It will be observed that this Exposition of Peter's Second Epistle, does not extend beyond the 7th verse of the concluding chapter, this being as far as was written by the Author when called away to his rest.
Whilst it would have been easy to have added some comments on the remaining verses of this Epistle from the Author's other writings, yet, as they would not be of the same detailed character as is here presented, it has been thought best to issue this little book as it now stands, with the earnest desire that the Lord may graciously bless it to the refreshing and edification of the reader, to whom its writer, though dead, yet speaks.
The authenticity and genuineness of the First Epistle needed not a word. It seems never to have been disputed from the first. Not so the Second. Eusebius P., who died about A.D). 340, tells us (H.E. iii. 25) that among those scriptures that were controverted, but recognised by most (the many), was this Epistle. Even he did not dare to class it (as the Epistles of James, Jude, and John's second and third, or the Revelation) with the spurious; but he does not count it like the other books of the N.T. accepted by all without question.
Yet on its face the writer declares himself with yet more carefulness than when he wrote before, not "Peter" only but "Symeon Peter," name and surname. So, at the Jerusalem conference on the Gentile question, James speaks of him (Act_15:14) as "Symeon" (the Aramaic form of "Simon"), though historically designated "Peter" just before (ver. 7). A forger would have strenuously avoided any such shade of difference, superficial though it be; as he never would have conceived still greater care to attest thus minutely the Peter who added this Second Epistle. For he now was led with all holy energy and apostolic authority to denounce the false teachers that were to corrupt more and more the Christian profession, and the scoffers walking after their own lusts, wilfully blind to the day of the Lord, through unbelief and materialism.
The late Bp. Christ. Wordsworth, though loyally defending the true inspiration of this Epistle, seeks to palliate the hesitation raised (at least in the third and fourth centuries). He pleads that, as "Writings were forged in early times by heretics in the names of Apostles, especially in the name of St. Peter," it was therefore incumbent on Christian churches to be on their guard, and not to receive any book as written by an apostle and as dictated by the Holy Spirit, before they were-convinced by irrefragable proofs that it was apostolic and inspired. "Little harm would arise from a temporary suspension of judgment. If the Epistle was what it professed to be, viz., a work of the Apostle St. Peter, then in due time it would not fail to be universally received as such. But if it was not what it claimed to be, then perhaps heresy might steal into the church under the venerable guise of an apostolic name, and the church might be convicted of reading a forgery as the word of God; and then the credibility and inspiration of those other books, viz., the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the thirteen Epistles of St. Paul, which had already been received by the Church, would be impugned; they too might be exposed to suspicion; and thus the foundation of the faith would be in danger of being overthrown. It was therefore the duty of all churches to take time to consider, before they received any book as the writing of an Apostle. It was their duty to doubt."
The error here is serious enough; and Dr. W., a grave and sincere prelate (far above trickery), puts it in its naked deformity. "It was the duty of all churches" to doubt! How little did he mean to surrender the ground of faith! Ecclesiasticism led him thus astray. It is never a duty, even for the simplest Christian, to doubt Scripture, but only to believe; and if so, what about the duty for all churches, or even for any church, to doubt? Really it was suicidal, and an utter dishonour to God who inspired the Scriptures, and a shameless failure on the church's part. One of the haughtiest sins of Popery is to set up the claim of the church to decide what is scripture. Whether they vest this prerogative in the church, in the ecumenical council, or in the Pope, makes no radical difference. In every form the bringing in of any authority but God's is treason against His glory.
So far is man, whatever his position, privileges, powers or responsibilities, from having the duty of judging God's word, it is what judges man. For man to doubt God's word, or to sit in judgment to pronounce it His or not, is an overthrow of all righteousness and of all grace, one might add of all decency. It is at the peril of any soul, and peculiarly inconsistent with the Christian, or the church, to question what He has written. The Lord has decided for the intrinsic authority of His own words, to say nothing of His unvarying reverence for all scripture as the full and final sentence of God's mind. "He that rejecteth me and receiveth not my sayings hath him that judgeth him: the word which I spoke, that shall judge him in the last day. For I spoke not from myself, but the Father that sent me, himself hath given me commandment what I should say and what I should speak; and I know that his commandment is life eternal. What therefore I speak, as the Father hath said to me, so I speak" (Joh_12:48-50).
The Holy Spirit is no less precise in affirming the same principle in Heb_4:12-13. "For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight ; but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do." What words could more directly refuse the monstrous assumption of the church in pretending to accredit scripture, or the still more unseemly assertion of its duty to doubt?
There is no evidence that the question as to 2 Peter was raised in the first century. We hear of it much later in the fourth century when unbelief and unspirituality had long prevailed to the decay of faith and the prevalence of heterodoxy, to which the open and sanctioned worldliness that followed gave great impetus and wide currency. The death of Peter no more invalidated his Second Epistle, than Paul's death did his Second to Timothy. This is a mere imagination of circumstances to account for a much later and a wholly ungrounded hesitation about our Epistle. The supposition of delay at first, and the collection of evidence from various parts, before the Epistle was received on the church's verdict of its genuineness, are but an amiable dream.
The Second Epistle, like the First, eminently bears on daily life, but with less doctrine, as is natural, being avowedly written afterward to the same persons. Both are hortative; but the Second pronounces, as the First does not, a solemn warning on closing evils, with the severest denunciation of false teachers denying the Sovereign Master that bought them. These bring on themselves swift destruction, and mislead many into their dissolute doings, whereby the way of truth shall be blasphemed; as also by covetousness with feigned words they make merchandise of the saints. Hence prominence is given to these appalling enormities under the garb, not only of professing Christians, but of accepted teachers. This, at a later date at least, struck superficial observers so strangely as to raise a question of the authorship. But they ought to have recognised the selfsame spirit in the early episode of the apostle's dealing (Act_8:18-24) with Simon of Samaria, the sorcerer of old. The fervour of love which characterised his evangelising kindled into a flame against the profanity of the baptised man, who thought to obtain the gift of God with money. Peter therefore pointed him out for the warning of others, yea, of himself too, as in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity. The advance and spread in corruption now descried by the Spirit called for still more energetic terms of abhorrence; as the last chapter exposes the latter day mockery of infidels in a philosophic form.
After the suited salutation in 2Pe_1:1-2, the apostle presents grace's foundation of all things for life and godliness in what was already given, even to becoming partakers, not of human nature ameliorated, but of a divine nature through God's precious and exceeding great promises, having escaped he corruption that is in the world through lust. But for this very reason there is need of diligence to make our calling and election sure (3-11). This he shows them in view of his speedy departure, not by any hint of apostolic succession, but by leaving the truth with them, and recalling the wondrous sight vouchsafed to him and two other chosen witnesses of the power and coming of our Lord on the holy mount, even in the days of His flesh, and the Father's voice out of the excellent glory: the divine miniature of the kingdom, in confirmation of the prophetic word, with a hint of a blessedness and hope more surpassing still for their hearts (12-21). And he explains that no prophecy is of its own solution, but rather forms a whole by divine purpose and power converging on God's kingdom in Christ.
Then in 2 Peter 2 is the apostle's indignant prediction of the ungodly issue, the germ of which was already at work, and its judgment sure and unswerving from God. It is thus the complement of the First Epistle. As the latter was occupied with the suffering of the righteous from a hostile world turned to their good; so the former tells of the doom that must fall on the corrupting false teachers who hypocritically made truth and righteousness a mockery. The judgment on angels that sinned, on Noah's ungodly despisers, on godless and unclean Sodom and Gomorrah, are set out as fore-runners of the punishment that awaits the still more guilty that now follow Balaam in his unrighteousness. Whatever their high-flown words of vanity, they despised lordship, and were slaves of corruption.
2 Peter 3 follows up God's righteous government of the world to the uttermost, in dissolving the heaven and earth that are now, and so, purging the world of all associations with ungodliness, to bring in new heavens and a new earth wherein righteousness dwelleth. But the apostle is not content with withdrawing the veil from the destruction, not only of the corrupt, of the covetous and insubordinate, but of the sceptical who rest on the stability of things material, which also perish. The saints who believe in God's promise, and wait for these awe-inspiring displays of divine retribution to come, he would have to be found of Him in peace without spot and blameless.
Thus any unbiassed Christian apprehends clearly, even if he had not the inspired writer's word for it, that the two Epistles came in the power of the Holy Spirit from the same hand, mind, and heart: the one specially regarding God's present government of the righteous; the other as specially that of the unjust in the future. Only together do they complete the great theme, and this in the style of the great apostle of the circumcision, wholly different from that of James, or John, or Paul, while Jude has his own distinctive character, as can readily be proved in its season. "Ye therefore, beloved, as knowing [things] beforehand, take care lest, being carried away with the error of the wicked, ye fall from your own stedfastness; but grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him the glory both now and to eternity's day! Amen." The close is as directly practical as the beginning; so in measure, rightly applied, is all scripture, and every scripture, as surely profitable for man, as it is inspired of God. But through Peter it is peculiarly evident, and in his Second Epistle no less than in the First. Yet all is based on Christ's accomplished redemption, the possession of a new and divine nature to preserve from corruption, and a living hope through His resurrection Who is gone into heaven, angels and authorities and powers being made subject to Him.
But the Catholic principle is false, that the church teaches; for it is taught by those given as teachers by the exalted Head. Nor is it the church that preaches, but evangelists equally given by Christ in glory. The Protestant is just as false, who asserts the right of every man to private judgment. This directly tends to rationalism, and deifies man, as the Catholic does the church. The truth is that God has the right and the authority to send His gospel to every man; and woe be to every man that despises it. So God addresses His word in general to the christian and the church; and woe be to such as do not bow and bless Him for it. Hence it is quite exceptional when those divine communications, however deep, are sent save to the faithful as a whole, either in this or that place, or quite unrestrictedly. There are three letters to two chief rulers, who had a special place as His servants in the word, and as apostolic envoys. Yet the richest unfoldings of grace and truth in the Epistles were not addressed to officials, but expressly to all the saints or to the church. Now is it not almost blasphemous to say that the saints or the church addressed had the duty of doubting? How a Christian could be beguiled so to think is the marvel. But human tradition and prevalent ecclesiastical habits account for many a mistake.
Take the N.T. facts. Did the church of the Thessalonians doubt the first of Paul's Epistles, unexampled as it was? Did they not accept without question his written testimony, as they had his oral a little before, not as men's word - but just as it truly is - God's word, which also works in the believer, certainly not in the doubter? It is the more pertinent, because the Second of these Epistles exposes the fraud of a letter pretending to have come from the apostle, which had imposed on some at least. Thenceforward his salutation with his own hand in every Epistle is the token to guard the saints; yet far from him, or even them, the pestilent and unbelieving thought that their church, or any other church, was temporarily to suspend judgment, - no, not even when they, or some of them, had just been drawn into error by a deceiver.
And if the sign-manual of Paul sufficed, surely also that of Peter, or Symeon Peter! The name might be a possible question; and this it was not difficult to ascertain. Silvanus a prophet (Act_15:22) was the bearer. But this settled, there was nothing, when the Second came, but to receive as from God what His inspired servant conveyed to the same saints who had his First Epistle. Examining its contents for the church to accept it would have been a snare of the enemy. The inspired word was to judge their conscience; not they to judge it, but to have their hearts invigorated and souls cheered by His grace and truth through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Again, not only did the inspired writer preface his name and apostolic title in fuller fashion than when he wrote before, but he refers to personal facts, one of the weightiest import, the other of the most exclusive nature, early in the Second Epistle. He pathetically tells them of his knowledge that he was speedily to put off his tabernacle, as his motive for sending them a permanent testimony of what they needed for their continued remembrance Then he introduces the most magnificent and unique scene ever vouchsafed on earth to saints, himself, and his two companions: the transfiguration of the Son of man, acknowledged by the Father as His beloved Son, far above Moses or Elijah, with whom the apostle then foolishly placed Him, as if they could be on common ground. "Hear Him;" and as the voice out of the cloud came, Jesus was found alone. Therefore this Epistle must be either a base imposture, or the last words of love from that apostle.
Nor is there a part of the N.T. more pregnant with wise and holy counsels, suited to the wants of the saints, or more characteristic of him that wrote it, following up his former letter. For as his First set forth God's righteous government of His children, founded on His grace which called unto His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, so his Second adds that righteous government about to fall on the corrupt false teachers, such as bring in by the bye heresies of perdition (2 Peter 2), as well as on the sceptics that rest on the world's stability to mock at the coming of the Lord (2 Peter 3). The Second accordingly is needed to complete the First; just as that to Colossian saints from the apostle Paul completes what he wrote to Ephesians (the fulness of the Head, and the body His fulness). It is to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The two Epistles of Peter dwell alike on the all-importance of the gospel, so blessed already, yet on the one hand surrounded by a world of persecutors as well as by immense dangers from evil men within and without. It is this development of evil which draws out the energetic sketch of the misleaders in all the second chapter, and of the sceptical enemies and their doom, down to the dissolution of all things, in 2 Peter 3. Both led speculative persons, like the untaught and ill-established of whom he himself speaks in 2Pe_3:16, to question that Peter wrote it. No doubt that solemn warning has a stamp of its own necessarily different, not only from the First Epistle, but from what precedes and follows it in the Second. But can any objection be shallower? Its nature demanded an unsparing denunciation entirely out of season elsewhere. But when he is occupied with the souls of the saints as in the First Epistle, his style in the Second is impressed and instinct with the same ardent, fervent, practical earnestness in love and godliness, peculiar in its manner to him beyond any other writer in the N.T. And how beautiful his allusion to "our beloved brother Paul also"! and how marked the contrast with well-known patristic impostures which set the one against the other!
The case of the Epistle to the Hebrews illustrates that of 2 Peter, though the circumstances differed widely. For there were reasons of gracious consideration why the former had no name prefixed, whilst it contain) marks at the end only appropriate to the sole apostle who could have written a letter so comprehensive, profound, and wise in a style that rises in grandeur to the height of his argument, as he employed when required to the Romans (Rom. 8), the Corinthians, and the Colossians. Here it is sustained from first to last; but he is teaching the latent value of the O.T. to saints familiar with its letter, rather than as an apostle and prophet communicating the mysteries of the N.T. of which he was the most honoured steward. Paul was here inspired outside his allotted province to write the final call to the believing Jews, that by it they might realize, as they had not hitherto, their proper Christian place of entering within the rent veil, and of going forth to the rejected Messiah without the camp, and bearing His reproach. The "new" covenant, the spirit of which is embodied in the gospel had made the first old; and what grows old and ages is near vanishing away. Now God claimed this after long patience before providential judgment fell on the city and its sanctuary. Nor should we fail to admire the divine care in sending God's last message to the converted Jews by Paul as He sent His first apostolic call to the Gentiles by Peter.
Yet leading men in the Roman church stood in doubt of Paul's writing to the Hebrews. So Eusebius P. tells us (H. E. iii. 3; vi. 14, 20) not only of Caius and Hippolytus (commonly called bishop of Portus R.), but of others till his own day. Baronius labours in vain to get rid of this shame: but Photion confirms it in his Bibl. μή. ρκα Ed. Hoesch 1653. So does Jerome, more than six times in his letters, expositions, etc., to the general effect that "the Latin custom did not receive it among the canonical Scriptures." Nevertheless the Roman church as such never went so far as to reject the Epistle; and from the middle of the fourth it was as fully owned there as elsewhere. The Novatian trouble had tended to its prejudice, because such passages as the early verses of Hebrews 6 had been abused to justify their extravagance as of others before that. Nor was one known in those days of faith to broach the idea that it was the church's duty to sit in judgment on an inspired communication. The danger lay rather in the second century, at any rate of publicly reading what was not inspired, as we know was done.
Had people but known the Scriptures in faith and power, no such question had ever risen about the Epistle to the Hebrews. God had taken care to cut off all excuse for unbelief by the unusual verification of 2Pe_3:15-16. For as it is certain that Peter wrote his two Epistles to Christian Jews (1Pe_1:1, 2Pe_3:1), so is it that he declares Paul to have written to such also. What can this be other than that to the Hebrews? Therein are the same topics as spoken of here: the Lord's longsuffering and salvation, far more than in the letters to the Galatians, the Ephesians, or the Colossians; His coming for the blessed glory of His own, and the judgment of all that refuse His voice and are adversaries. Nor is it to be passed by, that, as Peter speaks of some things therein, as in all his Epistles, hard to be understood, which the untaught and ill-established wrest to their own destruction, so Paul in that Epistle (Heb_5:11-14) tells the Hebrews that he had much to say and hard to be interpreted, because of their dulness in hearing.
So in the next chapter (Heb_6:1) he exhorts them, leaving the word of the beginning of Christ (certainly not the principles of His doctrine, but what was known before redemption and the descent of the Holy Spirit), to go on to perfection i.e. full growth by the truth. Luther and Calvin were as unappreciative of this as Cajetan and Erasmus, and indulged in dreams from which some few have not recovered down to Dean Alford and others in our own day, putting forward Apollos, Barnabas, Luke, Silas, Clemens Rom. and even Tertullian! With equal show they might have contended for sixty more, besides those six; for there is no sound reason for any one of them. What more frivolous than the pleas for attaching any one of these names to this noble Epistle? What can excuse the slight of the Holy Spirit's attributing it to Paul, as we have just seen?
It is interesting to note too that the letter from the Roman church, which passes under the name of Clemens R., refers repeatedly to the Epistle to the Hebrews, and proves that no doubt of its inspiration existed at that early date (probably before the first century had run out). Its chap. 36. not only makes much use of Heb. 1 but this under the solemn formula γέγραπται, It is written. The doubts of individuals were long after.
Calvin, whose repute as an expositor is high enough, passes this over, as indeed his comment is meagre and vague. Yet he did not doubt that Peter wrote the First to the converted Jews in Asia Minor, but (painful to say) he was guilty of the same hesitation as Origen and others as to the Second. He holds cheap the anonymous doubter of whom Eusebius speaks, but is influenced somewhat more by Jerome's mention of such as reasoned on the difference in style. "I confess however that there is the manifest distinctness that indicates (or, proves) different writers.". . . "At the same time by consent of all it has so far nothing unworthy of Peter as to express everywhere the force and grace of an apostolic spirit. But if it is received as canonical, Peter ought to be confessed its author, since not only has it his name inscribed, but he also attests that he had lived with Christ. Whereas to personate another would be a fiction unworthy of Christ. So then I determine that if the Epistle be counted worthy of credit, it must have proceeded from Peter; not that he himself wrote it, but that some one of the disciples by his command composed the things which the necessity of the time required." Who can fail to see a vacillation unworthy of one who could be firm in matters of less moment than what touches the honour of the written word? (J. Calv. Opp. vii. Arg. in loco.) Real ground for a doubt among ancients or moderns there was none.
It is remarkable that the only other Epistle to the Hebrews once suffered without any just cause from a similar doubt of unbelief. There may be occasion to treat of this fully where it is more directly called for. Here a few words will suffice in confirmation of what has been said against any question of Peter's Second Epistle. And it is a pleasure to say that Dr. Wordsworth's prefatory defence of Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews is as excellent, as any palliation of the hesitation as to Peter is deplorable.
The church in Rome, or some of its notable leaders, it was that indulged in this unwarrantable prejudice. So Jerome says in more than six places that "the Latin custom did not receive it among the canonical Scriptures." Baronius in his history combats the allegation of Eusebius and tries to excuse Jerome as misled by him. Yet the Novatian dispute, with its mistaken abuse of Heb. 6, did dispose those in Rome against the Epistle, till that bias gave way before the bright light of truth chased away all clouds and mists.
But the remarkable fact is that at the beginning no doubt was entertained. Nor can evidence be asked earlier or weightier than its frequent citation as the written word in the letter from the church in Rome, which goes under the name of Clemens R. to the Church in Corinth. So many are they that Moses Stuart, the American Prof., even divides these quotations into four classes. And Justin M., following not long after in the first half of the second century, makes clear references to it, both in his Apology, and in his Dialogue with the Jew Trypho. But we need not here say more on these external evidences. There is not a little to show that, notwithstanding its peculiarities, no doubt was expressed till long after it had been received as an undoubtedly inspired document. Peter himself affords a divinely given proof that Paul wrote to Hebrew saints, and that this is the blessed Epistle in question. That to the Christian should be the end of controversy. "But if any one is ignorant, let him be ignorant."
These two Epistles are eminently characteristic of the two apostles, whatever the peculiar features in each owing to the urgent need which called for them. Nor is there any real ground to infer that any one but Paul and Peter had to do with those peculiarities. Both display the unmistakable power of the Holy Spirit's inspiration. Both wrote with the moral power and doctrinal precision and divine majesty and love to the saints proper to the grace of God, with authority and not as the scribes.
2 Peter 1
The first notable trait in this Epistle is that the writer not only repeats the new name Christ gave him (Mat_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 (2Pe_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 ofGod 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 Mat_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 Christ*: 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 ofit 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."
*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 2Pe_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.
"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 2Pe_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 (1Jn_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 (Joh_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 own* 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.
*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 1Pe_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.
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 (Php_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" (Php_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" (2Pe_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 (Joh_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 (Psa_133:3, Dan_12:2, Mat_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; Rom_5:21), 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 (Joh_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, mani