on earth as well as his life as it was. It became a question of meeting the glory of God, or of being cast into hell. And this is only met by the Saviour and His work on the cross to fit the sinner by faith in Him for heavenly glory Otherwise he is content with himself, neglects so great salvation, and refuses the Saviour who will judge him at the last day. He verily comes short of the glory of God; whereas the believer rejoices in hope of it. Without the blood of Jesus we could not stand by faith before the glory of God; but, knowing that His blood cleanses from all sin, we are entitled there to stand in spirit even now, and thus do not come short of it. We are called by His own glory and excellence.
Justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, we repent toward God, we judge ourselves, and (instead of resting here on ourselves) we go forward in faith to Him who is at God’s right hand, thereby entitled to boast, no longer in self, or man, or the world, but in hope of the glory of God. Meanwhile we are guarded in (or, by) His power through faith for the salvation even of our bodies in that day. But it is by His own (not our) excellence and glory that He called us, instead of licence for ease, worldly honour, or natural enjoyment. Hence says the apostle Paul as the right experience of a Christian, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them dung, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, that which is of the law, but that which is of God by faith,” etc. “Not that I already attained, nor am already perfected, but I pursue, if also I may apprehend, seeing that also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:8-12). Instead of abiding as unfallen man ought in his first estate, there is but one thing, forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things before, to pursue toward the goal for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus.
The apostle proceeds to explain through what God has granted now, not the manifested kingdom of the Messiah (for this is postponed to the day of His appearing in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory), but the greatest promises, as he calls them and precious, whilst we await Him, walking by faith, and not by sight. For what are those of earthly glory and power for Israel on earth in comparison? Ours are association with Christ in heaven. In short another and higher order of blessing now goes on. It is what we call Christianity.
“Through which he hath granted to us the greatest and precious promises, that through these ye may become partakers of a divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world in (or, by) lust” (2 Peter 1:4).
These words are the weighty expression of truth peculiarly appropriate to and needed by the persons addressed, but of permanent value for all saints since then to our day. “Which” refers to God’s own glory and excellence, whereon we have dwelt the more because the force is quite lost in the common Greek text, and the current translation. No less a standard suited His call. He would have the called to estimate the total difference of that object which was familiar to them as Jews under law. To live long on the earth and be blessed in basket and store presented an incomparably lower prospect; and a hopeless ground, if one applied it spiritually to such sinful creatures as they were in God’s sight, a ministry indeed of death and condemnation. The gospel proclaims grace reigning through righteousness unto life eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord; it is a ministry of the Spirit and of righteousness, even of God’s righteousness which we become in Christ. Therefore are we always confident, even in view of death and the judgment-seat of Christ, because God holds us for the very triumph we know in Christ, and has also given us already the earnest of the Spirit till we too are glorified. Even the new covenant for Israel under the Messiah’s reign falls quite short of our heavenly associations with Christ already.
Hence we can understand the bounteous provision of His word that we may enter intelligently into what He has communicated to us in the carrying out of His gracious purpose. Through His own glory and excellence He has granted us the greatest promises, far more elevated than any given to His earthly people Israel. Take as a little example what the apostle himself had said in the early verses of his First Epistle, and of its first chapter. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to His much mercy, begot us again to a living hope through Jesus Christ’s resurrection from among the dead, unto an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance, reserved in [the] heavens for you who are kept (or, guarded) in (or, by) God’s power through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in [the] last time.” He does not, in the verse we are considering, repeat what these precious promises are, now proposed to the precious faith of the Christian. But this one sample may suffice to show their general character, in contradistinction from the earthly hopes, which once sufficed to fill them with satisfaction and pride in the highest degree, and so greatly contributed to their unbelief in the Messiah.
The Christian promises do not at all lend themselves to human feeling or worldly ambition. We can easily understand how the Jew might carnally delight in looking on to the day when, as Isaiah predicted, kings shall be Zion’s nursing-fathers and Gentile princesses her nursing-mothers. Then they shall bow down to her with the face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of her feet. Then the sons of the strangers shall build up her walls, and their kings serve Zion, and her gates remain open continually day and night, to bring in to her the wealth of the nations, and their kings in triumphal train. For the nation and the kingdom that will not serve Zion shall perish; and those nations shall certainly be laid waste. It would be easy to accumulate, as any Christian can verify from the prophets generally, no less glowing visions of earthly glory assured to converted and restored Israel, when the day of Jehovah dawns. But here too a single inspired voice is surely enough.
Flesh in its unbelief and vanity among professing Christians may abuse every word of God. But the exceeding great and precious promises held out to the Christian do not in themselves afford any real handle to carnality. They presume the Lord’s coming, and our body of humiliation transformed in order to be conformed to the body of His glory. In that day assuredly there can be no perversion for the Christian in heaven, nor will there be for Israel on the earth, all righteous under Messiah and the new covenant. It is now, in an evil world ruled by Satan, and with flesh still in us, that we are ever exposed to danger. But those promises has God granted to us, says the apostle, “that we may become partakers of a divine nature.” For it is in the exercise of His own will that the Father of lights begot us by the word of truth.
It was not a mere operation, however excellent and powerful, on the mind. This of course there was. Conscience was penetrated and overwhelmed with a just sense of our sins and evil state; the heart was exercised truly before God by His manifested love in Christ and His work. But besides, a new nature was imparted, and this no less than supernatural in character. We were born of God, not only sons by adoption, but given the title and reality of His children (John 1:12, 13). Throughout the Fourth Gospel the divine design was to declare life eternal in the Son of God, to manifest its character in Himself and His ways and words, but also to announce that this life He gives, all the more distinctly because He was the rejected of the Jews and man — the world in short. From John 3 to 20 this is written with more than sunbeam brightness; and if now denied by those who once rejoiced in that light, it can only be through the darkening power of Satan.
O.T. saints had life in the Son; they were God’s children: without it they never could have walked in faith and fidelity as they did, nor share in the resurrection at His coming, nor reign with Him. But it was only revealed as a known, conscious, and present reality in John’s Gospel. Its future privilege for converted Israel and the Gentile sheep (Ps. 133:3, Dan. 12:2, Matt. 25:46) is plain; but then, and even before, we shall have it, if deceased, in a resurrection for the body, as now we have it in our souls as a revealed and existing certainty. To doubt, darken, or deny this fundamental truth of Christianity is of the evil one; it is connected with false doctrine as to Christ’s person, and more or less the loss of almost all the truth characteristic of the Christian and the church.
Nor does it depend only on the phrase life eternal, or on the Gospel and First Epistle of John — the revelation of that blessed phrase which some would pare down to extinction. The apostle Paul intimates the same gift of grace substantially in other forms of speech suited to the scope given for his teaching. Let us look at the Epistle to the Romans only, though others are just as plain and abundant He tells us of life in the future (Rom. 5:17, 21), but of “newness of life” too in which we should walk now (Rom. 6:4); he bids us reckon ourselves alive to God in Christ Jesus whilst here, and yield ourselves to God as alive from among the dead already (11, 13). In Rom. 7:4 he says to those knowing the law that they were made dead to the law through the body of Christ to their being Another’s that was raised from among the dead, in order that they might bear fruit to God — an impossibility without life in Christ, serving too in newness of spirit and not in oldness of letter. It would be mere letter in the way of exposition to deny that such a life is eternal, though the term is not employed. Again in Rom. 8:2, what else was life in Christ Jesus?
No doubt in Christendom, and in its most evangelical circles there is the utmost feebleness as to a real spiritual life communicated now to the believer. Hence there is a dangerous tendency either to the amelioration of the old man, or to a miserable blank, as if we had but the flesh, and the Spirit of God only to guide and reprove according to need. It is a sad loss to overlook Christ in us, Christ as truly the life of the saint as the fallen Adamic life is shared by the race.
This is, according to Peter’s line of things, implied in “a divine nature” of which, he tells the saints, they had become partakers through the divine promises God had granted them, “having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust,” the spring of the evil. He does not speak of life eternal as John was given to do, nor of death and resurrection with Christ as Paul; but he presents the moral result, inseparable from the truth as each of them put it, and as important for the believer to apprehend and enjoy. Therefore he speaks of the same substantial privilege as partakers, or possessors in common, of a divine nature, with the moral blessing annexed of “having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” The one description looked more at the divine character into which the believer entered to form his practice day by day; the other, the negative side of the evil and danger from which grace had given the saints escape through faith: both eminently falling within the range of the truth on which the apostle loved to dwell. Of its source in Christ the Mediator, John delighted to testify; as Paul, on the association with Him to which His work entitles the believer in deliverance not merely from sins but from sin, on the eternal counsels of God for heavenly glory with Christ, and on His present power by the Spirit that should work in the inner man above all that we ask or think.
We have seen how carefully from the first the apostle was led to point out the distinctive character of Christianity in dealing with souls. It was not now the law, as they had known, demanding consistency with obligations to the God of Israel from a people in the flesh already formed and owned, as well as directed by a divinely appointed priesthood to maintain them according to the legal covenant for the trial if thus they could stand in His sight. The result was not only idolatry but the rejection of their own Messiah, the Righteous One, and, as He told them, in the consummation of the age the reception of the antichrist (John 5:43), the man of sin, and the destruction of that generation with him. The gospel is founded on the wholly different principle of sovereign grace; another character of things follows with results in manifest contrast. It addresses Jew and Gentile as alike guilty and lost. It calls them by faith in Christ to the God that reconciled us to Himself by the sinless One whom He made sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness in Him. Therefore is the ministry of reconciliation to win sinful souls through the saving grace of God; and the ministry of the church to nourish and guide the saints into and by all the truth, Christ being the great Priest, Advocate, and Head, etc., and the saved made kings and priests now in title and enjoyment, manifestly so in the day of glory.
Hence the stress here laid on their having received like precious faith (ver. 2), and (vers. 3, 4) on the same knowledge of Him that called by His own glory and excellence, through which He hath granted to us the greatest and precious promises, far beyond those to Israel, that through these they might become partakers of a divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world through lust. For Peter ever insists on plain moral realities. For these no ordinances or institutions avail. In Christianity there is and must be the direct communication of God’s grace and truth in Christ to the soul, and the consequent knowledge of God, with approach to Him in the confidence of His love and of our own nearness to Him in known favour, all sins being forgiven. For it is indeed no energy or desert on our part, but His divine power that has granted us all the things that pertain to life and godliness. Faith is the appropriating means.
Yet is much more needed on our part, which the apostle proceeds to enforce. A divine nature requires all care and diligence that it may grow; and as its spring and fulness are in Christ, and it is communicated and revealed to us by the word through the Spirit’s agency, so is it formed in all that is suited to it by its requisite food and exercise, alms, and objects.
“But for this very thing also, bringing in besides all diligence, in your faith supply virtue, and in virtue knowledge, and in knowledge temperance, and in temperance endurance, and in endurance godliness, and in godliness brotherly affection, and in brotherly affection love” (vers. 5-7).
It is evident that the apostle is here enforcing experimental reality in the saints. But the Auth. Version hardly gives the force adequately. It is not “And besides this,” but an energetic call for what is due to the grace of God in communicating the signal blessing of being sharers in a divine nature through faith in His very great and precious promises. Even a fleshly mind might and does deduce from the power and certainty of divine grace that there is room for earnest and practical purpose of heart on the part of the believer. But scripture enlarges the argument, warns against sloth and easy-going, and summons to assiduous diligence on all sides. For this very reason also are they, along with what they had already, to apply diligence in every way.
Thus it may be seen that salvation, as Peter was given to view it, is not regarded (as in Eph. 2:8, 2 Tim. 1:9, and Titus 3:5) as complete in Christ, but rather a process going on to the end of the journey through the desert (as also in the Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, Philippians, Hebrews, etc.). They are distinct aspects of the truth, and one as true though not so elevated as the other, but both highly important to hold fast and discriminate. For it is our privilege as full-grown, or in that sense “perfect,” Christians to enjoy the unclouded certainty and comfort of a salvation so complete, that we are not only quickened together with Christ, but risen together, and seated down together in the heavenlies in Him. For this we must turn to the later Epistles of the apostle Paul. Yet none the less are we, as full grown also, to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God that works in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure, with the prize in view, and at the goal of His coming as Saviour to conform our body of humiliation unto His body of glory (Phil. 2, 3).
We are already by grace partakers of a divine nature; but we are still in a body not yet redeemed, and passing through a world of corruption through lust. And we that are in the tabernacle do groan, being burdened, not as once when in bondage, but because we are only freed in the spirit and have still to await sonship in full, the redemption of our body (2 Cor. 5, Rom. 8). Hence we need meanwhile to bring to bear all diligence in presence of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Nor is it only a question of our weakness and exposure, if unwatchful to prayer or in any measure heedless of the word; for we belong to the Father and the Son, and are bound to witness a good confession by the Holy Spirit in word and deed.
It is assumed that all those addressed have faith, and are therefore not told to furnish it. But that we might be formed spiritually, or grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as is said later, we are exhorted here, not exactly to “add to” our faith, but to “supply in it” virtue, or spiritual courage before a hostile world. Phil. 4:8 has been cited vainly to oppose this: whether moral worth or spiritual vigour, it is just as clearly the sense there as here. A sense more vague would enfeeble both texts. It is the first out of seven requisites here laid down for practical need and power. The Christian has urgent occasion for them all, and it might be an any day and every day; so that we are not to conceive a progress from one to the other by successive stages, however wisely the order is here given by His power who inspired the writer. There is a perceptible rise in their character; but the principle of each and all more or less marks the believer from first to last, though here he is called very impressively to make them all practically his own.
Assuredly the youngest saint quickly finds the value of supplying in his faith virtue or moral power. This he needs to support faith, that he may not swerve from his new-born capacity of seeing things in God’s light, instead of using the light of his own eyes or those of other men. As the Lord Himself, after He was divinely acknowledged the Son of God, was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, so it is with each son of God by faith in Christ Jesus. We too in our measure are put to the proof, and need courage to resist the adversary, stedfast in faith, and subject to scripture. The confession of faith makes one an immediate mark for Satan’s attack. But we have to apply scripture in due season. It may be for the babe the guileless milk of the word; but this is just the food whereby he grows unto salvation. It may be rather the solid for those of full age. In any case it is not the mere bread of man’s labour, but the revelation of God which is the means of growing up unto Christ in all things. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” His word quickens. It reveals Christ the life-giver, and thus associates the quickened soul with God Himself immediately.
But clearly spiritual vigour is not all. Knowledge is necessary as well as courage. Scripture supplies it reliably, and in the N.T. both amply and with special precision to Christian privilege for direction and instruction. How beautiful the scene which Luke 2 presents of our blessed Lord, at twelve years of age, sitting in the midst of the Jewish teachers, both hearing them and asking them questions, when all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers! He was true man as well as God, advancing in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men. As partakers of a divine nature we have a new capacity from above; and yet more we received not the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is of God, that we might consciously know the things freely given us by God. There is thus the fullest provision made for these wants, and no excuse for a Christian’s ignorance of divine things. The natural or soulish man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But the spiritual discerns all things, and himself is discerned by no one. For which knew Jehovah’s mind, who shall instruct Him? But we have Christ’s mind. How wondrous yet true is this abiding privilege of the Christian!
Again, “in knowledge” supply “temperance” or self-control. Knowledge, however precious, has its danger of puffing up, and begetting contentions; and in itself it is a poor safeguard against lust, ill-feeling, or passion. There is therefore the utmost need of self-restraint. Against such a guard there is no law: rather is it a calm preservative against inflation, and so falling into the fault of the evil one, as well as reproach and his snare. At no time do we more need to watch than when our feelings are acutely wounded. For they only blind us to the character of any hasty impulse and hurry us to sacrifice every Christian consideration to self. But this we are bound to distrust. It wars exactly what in no case or degree wrought in Christ, who ever bowed to His Father in accepting from Him the utmost slight, dishonour, and contempt which came from those among whom He went about doing good, especially from God’s people in their unbelief.
No doubt, there is the deeper pain if our trial come from His children, and the keener if from such as we specially trusted and valued. But the point for the soul, and above all for God, is not what this one has done or that said (lest it should rankle and inflame), but am I above it all by grace? am I self-restrained through (not self, but) Christ working in me? This enables one not to feed on what provokes, but to think on the things lovely, and of good report, which heat on our own account makes us forget. If others stumble, am I manifesting Christ?
But there is suffering for righteousness, if not for Christ’s name, which is never far or long from a Christian’s path; and thus he has need of self-control supplying “endurance.” He is not to quail if called to suffer ever so wrongfully. How unworthy, natural as it is, to complain because of this! Would it be any satisfaction, or real alleviation, if one deserved it? “For it is better, if the will of God should will it, to suffer as well-doers than as evil-doers.” “But if as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but glorify God in this name.” Yes, believers have need of endurance. Let us then, in “self-control” that puts a quiet but needed check on ourselves and on every device of self-will, supply “endurance” under any wrong inflicted by others. This is quite compatible with, not reserve, but plain rebuke of a saint who so errs.
Yet another want of at least equal or greater weight is next urged: “in endurance godliness” or piety. What more momentous for the soul than to preserve the links of reverence and affection, of dependence and obedience, in fresh and constant exercise with God and our Lord Jesus! Yet such is the pressure of work, to say nothing of the course of the age, the deceitfulness of riches, the disappointment at loss, or lusts of other things, that the peril from any earthly preoccupation is great. But here we are reminded to supply godliness in its constant place. To confide in Him, to bow implicitly to His will assured that it is the best, is all the more blessed in the pressure of the persecutions that try our endurance. For indeed He is good, and does good, overcame evil in our case with His good, and strengthens even us not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. If we do not know what we should pray for as befitting, we do know that all things work together for good to those that love God. And surely this true piety feels. To the same end he bade them in his First Epistle (1 Peter 3:14, 15) not to fear the world’s fear, nor be troubled, “But sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord,” as He had Jehovah always before Him.
Then we are reminded that paying God His due takes nothing from “brotherly affection,” but on the contrary both cherishes and controls it; for in godliness, which is fitting and necessary to be supreme, we are told to supply this exercise of grace. As the apostle Paul wrote concerning it to the young and dear Thessalonian converts, “Ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. For also this ye do toward all the brethren in the whole of Macedonia. But we exhort you, brethren, to abound yet more.” Nevertheless brotherly affection has its limits because of its nature and its objects; for it is not God, and it may often let in what shuts Him out. Thus brethren too frequently slip into evil of one sort or another; and if brotherly affection be pressed (as commonly it is) as the acme of love, what mischief must arise for the saints! and what dishonour to the Lord and the truth!
Therefore mark the divine wisdom and the profit for us, in that the apostle here distinguishes, instead of confounding, “love”; for he closes with “in brotherly kindness love.” Higher than this last he could not rise; for not only is love of God, but God is love. It is of all moment that in brotherly kindness we should supply that love which is of God, and which God is. Nothing here evinces the wretchedly fallen state of Christendom more than the chorus of commentators who think of nothing beyond brotherly kindness save love to all mankind, even enemies, overlooking the source and power of all good. So Alford and Wordsworth, Bloomfield, Webster and Wilkinson, etc., among moderns speak for most shades of modern theology; and the ancients as far as one knows are no better.
Even John Calvin’s remarks, which were consulted after writing thus, are singularly meagre, passing by the beautiful circle of truth here given us. From virtue and knowledge he turns off with few words to brotherly affection, and has no more to say of love than “Charitas latius patet, quia totum humanum genus complectitur” (“Love extends more widely, because it embraces the whole human race”). This is enough to represent the mind of the Reformers, of whom Calvin was regarded as the chief expositor. It is wholly defective and erroneous; for such a view loses what one of them calls “the crown of Christian virtue.” Surely it would be, not a meet climax, but a descent from the deep and faithful character of special affection toward the holy brotherhood to universal and benevolent love for men as such. He speaks like the author of Saturday Evening, chap 12, who was far too humanitarian.
On the contrary it is an immense and blessed elevation from that affection, high as it is, to “love” in its fullest nature. And so speaks the apostle Paul who communicated not a little to his brother apostle of the circumcision for both his Epistles, and wrote to the Galatian brethren, after pressing on them “bowels of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering,” with a forbearing and forgiving spirit. “And over (or, to) all these, love which is the bond of perfectness” (Gal. 3:12, 14), as he wrote to the Colossians at a later day. Nor need we quote the Epistles of John, rich as is their contribution of proof to the same effect. The reason too is quite plain. God’s nature in its active energy of love is the complement of all, the standard withal that strengthens us against every evil. Love, as known in Him, of which Christ is the full expression, while the most expansive of affections as it is necessarily, maintains all His character intact, refuses any sacrifice of His rights to indulge or palliate a brother’s fault or error, and rises to its full height in God.
Yet how deep and wondrous this is in the God who gave His beloved Only-begotten Son that we, lost and dead, might live through Him, who was sent into the world with life eternal in Himself for every one that believed! yea, to be the propitiation for our sins, that the evil in us, intolerable to Him and grief and abhorrence to us, might be blotted out for ever! Not that we then loved Him, but He us to the uttermost: wherefore we do love Him whose perfect love casts out fear. We love, because He first loved us. God is love; and he that abides in love abides in God, and God in Him. Thus love gives its best force but also its preservative guard to brotherly affection; whilst it has its own highest and deepest scope according to its divine spring, nature, and character. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11); but he never says that we “ought” to love God; for this we do, if indeed called according to purpose. It may be hard sometimes to love a brother when naughty: but we do love God always. What does it tell to leave this out?
It may be of interest for some to know that the too famous Bp. Warburton preached a sermon on these three verses, entitled, “The Edification of Gospel Righteousness” (Works, v. 123-143, 4to, 1788). But able as it is in his peculiar fashion, and not without his strong impression of its divine wisdom, it is vitiated by his ignorance of grace and truth, and so completely that he takes for granted (p. 127) that the N.T., here as elsewhere, refers us to what the Religion of Nature (!) taught concerning virtue for example.
The apostle enforces the importance of that diligence to which he had exhorted saints by a twofold consideration expressed in verses 8, 9. In the first of these he points out the blessing of being thoroughly furnished in our practical state for every good word and work; and in the second, the blighting effect of negligence as to our state.
“For these things being in you and abounding make [you] not idle nor unfruitful for the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ: for he with whom they are not present is blind, shortsighted, having forgotten3 the cleansing of his old sins.”
These varied qualities, set forth in a just order, were all of them requisite for the Christian character. The disciple is not above his teacher, nor the bondman above his lord. The Christian follows Christ and is His witness in the ways of every day. “Ye are our epistle,” says Paul to the Corinthian saints when recalled to obedience, “written in our hearts, known and read of all men, being manifested that ye are Christ’s epistle ministered by us, written not with ink but Spirit of a living God, not on stone tables but on the heart’s fleshy tables.” The new divine nature does not imitate outward points of moral propriety, but beholds Christ objectively, which with delight in His perfection works inwardly. Hence it participates in every thing that pleases God, and is particularly vigilant where an awakened conscience has felt and judged special failure. So we read here “These things being in you.” Divine life works energetically in every right direction.
But the apostle was led to seek more. He urges that these things should “abound” also; and this they do where Christ dwells in the heart by faith. No doubt the words in Eph. 3:17 go out immensely farther; but Christ is and must be the spring and strength of the heart for all that is acceptable to God. The exercise of the heart in the full confidence of Christ’s love promotes growth in what is good. These things are therefore not only a real subsistence in the Christian, but also abound through dependence on His grace. Nor do troubles distract, if instead of intensely occupying ourselves with them, we are simple in casting the burden on Him, who cares for us, and delights in hearing the cry of faith’s confidence in Him, and gives His own peace to guard our hearts and our thoughts by Christ Jesus. If we be ever so pained, the new nature, while in no way sparing self in ourselves or others, gives us to turn to its own congenial occupation with what is pure, true, noble, just, lovely and of good report, to think on these things, rather than to be occupied with evil, where it is not a positive duty.
What is the effect? They “make you not idle nor unfruitful for the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It was a change for the worse when the A. V. for “idle” rendered the word “barren,” and led so many readers and preachers to guess what the difference could be between “barren” and “unfruitful.” But there is no room for doubt or difficulty. The first word is properly translated “idle” elsewhere in the A. V., as it should be here; and so Tyndale, Cranmer and the Geneva V. had given. Wycliffe and his follower, as well as the Rhemish, have “voide” or “vacant” (as the last), which can hardly be said to have any just sense.
If the practical characteristics of Christianity abound in the saints, they themselves would be neither idle nor unfruitful. How unworthy to be idle, not only as standing in so blessed a relationship and possessed by grace of a new nature so excellent and repellent of every evil thing! How unworthy to be fruitless, if branches in the True Vine, such as those whom the Father purges that they may bear more fruit (John 15:2, 1 Peter 1:17)! “Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear much fruit; and ye shall be my disciples” (John 15:8). So the apostle Paul prays for the Philippian faithful that they might be pure and without stumbling for (or, against) Christ’s day, “filled with the fruit of righteousness that is through Jesus Christ unto God’s glory and praise” (Phil. 1:11).
The holiness of the new nature makes all sin to be hateful in the believer’s eyes. But as the flesh is still in us, and ready to work and manifest itself, there is the constant necessity of prayer and the word watchfully applied in self-judgment. The brotherhood too has unceasing claims that we should never wink at sin but abhor it both in brotherly affection and yet more strongly in that love which strengthens us in keeping His commandments and in rebuking a brother’s disobedience and every iniquity. And if we cleave with purpose of heart to the Lord, can we be insensible to mankind around who remain, as once we were, unintelligent, disobedient, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another? If idle in confessing earnestly according to our measure the saving grace of God in the gospel, we cannot be but unfruitful “for the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Where is our heart then for God and His Son, for saints or for sinners? For what are we, since our deliverance, left in such a world as this? Is it not that God in all things may be glorified, as far as His children are concerned, through Jesus Christ, to whom is the glory and the might for the ages of ages, Amen?
But the other side is next noticed, and we do well to take heed. “For” (this is the true connective, not “but”) “he with whom they are not present is blind.” How sad that such a description should apply to one bearing the Lord’s name! For had not Peter in his First Epistle set forth Christians as loving Him whom they had not seen, and not now looking on but believing, they exult with joy unspeakable and full of glory? Theirs was no mere natural but supernatural sight in God’s wonderful light. What a fall from divine privilege to be “blind,” or even short-sighted! It is the lack of spiritual perception by the neglect of communion with God, the result of habitual indifference and self-seeking, to the slight of Christ, and grief of the Spirit.
It is explained by the next word, “shortsighted”: the things afar off, the heavenly, are no longer the objects before the eyes of the heart. Thus things that are near and before all mankind absorb the mind. It is a worldly spirit actively at work after the things of the world, and not those which the Father loves. Because all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world, as the apostle John urges. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. The knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is hindered and its separating power annulled, if we thus look, not at the unseen, but at the seen; for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal.
Another immense loss too follows: “having forgotten the cleansing of his old sins.” It is not that a soul may here deny the truth of the gospel, or oppose his justification by faith of Christ and His work. But enjoyment of peace with God is gone. For the Holy Spirit, instead of bearing present witness to his spirit that he is a child of God, testifies to his inconsistent and evil state. The doctrine, however certain and true, that the worshippers once purged have no more conscience of sins ceases to be his joy, and becomes forgotten. His conscience is not clear but troubled as to his condition, instead of being trustful and bold before God. Till he is thoroughly self-judged, he feels, when he reflects, that his own heart condemns him; and if so how much more must the God who is greater than our hearts, and knows all things!
Is it not in this duty and sense that he incurs forgetfulness of the cleansing of his old sins? It is not that he either gives up the truth or despairs as to himself; but there is no comfortable consciousness of that cleansing of our sins which the very gospel proclaims to every believer. How can it be otherwise in that government which God as Father keeps up with His children in our time of sojourn here? When the cleansing of one’s old sins is truly remembered, it acts on the soul to cleave to Him who for us died and rose, and strengthens us to hate evil of every kind, especially in our own ways. To forget the profession of being purged from one’s sins is to lose the power and duty of practical purity; and to be a Christian becomes but a name.
Here again in these concluding words of the introduction we may see the practical earnestness which eminently characterises our apostle. His aim is not dogmatic clearing up but spiritual power for every day.
“Wherefore the rather, brethren, use diligence to make your calling and election sure; for in doing these things ye shall never stumble. For thus shall be richly furnished to you the entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (vers. 10, 11).
The true knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord is characteristic of Christianity, and rises far above what the law and the prophets conveyed, excellent as they were and are. But that knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, which the gospel communicates, is meant to make us, as partaking of a divine nature, neither idle nor unfruitful meanwhile. Flesh has to be judged, and the world held aloof by such as have escaped its corruption by lust. We need, as all life does, to grow by suited divine fare; and we are called to do God’s will.
There are the due affections to cultivate around us and upward. The pointed warning was just given of what surely follows indifference to the moral side, the blindness that ensues, the shortsightedness as to God’s own glory and excellence, Jesus crowned with honour and glory in all that becomes our relationship, and dangers here ever present. Otherwise one forgets the gracious and solemn remission of the gospel, and the meaning of baptism to Christ’s death at the start of the Christian profession.
Thus the diligence called for in vers. 5-7 is impressed in another way in vers. 10, 11. There it was in faith as the starting-point to furnish the necessary and blessed elements that form Christian character, from moral courage to divine love reproduced in the heart and ways, with the happy result where they exist and abound, with the saddest effect where they are lacking. Here looking at both sides the apostle exhorts his “brethren” all the more to give diligence, not merely to bear in lively recollection, in thankfulness, and exercised conscience, their first confession of divine grace to them as guilty sinners, but “to make their calling and election sure.” In our fallen state, as in the world, there is nothing at all to help for life and godliness. The fairest show in flesh is the most deceptive and dangerous; and if Gentiles, like the Galatian and the Colossian brethren, were so prone to this snare, how much more were those who had been Jews, both to slip back from grace, and to make it a creed to own, instead of the spring and proof and joy of faith?
It is plain that the fresh appeal is to our state and consequent course and character of walk. The very order of the terms indicates this; for on the side of divine grace election according to scripture necessarily precedes calling. God’s choice of the Christian is in eternity; as His calling of us is in time out of darkness into His wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9). So in the opening of the First Epistle the saints were said to be elect according to God the Father’s foreknowledge; but it was in virtue of the Spirit’s sanctification that they were separated unto the obedience and blood-sprinkling of the Lord Jesus Christ. The well-known summary in Rom. 8:28-30 is still more precise and full. “And we know that all things work together for good to those that love God, to those that are called according to purpose. Because whom he fore-knew he also predestinated [to be] conformed to the image of his Son, that he should be firstborn among many brethren. And whom he predestinated, these he also called; and whom he called, these he also justified; and whom he justified, these he also glorified.” Thus the chain of blessing is completed when the many brethren are brought even as concerns the body into conformity with their glorified Lord. The order is as clearly of God’s grace; as that in our text, where calling comes before election, is of its actual application to man. And this is in keeping with the context which deals with the present moral government of souls.
The passage answers in its place to what we have in 1 Peter 1:17, 18: “And if ye call on him as Father that without respect of persons judgeth according to the work of each, pass the time of your sojourn in fear, knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptibles, silver or gold, from your vain manner of walk handed down from fathers, but with precious blood of Christ as of a lamb unblemished and spotless,” etc. The fear enjoined is not from lack of certainty in our redemption, which on the contrary is enforced with all power and clearness. It is filial fear strengthened by the only efficacious sacrifice, but tempered because a Father holy and impartial watches over every step of our pilgrimage; and as He will not condemn us with the world, He chastens because He loves us too well to gloss over our failures. Here Christian responsibility is pressed, that there should not be inconsistency in our ways. His calling like His election is a matter of sovereign grace, and admits no question. But the case is different when we hear of our calling and election. Here negligence disorders the walk, and compromises our profession of His name, takes away our joy and enfeebles or hinders our testimony, and all the more if our conscience be tender. The heart condemns us, as is said in 1 John 3:20; and how much more does God, who greater than our heart knows all things, and draws us into self-judgment, so that it should not condemn us!
Practical fidelity, then, is urged the more with diligence to make our calling and election sure; “for doing these things” which please God, and are His will concerning us, they are made firm to our enjoyment, instead of being loose and unstable by a careless state; and so one may add, they are to others who look for our ways agreeing with our words. Walking in dependence and obedience we shall never stumble. It is therefore a most humbling thing when one thus trips by the way, and mistakes his own will or the enemy’s suggestion for the Lord’s guidance. How painfully it is learnt that all knowledge here fails; and that we must be brought to deep self-judgment, and vigilance in looking to and leaning on the Lord that we may follow Him closely. For any one can see a failure, and flesh can censure without measure or heart. Grace alone can purify according to the standard of the sanctuary; but this may be retarded by failure in penetrating to the roots of what misled. And here it is ourselves who are to blame; for there is in Christ and the word all resource to meet the need, yea, so as to strengthen one’s brethren also, as Peter himself had to learn, and learnt so well.
But more encouragement follows here. “For thus shall be richly furnished to you the entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Here again it is not a predicted fact that is prominent, but the full realization even now by the soul that walks blamelessly before God. Thus it is that the entrance into the kingdom should be furnished. One is thus enabled to anticipate in rich measure the everlasting kingdom. So the Spirit was pleased to describe it. At any rate it is not put as a mediatorial display of glory in reigning over the earth for a thousand years, blessed as this will be; but rather what is unchanging. For there is also revealed that His servants shall serve Him and see His face, and reign for ever and ever.
Here then to those walking by grace faithfully “shall be richly furnished the entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Not only is evil avoided, but there is nothing to dim the eyes or burden the heart. And the future glory is made richly to fill the soul as that which, as it belongs to Him, is shared with us, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. We are thus led into it for heart enjoyment; for the Spirit, being ungrieved, is not stopped by our errors and wrong-doing to humble us, but can show us things to come. “He shall glorify me, because he shall receive of mine and shall declare [it] to you.” The entrance into it shall be richly furnished in the case described for practical joy and power over all that is present, whereby Satan seeks to dazzle and occupy the unwary.
A great principle of God appears in the words that follow, to which we do well to take heed. For the proof is abundant and plain, and a serious warning at this very time, and at all times, of the peril to God’s glory, so far as His saints are concerned, from neglecting it.
“Wherefore I shall be ready always to put you in mind of those things, though knowing [these] and established in the present truth” (ver. 12).
Can any thing give clearer evidence of the all importance of the written word, not only to communicate the truth on divine authority, but to keep it intact in the living remembrance of the saints, than the earnestness with which this inspired bondman and apostle of our Lord impresses its need in his last message?
We learn, from Gal. 1:6-10, how prone those mercurial Gentile brethren were, under evil influence, to forget even the fundamental principle of the gospel they had heard from the greatest preacher that ever lived. “I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel, which is not another [one]; only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But if even we, or an angel from heaven, proclaim a gospel to you besides [or, other than] that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we said before, now also I say again, If anyone preach a gospel besides that which ye received, let him be accursed. For am I now persuading men or God? or am I seeking to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be Christ’s bondman.”
We learn also from 1 Corinthians, that the vain Greek mind in the capital of Achaia, where the same apostle had preached and won much people to the Lord, was soon slipping away, when his back was turned, from the ways and will of God, even to the compromise of the resurrection, though not of the immortality of the soul, which philosophy favoured and the first man might and did misuse to exalt himself. Hence that first Epistle, early as the date was, reproved their carnal schools with leaders, their low moral sense, their worldliness in going to law, their tampering with idol feasts as if nothing, and the laxity as to natural relationships. Even the gospel demanded re-statement in 1 Cor. 15, as their disorders at the Lord’s supper, and in the assembly, called for rebuke and rectification in 1 Cor. 11, 12 and 14.
Nor need there be more than a reference to the “doubtful disputations” which endangered the peace of the saints in Rome; nor to the preaching for envy and strife of some at Philippi, nor to others who caused weeping to the apostle while he named it, enemies as they were of the cross of Christ, whose end was destruction, whose God was their belly, and their glory was their shame, who minded earthly things. Nor does the Epistle to the Colossians here call for notice, though it might well be a lengthened and appropriate one in view of the havoc which threatened those saints from the inroads of Gentile philosophy and of Jewish elements on the glory of the Head and the unity of the body with Him. We know too that the Epistles to the Thessalonians were written among other things especially to disabuse those young Christians of error: the First, as to the departed saints at Christ’s coming, the Second, as to His day for the living saints. Then the letters to the trusty fellow-labourers, Timothy and Titus, explicitly deal with falling away from the faith, profane babblings, with vain talkers and deceivers, specially those of circumcision; and in every case supplying the adequate remedy in God’s grace and truth, as we ought to learn.
Eminently instructive is the opposite snare exposed in the grand Epistle to the Hebrews. Therein the apostle sets out the glory of Christ in person, office, and work, to deliver the circumcised believers from their traditional attachment to Judaism with its priesthood, ordinances, and sanctuary, from which they had not got clear after so many years of knowing Christ. But the Spirit of God would no longer tolerate this dulness, natural to babes, but inconsistent with the solid food of full-grown men, who have their senses exercised for distinguishing both good and evil. There is therefore exhortation from God to take their true Christian place of entering with boldness into the holies by the blood of Jesus, and of going forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach. This was expressly before the destruction of the city and the temple; that the saints might shake off their old swaddling clothes, to be thoroughly and only Christ’s by faith, before the coming acts of God’s providence.
The later Epistles are just the fullest on the impending ruin of the professing church, the latest of all (Jude’s and John’s) pointing out apostasy at the end with the Lord’s unsparing judgment. For “the last hour,” however it might be prolonged in divine patience, was characterised even then by “many antichrists,” the sure token of “the Antichrist” to be destroyed in the day of the Lord.
Even this short survey of inspired correction is the most convincing proof how dependent the Christian saints were on fresh scripture to guard our souls from forgetfulness of the truth and the aberrations from all round its circle provoked and promoted by the spirit of falsehood. But, besides this, food was provided in due season. To the Roman saints the apostle only refers to revelation of a mystery or secret as to which silence had been kept in everlasting times, but now manifested, and by prophetic scriptures according to the eternal God’s command made known for obedience of faith unto all the nations. But it was not here revealed. Nor was it to the Corinthians in its heavenly side but only in its earthly working; still less to the Galatians or the Thessalonians. Not till he was a prisoner in Rome did he unfold it fully to the Ephesians and the Colossian saints, and thence to the church gradually far and wide. The word is the truth, and its written form under the inspiring power of God adds to it His abiding permanence as alike the supply and the standard for His children.
Nor can it be doubted that today beholds the most fearful and widespread and deadly onslaught on scripture ever since the apostles departed. At all times bad men had yielded; and with more or less daring circulated their doubts and disbelief. But now so shameless is unbelief that the seats of human learning are its citadels; and theologians vie with scientists and literary men in thinly if at all disguised denial of God’s word from Genesis to the Apocalypse. Divine revelation is therefore a burning question today; and the more because it taints largely and deeply every sect in Christendom.
And how fares it with such as abjure a sectarian place? Has it not been affirmed among such, orally and in print, that the church needed not scripture, at least if walking decently and in order? Again, “it is no good sending out Bibles if there are not preachers”? Again, “the word of God is in the scriptures”? Not that scripture is the written word but Christ is the word of God? That “the scriptures are more the record of it, than the thing itself”? We are all familiar with such language among adversaries of the truth; but how solemn that such praise of incredulity should pass as from God’s Spirit among the more ignorant of those once most staunch for the Bible! And how still more solemn that such impiety has not been judged on the guilty, and repudiated with horror and humiliation by the more intelligent! Are there not some true-hearted enough for God and His word to be above the dread of consequences?
There is another phase of unbelief which prevails among such brethren as claim to be the faithful in disowning and separating from that depraved confraternity. Their danger made itself manifest from the time when both these parties, now opposed, staked all on what they called assembly-judgments. It was a phrase unknown in days when faith and patience reigned, and scripture was demanded and given for every legitimate judgment. No right-minded saint conceived of a godly action save in obedience of the word. What honour the Lord habitually put upon it! But just when party-spirit was beginning to blow up ecclesiastical fire to a white heat, and scripture was found unavailable to justify an extreme and revolutionary action desired, the strange proceedings brought in strange phrases.
Scripture was denied to be necessary, when it could not be produced. Very distressing became the course of these brethren who claimed all the faithful qualities and denied them to those who blamed their doings as without and beyond scripture. It was laid down that all were bound by an assembly-judgment, however partial or hasty, nay, even if known to be wrong! And this, not only prima facie but excluding in future any revisal, when it was distinctly urged that the right should alone be done by such as were assured of error.
No, there could be, there ought to be, no rectification, no owning of a wrong! An assembly-judgment, once made, must be accepted as irrevocable, even if known afterwards and certainly to be unrighteous and erroneous! This did not matter; it was bound on earth and in heaven! Therefore the prime duty henceforth of the intelligent saint was to accept this as due to the Lord’s word and name! The natural home for such fanaticism seems to be Babylon.
No doubt in regular cases of discipline, conducted according to scripture, the assembly is entitled to pronounce in the Lord’s name, and individuals are bound to hear. Even then elder men acquainted with facts well knew that, in ordinary times, errors if unredressed might be fatal, and that unsound decisions were abandoned to the Lord’s honour and the assembly’s shame, yet so done heartily for His name’s sake. How much more was it called for, when souls were perplexed, agitated, and prejudiced on all sides; when the unprecedented step was taken, as in the world’s way to change the venue, and this not as even there to secure impartiality, but to judge a question where strong bias for and against was known to exist! Hence some were satisfied that there was no scriptural authority for such a case, declined even going to hear, and only staid in fellowship till there was no remedy, and a case occurred which compelled them to act according to conscience guided by the word.
These samples of the need, not exemplified among the distant denominations, but among saints who were once simple, gracious, and faithful, may help, as really existing facts, to show how invaluable was the help of which our apostle here speaks to the saints. He should be ready always to put them in remembrance of these things, just before urgently pressed on their heed, though they knew them, and were established in the truth present with them. How considerately he appeals, and gives them credit for the utmost possible! He was truly a bondman as well as apostle of Jesus Christ, and ruled not over their faith, but as with Paul a fellow-worker, not only of their joy, but of their stability and safety.
It was not enough then that the saints should know the things which the gospel communicates to them, nor even that they should be established in them. Those grand facts of divine grace with the moral responsibility they involve are “the present truth”: Jesus the Messiah actually come, rejected by the chosen nation, as the prophets did not omit to announce and the basis of all, yet easily let slip, because of the glowing visions of His kingdom not yet accomplished but apt to eclipse what was deepest and essential. Hence the earnestness of the apostle to impress on his brethren the truth which was then before them, so distinct from the past and from the age to come.
It is, as he had said, the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord (ver. 2); the knowledge in particular of our Lord Jesus Christ (ver. 8), without which none can know God as He now needs to be known. In vain people cried up that which was so precious in foregoing time. All the prophets and the law prophesied until John; and none greater than John the Baptist had arisen among those born of women. But from his days the kingdom of the heavens suffered violence, and men of violence seize on it. It is now a question of faith breaking through every difficulty and obstacle in the power of the Spirit to receive the Son of God come, which necessarily tests every soul of man. For this is life eternal, that they should know the Father revealed by the Son whom He had sent to this end. What was any knowledge compared with that? In vain they talked of “father Jacob,” or of all the fathers from Abraham, who exulted that he should see Christ’s day, as he by faith saw and rejoiced. For One was come, who, though man also, could say, Before Abraham was, I AM. This changed all for faith, and made inexcusable the unbelief that only stuck to the past.
To slight “the present truth” was to lose God and His Son. For it alone puts the believer into living relationship with God, and makes available His divine power which has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness; for this is inseparable from the knowledge of Him that called us by His own glory and excellence. It is in fact what we mean by Christianity, as the life no less than the faith we confess; and therefore it involves growth practically as we have seen in all that becomes the Christian, of which God is the judge, who deigns to instruct us with all precision, as having become partakers of a divine nature, and thus escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh! God, sending His own Son in likeness of flesh of sin and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous import (or, requirement) of the law might be fulfilled in us that walk not according to flesh but according to Spirit. For He slights mere forms now and will have reality in those that are His. The greater the present privileges; the more are saints to be diligent to make their calling and election sure, avoid stumbling, and have richly furnished to them the entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. For as another apostle dear to Peter says, “he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
But practically believers are exposed to such injurious influences, distractive of spirit and attractive to flesh, that they are like watches in need of habitual winding up. It is not enough to know and to be established in the present truth. Therefore the readiness of the apostle always to put them in mind of these things (ver. 12). Here again he reiterates it as their urgent need while he lived, and in view of his speedy departure.
“And I deem [it] right, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting [you] in minds knowing that the putting off of my tabernacle is speedy, according as our Lord Jesus Christ manifested to me” (vers. 13, 14).
Whoever believes, as every Christian is bound to believe, that the great enemy sets himself most against all that God has actually in hand, can readily understand the importance of this care for the saints. It was always so. Cain and Abel were severally put to the proof by the then urgent truth of sacrifice, which faith prized and unbelief disdained. Enoch and Noah both recognised the old truth, but were tested by, and faithful to, what God revealed to each in their day. Abraham held all that went before, but believed in the promises and confided in the divine revelation of “God Almighty” to himself, a pilgrim among races to be destroyed for their iniquity. Israel again had God bringing them out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the land of Canaan, under condition of the law which they undertook to obey in their self-confidence. The Christian begins with redemption by His blood who gives us life eternal, walking in the light of the true God revealed in love and calling us to His eternal glory. In every case power of faith shows itself in specially appropriating “the present truth,” whilst valuing all that had been made known previously, because it was all God’s doing and communicating.
But, if this be true as a principle, the infinite nature of God’s revelation of Himself in Christ makes the actual deposit of faith precious and momentous beyond all comparison. It is not merely revelation from God but of God. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are now made known through our Lord a man, and in His work of redemption who is now consequently in heavenly glory, and, by the Spirit sent forth from heaven, the Spirit of God and of glory rests on the Christian. Not that our apostle makes known all these wondrous privileges, individual or of the church, Christ’s body; but he does insist on the all-importance of the knowledge of God, which is now the portion of faith, beyond what could be before Christ came, or what is to be displayed in the kingdom to the world by-and-by.
It was the inspiring Spirit who laid this duty on the apostle, knowing that his time was short, and the putting off of the earthly tabernacle at hand. Of tradition, in the sense of handing down man’s oral addition, he never thought. What had this done for men before the deluge or after it? What was the issue of pretending to it in Israel or in Christendom? The prophet spoke out on the worthlessness of the fear of Jehovah taught by a commandment of men; the Lord still more decidedly, as transgressing the commandment and making void the word of God on account of their tradition. Inspiration makes it not a word of men, but as it is truly, God’s word, which also works in those who believe, and clothes it with divine permanence as being written in the Spirit.
So the apostle Paul bade Timothy abide in the things which he had learnt and was assured of, knowing of whom he learnt, and that from a child he had known the sacred letters that are able to make wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. This of course refers to the O.T. But he adds more: “Every scripture [is] God-breathed (or, inspired), and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction that is in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly fitted for every good work.” It is a sentence framed expressly to embrace not only whatever of the N.T. had already appeared, but every part of it that remained to be written. Terms could not be devised more simply or absolutely predicating God’s authority of every part of the written word. To call it genuine or authentic was wholly short of what is conveyed. It was inspired or God-breathed, that we might know the things freely given to us by God; and this spoken in words, not taught by human wisdom, weakness, defect of any kind, but taught by the Spirit. Thoughts and words were alike spiritual, that the result might be God’s word certain and complete.
Our apostle, like Paul, had his dissolution before his eyes as well as the increasing evil through false teachers in depravity, and scepticism. Both are distinct in pointing to scripture as the great safeguard. As they alike set aside tradition, so they exclude any thought of apostolic succession. Grace might raise up faithful men to teach the truth they had learnt, or even to instruct others competent to communicate it. But scripture alone is the rule of faith, the sole unerring standard given of God to all His children whereby to test what they hear; and it is all the more blessed and necessary, as wicked men and impostors advance for the worse, leading and led astray. Scripture alone has divine authority. Therein God speaks directly to every soul; as indeed the apostle John also expresses it in his First Epistle, We [the inspired, apostles and prophets] are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. From this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6). No one honoured scripture as Christ did from first to last, on the cross, and when risen from the dead. He even set the written word as a definitive witness beyond His own spoken words (John 5:47).
These are but a portion of what might be cited to explain what the apostle here felt as guided of God to write these last words of his. Tradition must be a foundation of sand; and the foundation of the apostles and prophets is too well laid by divine grace to admit of a supplement, either of a vague and imaginary apostolic succession, or of a rival twelve set up by modern (?) prophets. Scripture must be itself complete to make the man of God complete and fully equipped for every good work But divine power is needed to receive, enjoy, and carry out the written word; and this is imparted to every Christian in the gift of the Holy Spirit abiding in and with us for ever. Yet that word is the only standard. With his departure in near view the apostle would write his last inspired words to stir up the saints by recalling what is easily forgotten, but by his speedy departure made the more urgent, “according as our Lord Jesus Christ manifested to me.”
Peter remembered the grave lesson he had learnt through Paul at Antioch, when he himself failed to keep in mind the truth conveyed so vividly by the vision at Joppa and its fulfilment in Caesarea, the grace of God to Gentile now as to Jew. The pillar of the circumcision stood condemned, and he who was entrusted with the apostolate of the uncircumcision resisted him before all, and for the truth’s sake recorded so great a failure in scripture. For little as it might seem to carnal eyes, it was dissimulation to please certain that came from James, compromised Gentile liberty, and surrendered the truth of the gospel. God thus took care to register it as such, the overwhelming disproof of an infallible Roman see, even if there had been evidence, which there is not, that Peter was the founder of the church there, or its first bishop. So tradition says, and the credulous believe, not only without but contrary to the clear testimony of the written word. Nor did Paul found it, but wrote his Epistle to the Roman saints before he was carried there a prisoner of Jesus Christ for the Gentiles, as at length also His martyr there.
Yet Irenaeus, who stands above all the fathers in the second century as Clemens of Rome above those in the first, tells us, in his book III. against Heresies, that Matthew brought out his Gospel in Hebrew, “when Peter and Paul were evangelising in Rome and founding the church.” This the famous and we may say first ecclesiastical historian, Eusebius, adopts (H.E. v. 28), though an error irreconcilable with scripture; as he had before (2:25) from Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, that Peter and Paul had founded the church in Corinth before going on to Rome for a similar work. Paul we know to have been its planter, not Peter. Can any thing more plainly indicate the absurdity of trusting tradition even of early days, in presence of the sure light of God’s word? Yet all goes to justify our apostle in his zeal to leave nothing for edification to such a haphazard channel, but to write all needed to help, guard, and stimulate the saints in words taught by the Spirit, that they might thereby be brought face to face with Him who inspired these exhortations. Thus only can we know and have communion with God.
In a third form the apostle presents the urgent importance which he felt in the Spirit for the written word; here expressly that “after his departure” they should be enabled also at any time “to call to mind these things.”
“And I will be diligent also that at every time ye may have [it, or the power] after my departure to call to mind these things” (ver. 15).
This is one of the many and immense advantages of scripture above the oral word, no matter how distinctly this might be given by the highest authority. No one lays it down more clearly than our blessed Lord in John 5, where to the reluctant Jews He recounts the varied testimonies to Himself as grounds of faith. (1) “Ye have sent unto John, and he hath borne witness to the truth.” (2) “But the witness I have is greater than John’s; for the works which the Father gave me to complete, the very works which I do bear witness concerning me that the Father hath sent me.” (3) “And the Father that sent me hath himself borne witness concerning me.” (4) “Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have life eternal, and those are they that bear witness concerning me.... For if ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote concerning me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?”
Never spoke man as this Man, His enemies themselves being judges; yet in His great climax of witnesses the Lord does not hesitate from that point of view to set the written word in the superior place of authority with a permanence peculiar to itself, so that the reader or hearer can weigh it again and again with prayer. Those who slight scripture to the exaggeration of ministry ought to consider His decision. And how remarkable that the Lord should thus speak of the books of Moses, which beyond fair question were then what they are now as many citations show, and not least His own! Yet modern audacity has lifted up its heel against those books quite as much as against Isaiah’s or Daniel’s. But He who knew what is in God no less than what was in man anticipated and pronounced against all this self-vaunting criticism of unbelief.
It is equally plain that the apostle followed His Master in abhorrence of tradition. Never was it trustworthy since God saw fit to convey His mind in holy writ; least of all then, when a fresh body of truth was being revealed for the enlargement, instruction, exercise and comfort of faith in what we call the N.T. The higher the truth, as is necessarily due to the person, work, and offices of Christ, opening out to an unlimited sphere, even of heavenly things morally, as well as of things to come, the more was new scripture needed imperatively and supplied bountifully, with the same Spirit personally given to help the believers as had inspired the chosen instruments for its perfect communication.
One of the greatest perils which the apostles foresaw on their own departure is the rise and increase of impostors, corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith. These men withstand the truth: some by superstition, fables, and tradition; others by scorn and scoffing at God’s word generally, and at prophecy in particular. As it may be read of Paul in 2 Tim. 3, so here of Peter, the great safeguards are (1) knowing of what persons the truth had been learnt, not teaching only but conduct, purpose, faith, long-suffering, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings; and (2) not only the sacred scriptures, the O.T., able to make wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus, but “every scripture,” divinely inspired as it is and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction that is in righteousness; that the man of God might be complete, out and out furnished unto every good work. The value of a known source in immediate relation to the God who communicated His mind and grace and will is thus shown to be of the highest degree, as well as the divinely assured certainty that the words were as unequivocally Spirit-taught as the thoughts themselves. No safeguard entrusted ‘to the church, not to ministers only but to all the saints, is so sure and unfailing as scripture.
It is merely a cheat of unbelief to argue from the infirmity of the men employed for this all-important work. Granting all the infirmity, we are assured (from what God tells us in 1 Cor. 2, as well as 2 Tim. 3) that His inspiration precludes the action of human weakness to impair the absolute reliableness of what is revealed to bring our souls who believe it into direct subjection to God. Conscience, understanding, and heart, are all addressed suitably; but the aim is that we may have fellowship with the inspired messengers, and thus by the Holy Spirit have communion with God Himself, with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, and have power in the new life for holy walk.
Hence the prime duty for the Christian to turn away from these evil men, no matter how learned humanly they may be, and sanctimonious in manner, who either undermine the scriptures or substitute tradition for them. The form of godliness only makes such self-deceived deceivers more dangerous. It is in vain to reason on the scriptures as partial or fragmentary. It is an essential feature of them that God therein selected, out of much more that was given by the Spirit orally, all that was intended to be permanent and useful, all that was requisite to make the most advanced and honoured complete, fully equipped for every good work. Even if we could have from an uncertain source stray words carried down from the Lord’s teaching or that of any apostle, what could it add to produce the spiritual result which scripture claims for itself? Nor is it the least of its merits that scripture, so astonishingly full as it is to meet every want and to refute every error, should be also unburdened by superfluity. How worthy of Him who gave it as it is!
Nor is it only against the sceptic we have to be on our guard. Corruption comes in through those who do not openly deny but pare down inspiration, allow errors in history or other (as they call it) secondary matter, and attribute the selection of what is written to the instruments without God. But this is to deceive themselves and others, to say and unsay. If God inspired the writings, He suggested, He selected, He included, He left out. He gave the thoughts and the words; He guided and controlled all. This is scripture.
The first and grandest characteristic is that God inspired every scripture, every whit that was so written when Paul wrote his last to Timothy, his final to any. Every scripture is God-breathed, even anything that He would add afterwards. This is enough for all that know God, and have every reason to distrust themselves or other men who were not inspired. As the apostle John later still and most trenchantly says, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them [the deceivers and antichrists], because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world. They are of the world; therefore speak they [as] of the world, and the world heareth them. We [the inspired] are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he who is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” What an awful warning to “higher critics,” and their victims! Scripture possesses beyond all else the indelible authority of God, not only what was meant but what is written; but if this be so, it is in the fullest way profitable. Their value, not only as the ultimate source of truth but as the standard by which the highest ministry, even an apostle’s, was to be tried (Acts 17:11), is without a rival.
Ministry is the exercise of a gift from the ascended Lord (Eph. 4) who not only gave His precious gifts at Pentecost, whether to lay the foundation by the apostles and prophets, or to perpetuate other gifts till the body is complete in the fullest sense (ver. 13). But its basis and its supplies depend on the authority of the written word; and so He led the way when on earth who was the supreme Apostle of our confession as He is the Great Priest. Who so honoured, loved, and used the scriptures with God, with man, with Satan? So we see with all the inspired writers. Whatever new truth had to be imparted, they were led by the Spirit to impress on the saints the divine claims of the old holy writ to the uttermost. Nor is anyone more notable in this way than he who calls himself the least of all saints, to whom we are indebted as to none else for the administration of the mystery hidden throughout the ages in God, but now revealed (Eph. 3), minister of the church (as he says in Col. 1) to complete the word of God.
We may next observe how carefully the apostle Peter excludes all dependence not only on tradition but on ecclesiastical office of any kind after his departure When faith decays and the power of the truth proportionately, then man’s energy displaces the Holy Spirit, and the world enters with the love of worldly things to dim, darken, and destroy the love of the Father; external things gain an undue and growingly false place. Baptism and the Lord’s supper, instead of being kept in their true niche, become at length traps of error, and engines of destruction, being invested with the reality of the grace that is in Christ Jesus. So it was with the elders, especially when they had no longer apostolic authentication, direct or indirect. And so yet more proudly when the figment of apostolic succession was conceived, to say nothing of the modern dream of a whole twelve-fold apostolate nominated by prophets as pretentious and as false as those apostles themselves. Peter is silent on every such resource for the future. He was led of God to provide scripture for the saints. “And I will be diligent also that at every time ye may have [it, or the power] after my departure to call to mind these things.”
It was exactly so that the great apostle of uncircumcision charged the elders or bishops of the church in Ephesus who met him at Miletus (Acts 20). “I know that after my decease grievous wolves shall come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them. Wherefore watch, remembering that for three years, night and day, I ceased not admonishing each one with tears. And now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build up and give an inheritance among all that are sanctified.” The very elders were to become a danger and evil to themselves and the disciples, not they only but they prominently; for out of them emerged ere long the clergy (not gifted men) unknown while the apostles lived. Had the word of Christ dwelt in the saints richly, such a change could not have been. Man was looked to, and the word of God’s grace became more slighted, forgotten, and powerless.
And who that looks at Christendom, or even at that part of it which boasts of an open Bible and separation from the idolatries and mummeries of Popery, can doubt that the apostle’s warning has been verified, and that far worse is in rapid progress? Who can survey the enormous change during the last seventy or eighty years, for spreading and deepening evil, whether in superstition or in free-thinking, without humiliation or horror, unless he be under either delusion? One of the most painful and certain signs of the great enemy’s work is the all but universal spread of error and worldliness, not in the greater communities only but throughout them all, down to the least. So it is in the new or western hemisphere as in the older world; so it is in almost every land and tongue, and very markedly in those which once hailed whatever of truth the Reformation recovered to hungry and thirsty mortals.
How little those who glory in the light and liberty and progress of the opening century are aware that both the sensuous and sentimental church revivalists, and the irreligious intellectualists who mangle the scriptures, are fast preparing the way for what the apostle Paul calls the falling away, “the apostasy,” when both the O. and N.T. will be cast away with scorn; when the Saviour and His cross, His glory in heaven and His coming again, will be objects of open derision and general ribaldry! Christianity as a whole will be rejected by Papists and Protestants, by Episcopalians and Presbyterians, by Independents and Baptists, by Wesleyans, etc., by Quakers, passive resisters and disputers of all sorts. The prevalent neglect of the prophetic word will only hasten the awful catastrophe.
His zeal in furnishing the saints with divine grounds of faith the apostle fortifies, by reminding them of an unique display of glory, into immediate vision of which he had been admitted personally and with adequate witnesses.
“For we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, not following cleverly devised fables, but made eyewitnesses of his majesty” (ver. 16).
A sight more marvellous than any miracle, a scene more impressive and august than any other vision on earth, a living miniature of the future kingdom more instructive, vivid, and glorious than any prophecy could present, was there given to saintly eyes and ears, that it might be divinely recorded and strengthen the hearts of the faithful. All the Synoptic Gospels had already recorded it.
But manifestly it did not fall within the scope of the fourth Gospel to describe it, though many have conceived it alluded to in the latter clause of John 1:13. But here our apostle attests it as one of the chosen three who actually beheld the glory and heard the Father’s voice about the Son, by a word in the N. T. peculiar to Peter, capable of a wide application, but going beyond eye-witness and appropriated to those admitted into the highest grade of the mysteries among the Greeks. For
ἐπόπται here is not the same as
αὐτόπται in Luke 1:2.
Nevertheless, without going into details, we can all perceive that the Epistle omits one most important lesson for the Christian which the Gospels were inspired to convey: “hear Him,” the Christ, the Son of God. It was drawn out by Peter’s hasty, shallow, and irreverent proposal to make here three tabernacles, one for the Lord, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. For, as Mark adds, and Luke too, he knew not what to answer, being affrighted as the others also. And their fear could not but be aggravated by the bright cloud (the pavilion of God’s presence) that overshadowed them, into which they entered and out of which the Father’s voice said in gracious rebuke, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I found my delight: hear Him,” Moses and Elijah disappearing.
Yet “hear Him” Peter alone omits, as he alone gives the emphatic personal expression of the Father’s complacency (ver. 17). To impute to men’s shortcoming either the omission or the addition is to betray one’s own unbelief in God’s perfect word. These differences are as much intended as their concurrent evidence; they are in no real sense discrepancies, but distinct intimations of the truth to carry out the Holy Spirit’s special design in each part of holy writ. The Gospels were to initiate and maintain the primary value and authority of Christ’s word, not only as spoken but to be communicated permanently in due time in what is commonly called “The New Testament.” Peter is here corroborating the testimony to Christ’s kingdom by the magnificent scene witnessed on the holy mount of the Transfiguration. But no body had such reason as himself in every point of view to remember “Hear Him” in that never to be forgotten incident. His omission is therefore the fruit, not of weakness but of divine design. He is here, as he says, making known to his believing Hebrew brethren “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” to which that blessed oracle was comparatively as uncalled for here as indeed it was of the utmost moment for God’s purpose by the Synoptic evangelists.
Let us then briefly consider the character and teaching of what came to pass on the mountain. What drew out the display of His glory in the kingdom before the time of its establishment was to strengthen His own in taking up the cross and following the Master. For the disciples, like the unbelieving brethren, like Christendom too, looked for progress and triumph, and overlooked faith and love put to the proof in suffering with Christ, the pattern of all holy endurance. Hence the Lord told them plainly of His own sufferings and the glories after these. So indeed it must be for sinners to be saved righteously; and for saints that, suffering with Him, they may also be glorified with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign together. “For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him shall the Son of man also be ashamed when he shall come in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. And he said unto them, Verily I say to you, There are some of those standing here that shall in no wise taste death till they see the kingdom of God come in power. And after six days Jesus taketh with [him] Peter and James and John, and bringeth them up on a high mountain by themselves apart. And he was transfigured before them” (Mark 8:33, Mark 9:2). Not only did the fashion of His countenance become different as He prayed, shining as the sun, but His garments were effulgent as the light. Again, not angels but Moses and Elias appeared in glory, and spoke of His departure which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Here then was an anticipative and unparalleled sample of the kingdom, not as it has ever been since in mystery, but in manifestation as when He comes in its power and glory. As there was so much to try the disciples in His yet to be deepened humiliation, what could be more gracious on His part, or more suited to their need, than to grant chosen ones of the twelve who were to be alone with Him in His anguish, to be also with Him beholding so unexampled a foretaste! For here were the great elements of the coming kingdom.
It is not at all a picture of eternity, when the kingdom is given up to Him that is God and Father, after Christ shall have annulled all rule and all authority and power, and the Son Himself shall be subject to Him that put all things in subjection to Him, that God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) may be all in all. This we easily recognise in Rev. 21:1-8. But here it is the exalted Man, made both Lord and Christ after man crucified and slew Him. Here He is seen as He will reign in power that all shall see, with the dead saints raised and the living changed, answering to the two glorified men. There will be also the righteous in their natural bodies, like the three honoured disciples made free of the blissful vision.
This may seem to Corinthian minds, that savour the things of men, an abhorrent mixture. But what an utter prejudice! For the kingdom is God’s “Hand scheme and answer to the shame the world puts on the faithful Christians, as before on Christ to the uttermost. If they in their devotedness to Him became a spectacle to the world, both to angels and men, how righteous in the coming day of glory their exaltation with Christ! Then the world shall know that the Father sent the Son, however low He stooped in grace, and that He loved the saints, however weak and unprofitable they feel themselves to be, as He loved Christ (John 17:22, 23) here will be “the world” of men not glorified; there will be Israel and the nations on earth to learn this; not indeed in the eternal state, but in the kingdom which Christ will establish and manifest during the “age to come.” When eternity follows the “white throne” judgment, righteousness dwells in the new heavens and a new earth, instead of ruling as in the millennial earth. For the latter the Son of man receives the kingdom and returns (Luke 19:15) to reign; for the former He gives up the kingdom to the Father, that God may be all in all, after the mediatorial reign and judgment are quite over, and the universe is brought into perfect harmony with God’s counsels and ways in grace and in righteousness, and as to good and evil, for His glory for ever and ever.
It was reserved for Pope Leo X. to avow without a blush that to the Roman communion and its chief the gospel had turned out a profitable fable; and St. Peter’s in Rome stands as the monument, built out of part of the cash paid by benighted souls for indulgences! the base traffic in sins, which brought on the Reformation. What a contrast with the holy man whom they falsely claim as their first pope! Here is the simple and true averment of a true fisherman of souls: “For we followed not cleverly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ but were made eye-witnesses of his majesty.” What the three witnesses saw and heard on the mountain was a glorious display which God alone could accomplish. But it was not merely the manifestation of the highest honour put upon the rejected Christ. It was also a most instructive type of His glory in the coming kingdom in due time to close all suffering, when His church should be complete which began to be gathered on and from the day of Pentecost. Of that kingdom the vision shown was the wondrous pattern and the certain pledge. Hence the apostle expresses its difference from His first coming by the phrase “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” First He came to suffer and to die; “for ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sakes he being rich became poor, that ye by his poverty might be made rich.” Yes, He was crucified out of (or, as we say, in) weakness. But when He appears again, He will come on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, the indisputable Lord of all.
Hence we must avoid the error of godly Puritans who apply the verse to the power of Christ in the preached gospel for saving from the guilt as well as the corruption of sin. So they applied it either exclusively, or including His future advent also. But such vagueness as this last implies is the way to lose the precision of the truth, and at best a makeshift when men are not sure, and seek to cover it by that style of accommodation. For the Transfiguration was significant, not of grace to perishing sinners, but of that glorious kingdom of God to come, which will consist of heavenly things as well as earthly, and the Lord the glorified chief and centre of them all. Compare Matt. 6:10, Matt. 13:41-43, Matt. 19:28, Eph. 1:10.
It is to be noticed that angels are not seen on the mount of Transfiguration. Yet we know that, when the day arrives for the establishment of His kingdom, the Son of man will come in the glory of His Father with His holy angels, or, as Luke puts it fully, “in His glory, and of the Father, and of the holy angels.” Here not a word is breathed about them. Men are prominent, two saints in glory of the past who represented the law and the prophets, three of the present followers of Christ in their natural bodies. The delights of Divine Wisdom were with the sons of men; the Life was the Light of men, and so when He deigned to enter on His earthly mission and work, He takes not hold of angels but of the seed of Abraham, not only for all that the promises to the fathers assured, but for heavenly and eternal counsels.
But there is more that we do well to observe, the unmistakable voice out of the cloud of the Divine Presence, not in thunder but in accents of the tenderest love, and in evident answer to Peter’s well-meant but utterly unmeet desire to exalt His Master. The Father alone knows how His Son should be honoured; as He indeed loves the Son supremely, and has given all things to be in His hand. Let us too hear the Father; for He is Christ’s Father and ours, His God and ours.
“For he received (literally, having received) from God the Father honour and glory, when such a voice was borne to him by the magnificent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I found my delight (or, complacency)” (ver. 17).
The Lord Jesus was Man, the Messiah, on the road to the most extreme humiliation, even to the death of the cross, and by none so keenly consigned to it as by His own people, the Jews. Such was the ruinous blindness and the guilty unbelief which pervaded mankind. Hence to encourage His feeble followers in a path of suffering, least of all anticipated by themselves, it suited Him Who is wise and good and righteous to rise above all natural limits which ordinarily prevailed, and to manifest in the most unwonted fashion and impressive way His predestined exaltation in the coming kingdom. This indeed is not even yet come; while Israel abides in hard incredulity, and the church is meanwhile being called to its special blessedness in heavenly places. Then the Jew too shall become object of God’s healing mercy, as the Gentile now does, though rapidly abandoning the truth for the crisis at the end of the age like the mass of Jews.
Hence, in view of Christ’s sufferings, and His glories to follow in due time, not only in the heavens but on the earth, grace gave to chosen witnesses this extraordinary anticipation on a small scale but with divine depth and power. As He prayed (so tells us Luke, who speaks most of His human perfection), the fashion of His countenance became different, and His very raiment white, effulgently so. And the two men of olden time, so renowned for fidelity to Jehovah and His people, talked with Him, the central Object for saints above or below. They appearing in glory spoke of His departure which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. How full of interest and instruction! One was the promulgator of God’s law, the other its restorer and vindicator when Israel apostatised and worshipped Baal. Yet it was of our Lord’s death they talked, not of the law. Where was anything comparable to His death? and how ominous, “in Jerusalem”! Thereby alone was God glorified morally as to sin; there Satan for ever defeated; there man’s sin, there the Jew’s was darkest; there grace shown to the uttermost; there the judgment of our sins so borne, that God can only justify the believer in Jesus. What had either Moses or Elijah revealed to them that could fairly be put alongside of these truths? Yet they are the common faith of Christians, the faith once delivered to the saints.
Peter who was there does not say a word about His wondrous converse; and Luke who was not there is the only one to record it. Nor was Paul at that time anything but a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to law a Pharisee, ignorant of Christ after the flesh, only to know Him as dead, risen and ascended to heaven, and in no way cognisant of the days of His flesh. What it proves is God’s design and power and will as to inspiration; who gave to each writer what consisted with His purpose by each. Here the apostle, having before him the power and coming of our Lord Jesus, testifies the honour and glory He received from God the Father, when initiated into that mystery which transcended all the secret mysteries of the heathen; as much as the Father and the Son in truth and love transcended their wretched divinities, morally contemptible on their own showing, whether in their fables or in moral effect on their votaries. But it was in view of the coming kingdom and Christ’s revelation to introduce it, with which this and the former Epistle teem.
Peter does however speak here of “such a voice being borne (or uttered) to him by the magnificent glory: This is my beloved Son in whom I found my delight.” Soon, soon, would be proved by His departure in Jerusalem, that the city over which He wept saw in Him no form nor comeliness that it should at all desire; yea, hid as it were its face from Him, as an aversion of men and as smitten of God and afflicted. But here is attested by the voice out of the glory, This is my beloved Son in whom I found My delight. So it had been in eternity before creation; so it was when the world was made by Him, and in all the dealings of providence, in the secret working of grace with individuals, and in the public government of Israel under the law. So still more when the incarnate Word presented that object of His everlasting complacency as man on earth in unwavering dependence and obedience on His way to death for His glory, for man’s salvation, for the church’s blessedness, for His people’s deliverance, and for the reconciliation of all things.
But Peter here too omits, what all three Synoptics tell us, the “hear Him” so important for their purposes, but not for God’s task assigned to himself. Christ had lost nothing of His eternal glory by His extreme humiliation even to the cross. On the contrary, as He had thus glorified God both as Father and as God, so He was the object for God the Father to glorify; and here in view of His coming kingdom, incomparably more glorious in itself and in Him who would display its full character and power than ever Rabbi had conceived. Their aspirations and anticipations were as short of it as of Himself, the true Messiah and the beloved Son of God.
As the apostle once more recurs to the Father’s voice, let us follow him also.
“And this voice we heard uttered (or, brought) out of heaven, being with him on the holy mountain” (ver. 18).
The three apostles were truly eye-witnesses of the Lord’s majesty, all the more wondrous because it was His power and coming for a brief view in the midst of His humiliation in grace for God’s glory. Every part of the scene before their eyes was a magnificent testimony to the future kingdom of the Son of man beheld on a small scale, before the Lord come to establish it in its visible grandeur and its appointed season before the universe. But the emphasis is manifestly laid on “this voice we heard,” borne out of heaven as it was, when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
Already had the Father’s voice been heard in terms identical with these now recorded, save the pregnant construction of
εἰς ὃν for
ἐν ὧ in the Gospel which makes no difference in translating. But none, as far as we know, heard the first time but the Lord Himself and the Baptist, though the Lord adduced it as one of the four testimonies to His personal glory which proved the Jews to be thoroughly unbelieving: John the Baptist His predicted herald; then the greater witness which the Father gave Him to complete; next, the Father that sent Him had Himself borne witness concerning Him by His voice; and lastly the scriptures, to which He assigned a very great place (John 5). But man’s will can resist any and all, as the Jews then verified to their ruin, and will another day and in another form, as He then warned them.
The occasion too was quite different. For the grace of the Lord Jesus led Him to take His place with the feeble remnant of the Jews who obeyed John’s call to repentance, and came to the Jordan to be baptised as they did. Holy, guileless, undefiled, He associated Himself with those who had nothing but sins; yet as they confessed them, the first mark of awakened conscience in bowing to God’s call, He would not stand aloof though He had not the least evil to confess. It was the perfection of man’s position in lowly active love; and so He, the Righteous One, corrected John’s reluctance in the gracious words, Thus it becometh us (you and Me) to fulfil all righteousness. “And Jesus being baptised went up straightway from the water; and, behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him; and, behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The heavens opened to Him, the Holy Ghost’s descent as a dove on Him, the Father’s voice expressing His delight summed up there and then, bore witness to the divine delight in Him and never so much as in that act of humiliation in grace.
Yet at the mount of Transfiguration the immediate occasion of the voice again heard, and by the chosen witnesses, was Peter’s own attempt to honour his Master in the highest way he could then suggest. But to put Him on a level with the chiefs of the law and the prophets would not suit the Father. “This is my beloved Son: hear Him.” And the terrified disciples fell upon their faces; but lifted up at the touch and the comforting words of their Master, they saw no one but Jesus, alone with themselves. He was to be heard, He paramountly, He the truth. Others at best were His forerunners.
As noticed already, Peter here was not led to recall this last part of the utterance given in all the synoptic Gospels. His aim was to concentrate attention on Jesus as the centre of divine affection and glory; theirs was also to attest Him as the complete fulness and revealer of all the truth. Matthew gives the Father’s voice undiminished: as his province was to show the full consequence of the rejected Messiah, His larger glory as Son of man, and higher still as the beloved Son of God, the Rock on which the church was to be built. Mark and Luke omit here the expression of God’s complacency in Him, so as to throw stress on hearing Him; the former as the Servant Son in the gospel, the latter as God’s Son, yet fully man. Our apostle omits the clause they carefully record, not because he could or would forget it, but to make the more prominent the good pleasure the Father had in Him, His beloved Son.
We next hear of the confirmation given by the vision on the mount to the prophetic word, the light of which, however valuable, is very briefly shown to yield to the superior brightness of a heavenly light for the hearts of saints, not a display to the world.
“And we have the prophetic word firmer, to which ye do well in paying heed, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawn and a (or, the) morning star arise in your hearts” (ver. 19).
The prophetic word of O.T. and of N.T. alike converges on the coming and kingdom of our Lord Jesus; and this, the apostle here declares, was made firmer, or confirmed, by what the witnesses were there given to behold and hear, the glorious anticipation and precursor of that day of power and glory for the universe. The predictions were absolutely true and reliable; but it seemed good to the All-wise at the first coming of Christ and in view of His death of shame (so essential to lay a basis for the ways and purposes of grace), to confirm the truth of His second coming and kingdom by a sight which set on the word another seal more. A vivid though brief realisation of its chief elements confirmed the prophetic word in a way beyond aught else. No season was so appropriate for it as when He earnestly charged and enjoined His disciples to tell no man that He was the Christ, saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and the third day be raised up. This was a fact wholly unexpected by all, even by him who had just owned His personal dignity as the Son of the living God. It was the substitution, for the Messianic testimony and hope utterly rejected by the people and their rulers, of the death and resurrection of the Son of man and Son of God. This laid the basis for introducing not only the kingdom of the heavens but the church, which now occupy the place which Israel once had in an earthly way under law, and when they repent shall have under Messiah and the new covenant.
The Christian Jews, as the apostle says, were doing well in paying heed to all that the prophets had announced of those coming days of glory. They did not misapply their words, as Christendom soon began to do, to the different character of the parenthesis which runs on between the first and the second comings of Christ. It is now an unseen victory which faith beholds in Christ raised from among the dead and seated on His Father’s throne, and in Christians united to Him on high by the Spirit sent here below, whilst they suffer on the earth as their Master did (His atoning death excepted), not of the world as He was not. It will not be so in that day when Christ will appear and sit on His own throne, and they shall reign with Him, who now suffer with Him, if not also for Him.
Then Israel, instead of being lost in unbelief, shall be saved, and become Jehovah’s witness in truth of heart and in power. And all the nations shall bow to His behest, not only having learnt righteousness when His judgments are on the earth, but truly subject to His anointed King on Zion, the centre of all the world’s kingdoms, whence the law goes forth, their idols of silver and gold consigned to the moles and to the bats. For the great invisible organiser of iniquity is shut up in the abyss, whilst this display of righteousness, peace, and glory is enjoyed by all the earth, till the hour strikes for God to sift those who have multiplied when war and want and pestilence are unknown. But those who are on the earth (the risen being above), as many as are not born of God, will fall under Satan’s power once more, when he is let loose to tempt, and prove that man’s fallen nature is as unimprovable under a dispensation of glory, as of grace, or law, or anything else. Man ever prefers Satan to God that he may have licence for his corruption or his violence.
Dull as the Jewish Christians were as to our highest privileges, they were not so beguiled as to imagine that the prophetic word, save quite exceptionally, describes the Christian state which is now our portion. Their danger was rather to make the future kingdom to be their hope, instead of reading in the prophets the hope of Israel and of all the peoples who in that day accept Jehovah’s word from Jerusalem. It is the delusion of Christendom to appropriate it now by what they call spiritualising, and relegating to eternity what they cannot thus force. The believer called to heavenly hopes meanwhile does not forget that Jehovah will renew and restore Israel to their place of promise on the earth.
Here accordingly they were told that, however well it was to heed the word of prophecy, it is but “as a lamp shining in a dark place;” for so the earth is and must be till the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings. But he just glances at the higher light of heavenly truth, which they might have as yet but feebly entered into, however truly they had received Christ Jesus as their Lord. The prophetic word did show the ruin of Israel as a whole for its idolatry, and the special further sin of Judah for the rejection of the Messiah. The prophetic word made clear the rise of the four Gentile empires while the Jews are Lo-ammi (not-my-people), and between Daniel and the Apocalypse also the reappearing of the last or Roman empire with the apostate Jews, who set up the Antichrist in Palestine, to be destroyed by the Lord shining out from heaven.
But the prophetic word nowhere reveals those heavenly counsels which the mystery (hid from the ages) made known through Paul. Nor does Peter here do more than allude to it under the strikingly distinct figures of “day” and “morning star.” The lamp is excellent to cast adequate light on this dark world, its evil and its doom; and they did well in paying it heed, “till day dawn and a (or, the) morning star arise in your hearts.” That is to say, till they apprehend with enjoyment the bright heavenly relationship which Christianity fully understood gives us now in Christ, and the heavenly hope of His coming to introduce us into the Father’s house. The prophetic lamp is good to help us against the squalid place; but how much more is “daylight” in Christ to lift us above the world in all our associations of faith, and the bright hope, Christ as Morning Star, which He not only is, but has promised to give the overcomer (Rev. 2:28, Rev. 22:16, 17)!
The apostle adds an important caution to the commendation in ver. 19. They did well in taking heed to the prophetic word. God alone can speak with certainty of the future, for a world in confusion and change, prone to sin; and He has been pleased, not only to speak but to write by chosen instruments, that those who believe may profit by His communications, where otherwise they were liable to stray, but thereby were enabled by faith to enjoy the measure of light thus afforded. His people could not despise it, save to His dishonour and their own loss.
Before the deluge Enoch prophesied as to the ungodly in deeds and words, whose daring would bring on the Lord’s coming with His holy myriads to execute judgment on their ungodliness: a prophecy preserved and cited by the inspired Jude as yet to be accomplished on those that deny our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ. Later still by faith Noah, oracularly warned concerning things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his house; by which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness that is according to faith (Heb. 11:7). Abram had not only prophecy but a prophetic vision, centuries before the facts of his seed’s oppression in Egypt and of deliverance from the oppressor by divine judgments, which should also deal in due time with the enemies who filled Canaan (Gen. 15). Further, he was given as: a mark of divine friendship to learn from Jehovah Himself the imminent destruction of the cities of the Plain.
Nor is it otherwise with us Christians; for if given an incomparably “better thing” now in and with Christ glorified after the accomplishment of redemption, we do not lose the present value of prophecy. The same Holy Spirit, who guides us into all the truth (as He empowered the apostles and prophets to make it known to us), was to declare unto us the things that are to come, and He is in us to make all good instead of leaving us to unprofitable guesswork.
But for this reason we need the authority of God’s. word, and here we have it, “Knowing this first that no prophecy of scripture is (or, becometh) of its own interpretation” (ver. 20). “Its own,” which is the simplest and the strictest and the most frequent usage of the disputed word, alone satisfies the context. It is hard to see why the A.V. and the Revision adopted “private” except that they did not know what to make of it. So does Dean Alford, following in his commentary Huther’s idea “that prophecy springs not out of human prognostication.” Such a view may be intelligible where the freethinking of higher criticism prevails as an antidote; but it could only be regarded with horror by the Christian Jews, whom the apostle was addressing. Nor was the canon which the apostle lays down directed against such humanizing sceptics; it is a serious caution to the believer for his profit in seeking edification and intelligence in studying the writings of the prophets.
Dean A. says “two references seem to be possible” (to us, and to the prophets themselves). He has overlooked a third, which is even grammatically the most exact, the prophecy itself, “No prophecy of Scripture is, or comes to be, of its own interpretation.” If you isolate prophecy and make each part its own interpreter, you counteract its origin and character, and lose its force as pertaining to God’s grand scheme for glorifying His Son, the Lord Jesus. It is divine design which gives prophecy of Scripture, like the rest, this character.
The apostle is therefore guarded in his language beyond what the commentators in general have apprehended. He does not deny that many a prophecy had its scope only in a particular and passing event of sufficient moment to call for it. And not a few such are mentioned in scripture. Take in Genesis the dreams of Pharaoh and of his two chamberlains previously. Take in the Acts of the Apostles the prophecies of Agabus as to the faming and the apostle Paul. Many such are recorded in the O.T. Yet none of them is a prophecy of Scripture as here intended, not for instance so much as Jacob’s in Gen. 49 or Moses’ in Deut. 33., nor yet Balaam’s in Num. 23, still less the Prophets’ so-called. They had their importance at the time, as the Scripture intimates.
By “prophecy of scripture” the apostle, to my mind, appears to mean exclusively such as look on to the future Kingdom of God for Christ’s glory; and this is the object in the prophets, so that it may be predicated of every “prophecy of scripture” whether in O. or N.T. They may speak not a little of the moral evil which necessitates God’s intervention to put down Satan and a revolted world, and to bring in the long promised reign of the Lord in righteousness, peace, and glory. But it is of that blessed Kingdom as His theme that the inspiring Spirit delights to speak, because it will then be the sphere of Christ’s glory manifested in the universe; as He has already in the N.T. made known to the Christian His hidden glory as the exalted Man on high.
Hence it is that from Isaiah to Malachi no “prophecy of scripture,” whatever the importance of any event in God’s providence and the application of prophecy to it meanwhile, stops short of the grand fulfilment, “when the powers of the heavens shall be shaken,” Satan loses his bad eminence, and Israel shall be saved, to blossom and bud and fill the face of the world with fruit. It is what the first man never attained, neither Nebuchadnezzar nor Cyrus, neither Alexander nor Caesar. It will be verified in Jehovah Jesus when “Jehovah shall be king over all the earth; in that day shall be one Jehovah, and His name one” (Zech. 14:9).
We need not here speak of Christ’s exaltation over all the heavens as well as the earth; nor of the church’s union with Him, as Head of the body over all things: the two parts of that mystery which, hidden from the ages in God, was now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit’s power, and hence to us Christians in the N. T. But the kingdom was in full and increasing view from God’s sentence on the serpent throughout the ages; and any turning aside at the comparatively small events within their compass frustrates the design of God in the testimony of them all to the coming Deliverer and King.
Yea, this was so notorious that the very heathen were aware that His birth was expected at or about the time when our Lord appeared and had the cross assigned Him by the Jews and Gentiles, instead of the crown. Tacitus and Suetonius attest this; and so does their own historian of the siege of Jerusalem. Yet prophecy of scripture predicted that so it was to be, and in the true moral order of “the Christward sufferings, and the glories after these” (1 Peter 1:11). For thus only could those who believe be rescued from evil and share His glories. To reign first, and afterward suffer, would be nugatory and purposeless, with utter confusion. But because Christ was thus faithful in His infinite love, the unbelieving Jews rejected Him; and therefore God rejected them for a season of rich mercy to the Gentiles meanwhile.
We can understand accordingly that “prophecy of scripture” is fraught with God’s mind about Christ’s kingdom in power and glory, and this after His sufferings, though the latter element is not so frequent as the former, yet well attested in one form or another in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets. But where is not the future kingdom over the earth held out?
One exception may be alleged, the very peculiar but deeply interesting and instructive book of Jonah, which on the surface has no “prophecy of scripture,” but only a conditional threat of judgment arrested by repentance. Yet it conveys a true prophetic narrative on which the Lord affixed His seal, not only as preaching to the heathen Ninevites that repented, but as a sign of His own death and resurrection, when the Gentile that believes enters the blessing of grace, and the Jew who refused reaps the judgment of his unbelief. For Jonah shows us Israel shut up in a selfish prejudice that despised the Gentile, unwilling to warn, and jealous lest, if Nineveh repented, God should be gracious enough to arrest the judgment, and thus set aside the prophet’s denunciation.
In the way of a contrast Jonah typified. Christ, though himself an unfaithful witness, and hence cast into the sea, and even for three days and nights swallowed by a great fish. Even then whilst going to the Gentiles, he sulked at God’s grace, at the time when God made him feel his folly. Whereas Christ was the Faithful Witness, saved His ungrateful people, delighted in grace to the Gentile, and for the joy lying before Him in love and obedience endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God’s throne. Jonah’s course was a true type prophetically of Christ, but as much to his own shame as to God’s glory in the end; as to which his writing the book by inspiration is the best proof of his repentance. It also contrasts strikingly with the perfection of Christ, and prefigures the mercy God as a faithful Creator will show, not only to the dark heathen but to the meanest of His creatures. Had He listened to the Jew, yea and a real Jewish prophet, not a Ninevite had been spared in honour of his woe on the city. But God is righteous to the claims and worth of Christ’s atoning death, which in the coming kingdom will shine in the mercy and blessing of all nations, so that “beasts and all cattle” shall join the chorus of praise to His name from the earth (Ps. 148).
Thus even the book of Jonah in its exceptional way differs only in its form from other prophecies of scripture. All point to Christ’s coming Kingdom over the earth, which was so soon forgotten after the apostles, that there is no proper statement of it in a single ancient creed, any more than in the symbols of the Reformation. Neither the Fathers, nor the Reformers, were at all versed in prophecy. The Oxford revival of the Fathers accordingly in no way helps; still less does the Rationalist school, which denies it in principle. Nor has Nonconformity any light of God as to the future, least of all since it has entered the arena of politics, and become as worldly as Popery itself in setting its mind on earthly things.
The last verse of our chapter gives the reason why no prophecy of Scripture can be limited to its own isolated solution, but forms part of a vast circle of divine predictions centring in Christ and His kingdom.
“For no prophecy was ever brought by will of man, but [holy] men4 spoke from God, moved (or, borne along) by [the] Holy Spirit” (ver. 21).
It is not surprising that those who are only conversant with man, his thoughts, sayings and doings, believe not in prophecy any more than miracle, and despise grace and truth. For all these are of God, and utterly impossible save by His power: grace and truth are only in and through our Lord Jesus. If we now turn our attention to prophecy, consider how Isaiah the prophet was led to triumph over heathen prognosticators and idolatrous stargazers, as Moses did over the magicians of Egypt, and Elijah over the priests of Baal.
“Produce your cause,” we read in Isa. 41:21 etc., “saith Jehovah, bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob; let them bring forth and show us what will happen; let them show the former things what they [be] that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things to come. Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye [are] gods; yea, do good or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold [it] together. Behold, ye [are] of nothing and your work of nought: an abomination [is he that] chooseth you. I have raised [one] up from the north, and he shall come: from the rising of the sun shall he call upon my name; and he shall come upon princes as [upon] mortar, and as the potter treadeth clay. Who hath declared from the beginning that we may know? and before time, that we may say, [He is] righteous? Yea, [there is] none that showeth; yea, [there is] none that declareth; yea, [there is] none that heareth your words.”
Here the challenge was beyond any votary of a false god to take up, though the demand was small compared with prophecy of scripture. It was beyond mar’s will to speak even in an isolated way of a future person or event. But those given by God’s intent are each part of an immense web which He has woven, on which is indelibly traced His purpose of glorifying Him who gave up the glory proper to Him as divine, that He might become man and by His death and resurrection conciliate the most jarring principles and join the most opposed persons. He will take away all the sins and iniquities of believers; He will establish righteousness, peace and joy over all the earth where self and will wrought only evil and mischief. He has defeated and will defeat the subtle and mighty adversary and all his host. He wine back the weak rebels (deceived to set God at defiance) into repentance, meekness and humility, rejoicing to be the ready servants of His will; for God deigns to make them His children, and His sons, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. They enjoy even here and now fellowship with the Father and the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit by His working on life in Christ; and they reign with Him when He reigns before the world, as for ever before God.
Nor is it only that the reconciliation is what we receive now; but it will embrace the heavens defiled by the enemy’s evil, and the earth where he, through man’s servitude, set himself up as prince and the god of the world. Through Christ’s death on the cross all things shall be reconciled unto God, the things whether on the earth or in the heavens; not those who live and die despising alike the unseen God and His Son who stooped so low and suffered infinitely for sin that God might be able to say righteously to the worst, Be reconciled to God. As He will have the risen saints above with Christ, thus giving His children their special joy in the Father’s house, so they share Christ’s glory before the universe. Nor shall anything fail of His magnificent plans for the earth, when Israel shall be delivered from his stiffneckedness, and adore the crucified Messiah, and rise out of all abasement to be God’s son, His firstborn nationally upon the earth; and all the nations shall abandon their shameless idolatries, and willingly own the long guilty people to be the seed Jehovah has blessed. “And the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister to thee; and the nation and kingdom that will not serve Zion shall perish,” when Messiah reigns, and Israel are under the new covenant.
To all this the will of man is adverse; but were it ever so zealous to help, who is sufficient but God to take in a range so vast, deep, and high? Hence the only possible power is that of the Holy Spirit; and God has deigned, in His great love of man’s blessing, to tell us beforehand of those coming glories of Christ, as by holy men He also predicted His sufferings. It was a competency so entirely conferred by God’s grace, that now to pave the way for the apostasy Satan has raised up a new school of men in all the world’s seats of learning, and very largely among the clerical and ministerial ranks, who agree in nothing so much as that true prophecy is impossible. They thus bear on their forehead and hands the stain of infidelity, and spend their activities in propagating their lie about a large part of both Testaments as God’s truth.
Yet the fact is that direct, formal, and avowed prophecies abound in scripture, positive and definite, some of the largest and loftiest character, and others minute to a degree that none could expect who is not familiar with the most condescending tenderness in God. But also the narrative of persons and facts from the first book of the O.T. has a deep scope of prophecy below its surface. The same principle applies to His instructions for His earthly people which none but the unspiritual fail to see running through not Genesis only but Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and in a less degree Deuteronomy, and really scripture in general which is not open prediction. Who but God was sufficient for those things? Truly when we accept and understand as well as believe that no prophecy was ever brought by will of man, but men spoke from God moved by the Holy Spirit, we can but say, flow gracious of God! how needed by us! But how base that man should be so deaf to His word, so ready to heed the shallow reasonings of Satan’s emissaries who add to their guilt the pretence of bearing the Christian name, though sinking lower than decent Jews!
1 It may interest the reader that the most learned and able theologian among the Congregationalist Puritans did not understand “the righteousness of God” here to refer to Christ’s obedience of the law, as so many moderns have argued. Here are his words: — “In 2 Peter 1:1, the saints are said to obtain ‘precious faith, through the righteousness of God.’ It is a righteous thing with God to give faith to them for whom Christ died because thereby they have a right unto it. Faith, being amongst the most precious fruits of the death of Christ, by virtue thereof becometh their due for whom he died” (Works of John. Owen, D.D. Goold’s ed., X. 468). It is not that he understood its true bearing, but he was too intelligent and logical, not to say conscientious, to force the text as his followers and others commonly do. It did not occur to him to connect it with the believing remnant of the Jews and their peculiar hold on the promise; from which indeed his high Calvinism tended to preclude him.
2 The Vatican supports most copies in reading “through glory and excellence,” as in the Text. Rec. But ACP and other good witnesses warrant what is here given, and followed by the better critics save Westcott and Hort. It is peculiar to our apostle to predicate
ἀρετὴ of God, whether plural as in 1 Peter 2:9, or singular as here in the Second Epistle. Virtue or moral courage suits the word, where man is meant. God’s excellence works virtue in the saint.
λήθην λαβὼν here may be compared with 2 Tim. 1:5 and the simpler cases of Heb 11:29, 36. It occurs in both classical and Hellenistic Greek, as in Jos. Ant. ii. 9,1, is precisely the same phrase.
4 The MSS. are here very confused, both in order which is of less importance, and in words added or omitted. Yet all the uncials omit the article before
ἄνθρωποι (men) as the best do