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, 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, 2Ti_1:9, and Tit_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. Php_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 (1Pe_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; Gal_3:14), 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" (1Jn_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 forgotten* the cleansing of his old sins."
* λήθην λαβὼν here may be compared with 2Ti_1:5 and the simpler cases of Heb_11:29; Heb_11:36. It occurs in both classical and Hellenistic Greek, as in Jos. Ant. ii. 9,1, is precisely the same phrase.
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 (Joh_15:2, 1Pe_1:17)! "Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear much fruit; and ye shall be my disciples" (Joh_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" (Php_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, w