Charles Simeon Commentary - 2 Peter 1:5 - 1:9

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Charles Simeon Commentary - 2 Peter 1:5 - 1:9


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THE CHRISTIAN’S GRACES

2Pe_1:5-9. Beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.

GREAT and unspeakable are the blessings vouchsafed to us by the Gospel: for in it “God hath given to us all things that pertain unto life and godliness;” and “through the exceeding great and precious promises contained in it, we are made partakers of a divine nature, and are enabled to escape the corruptions which are in the world through lust [Note: ver. 3, 4.]. Yet we are not to suppose that these blessings will flow down upon us without any effort on our part to obtain them. We must, if I may so speak, be “workers together with God:” or as my text expresses it, must “give all diligence to add” one grace to another, in order to our growing up into a perfect man.

Were we to enter minutely into every part of this exhortation, we should only distract your minds by too great a diversity of matter. It will be more instructive and edifying to compress the subject, so as to preserve its unity, and to bring before you in one point of view what we conceive to be the mind of the Holy Ghost in this important passage. For this end we will commend to your attention,

I.       The import of the exhortation—

Two things we see in it;

1.       What are the graces which we are called to exercise—

[It is here taken for granted that we have “faith;” for, in truth, we have no pretensions to call ourselves Christians till we have believed in Christ, and are united to him as branches of the living vine.

Assuming then that we are true believers, we must “add to our faith virtue.” By virtue we are not to understand that general assemblage of graces which in modern language is associated with that term; but courage, which is absolutely necessary to the Christian’s welfare. A man who will be faithful to his God, and walk worthy of his profession, will have much to contend with, both from without and from within: and, if he be not endued with fortitude, he will be in danger of yielding to discouragement, and turning back from his profession. Even the sneers of an ungodly world are not easy to bear: and thousands, through the fear of them, have made shipwreck of their faith. We must therefore be bold, if we would be “good soldiers of Jesus Christ.”

“To our virtue we must add knowledge.” By “knowledge” I understand, not general information, but wisdom and prudence, without which our courage may lead us astray, and prove injurious to the cause which we profess to serve. We must seek “a spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind [Note: 2Ti_1:7.].” Among the children of Issachar, we are told, “there were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do [Note: 1Ch_12:32.].” Such should we be. The same conduct, if pursued at all times, and under all circumstances, would be very absurd: and perhaps scarcely in any thing does the adult Christian differ from the child more than in the exercise of “sound wisdom and discretion,” by which he is enabled to avoid the errors of the inexperienced [Note: Pro_3:21-23.], and to “walk wisely before God in a perfect way [Note: Psa_101:2.].”

To this must “temperance be added.” In this term also there is more implied than we generally annex to it. In this catalogue of graces it would appear a small thing to say, that we should abstain “from surfeiting and drunkenness;” (though that doubtless is necessary for Christians too [Note: Luk_21:34.].) We are, as has been before noted, in a state which calls for bold and judicious exertions: and as those who contended in the Grecian games were “temperate in all things,” in order that their bodily strength and agility might qualify them for their contests [Note: 1Co_9:25.], so are we to be temperate, in order to ensure success in our spiritual conflicts. We should sit loose to all the things of time and sense, as well to those which are lawful as those which are unlawful! “using every thing so as not to abuse it [Note: 1Co_7:29-31.],” and “keeping under all our bodily appetites, and bringing them into subjection, lest, after all our profession, we become reprobates [Note: 1Co_9:27.].”

“Patience” is another grace which must be added to all the former. And this too, like all the former, must be understood in somewhat of a larger sense, not merely as a meek submission to trials, but as a persevering effort to fulfil all the will of God. We are told, that “we have need of patience, that, after we have done the will of God, we may obtain the promise [Note: Heb_10:36.]:” and it is only “by a patient continuance in well-doing, that we ever can obtain glory, and honour, and immortality [Note: Rom_2:7.].” This grace then must be added to all the rest. We must never be weary, either in doing, or in suffering, the will of God: but, as the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain; so must we “be patient, and establish our hearts, till the Lord himself shall come,” to crown, and to reward our labours [Note: Jam_5:7-8.].

We must not however rest here. “To patience we must add godliness:” for without a pious regard to God, all our efforts will be in vain. We may conceive of all the foregoing graces as exercised by a heathen: but we must have that sublime piety which no heathen can possess. We must see the hand of God in every thing; and receive every thing as from him; and do every thing as for him; making his will the rule, and his glory the end, of all our actions. At the same time, we must walk with him, and delight ourselves in him, and maintain sweet fellowship with him as our Father and our Friend, and must look for his approbation as our great reward.

To this there is yet another grace which we must add, and that is “brotherly-kindness,” We are all one family, and must regard every member of that family with a truly fraternal affection. It is “by this love one to another that all men are to know us for Christ’s disciples [Note: Joh_13:35.];” and by it we ourselves also are to judge of our having “passed from death unto life [Note: 1Jn_3:14.].”

That which closes the train, and which must of necessity be added to all the rest, is “charity.” For though there is an especial regard due to “the household of faith [Note: Gal_6:10.],” our love must not be confined to them: it must be extended to all, even to enemies; and must so pervade our whole spirit and temper, and so regulate all our words and actions, as to evince that we are indeed children of Him, whose name and nature is “Love [Note: 1Jn_4:8; 1Jn_4:16.].”]

2.       The importance of them to the Christian character—

[No words can declare the importance of these graces to the Christian more forcibly than those in which the Apostle has declared it in my text: for he asserts, that the constant exercise of them will prove us to be intelligent and consistent Christians, whilst the want of them will prove us ignorant and inconsistent.

Attend to these assertions. “If these things be in you, and abound, they make you (that is, they render, or constitute [Note: ê á è ó ô ç ó é í .] you) neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” How shall it be known that any man possesses a truly scriptural and saving knowledge of Christ? It cannot be determined by his professions, but by the whole of his spirit and deportment. As a tree is known by its fruits, so is the faithful follower of Christ. If indeed these graces could flow from any other source than an union with the Lord Jesus, they would determine nothing respecting the reality of our faith in him: but they cannot. A man may have valour, and knowledge, and temperance, and patience, without any acquaintance with the Lord Jesus: but the whole assemblage of graces that are here mentioned he cannot have: they can be wrought in the soul only by the Spirit of God: and the Spirit can be supplied by none but the Lord Jesus Christ, “in whom is the residue of the Spirit [Note: Mal_2:15.],” and “in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily [Note: 1 Col_1:19; Col_1:1 Col_2:9.]:” and to none will Jesus so impart the Holy Spirit but to those who believe in him. Hence the existence and operation of these graces in the soul is a decisive evidence, that our faith in Christ is lively, our knowledge of him spiritual, and our walk before him consistent.

On the contrary, “he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off; and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.” A speculative knowledge may be possessed to a great extent, without any practical effect: but the circumstance of its being inoperative, clearly shews, that the person possessing it has no spiritual discernment. He is blind, or at best very dim-sighted, as to the excellency of the principles which he maintains: he sees not their proper tendency: he is unconscious of the worthlessness of mere notions, however just they may be, if separated from their practical effects: he betrays an utter ignorance of the nature of true religion: and he shews, that he has forgotten all the professions which he made, and the vows that he took upon him, when first he was baptized into the name of Christ. When by baptism he entered into covenant with God, he professed, that, as he expected the remission of sins through the blood of Christ, so he expected the mortification of sin by the Spirit of Christ. He engaged, that from that hour he would seek a conformity to Christ, “dying unto sin, as Christ died for sin, and rising again unto righteousness, even as Christ rose again to a new and heavenly life [Note: Rom_6:3-6.].” But by his want of all these graces, or his allowed deficiency in the exercise of them, be shews that he has forgotten all his former engagements, and is an ignorant and inconsistent professor, who disgraces that holy name by which he is called.

Now, I say, attend to these assertions of the Apostle, and judge whether the graces before-mentioned be not indispensably necessary to the Christian character, and whether we ought not to “give all diligence” to have the whole train of them exhibited in our lives.]

In further considering the Apostle’s exhortation, let us notice,

II.      The insight which it gives us into pure and undefiled religion—

We should not be satisfied with viewing truth in abstract and detached parts: we should endeavour to acquire enlarged views of religion; to see it in all its bearings, and to get our minds duly impressed with its excellency and grandeur. In this we shall be greatly assisted by the Apostle’s exhortation; which, whilst with prismatic accuracy it brings before us the separate rays of which religion is composed, presents in their united power the full radiance of the Christian system.

See then in this passage the excellency of true religion:

1.       How comprehensive it is in its nature!

[There is not any situation in which we can be placed, wherein religion does not prescribe the path that shall be pursued; nor any variety of circumstances that can occur, in which it does not meet with a corresponding variety of limitations and exceptions. There is not an operation of the human mind which it does not undertake to regulate, and require to be under its exclusive controul. Perhaps we may fitly compare it with the office of the soul in our animal frame. Without the soul the body is dead. By its presence the human frame is animated throughout. The soul pervades, and operates in, every part. Not the smallest motion of the body is independent of it. Whatever faculties be called into exercise, they derive all their power and energy from it. It is altogether through its agency, that the eye sees, the ear hears, the hand moves. And these different powers are exercised with ease, because of the entire presence of the soul’s energies in every part. Were there a single member, even the smallest in the human frame, that did not experience its power, it would be paralyzed, and the body, as a whole, would be deformed. Now thus it is that religion takes possession of the soul. Till that occupies the soul, the soul is dead: but when that descends into the soul, all our powers, whether of mind or body, are subjected to its controul. The influence of it being universal, its actings are easy, and without effort. If indeed there be an occasion that requires more than ordinary exertion, a suitable energy is put forth, just as in the human frame, when necessity requires.

Now what a view is this of religion! How grand, how glorious does it appear! Yet is this the view of it as set before us in the text, where every habit and disposition of the human mind is regulated by its requirements, and called forth into exercise by its vital energies. Such was St. Paul’s view of it when he said, “May the God of peace sanctify you wholly! And I pray God, your whole spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ [Note: 1Th_5:23.].”]

2.       How connected in its parts!

[Which of the graces which the Apostle has enumerated in my text, can you dispense with? The whole forms a chain; of which, if one link be broken, the entire use is destroyed. Some indeed of these appear of less importance than others: but not only is every one of them necessary in its place, but every one must partake of the others that are connected with it, and can only operate with effect, when its exercise is so tempered. For instance; what would valour be without prudence? or prudence without temperance? or temperance without patience? or patience without godliness? or godliness without brotherly-kindness? or brotherly-kindness without charity? Take any one away, and the beauty and excellence of the whole will vanish altogether. St. Paul well illustrates this idea in his description of the Christian’s armour. The sword, the shield, the helmet, the greaves, the breast-plate, and the girdle, are all necessary in their place [Note: Eph_6:13-17.]: the loss of any one would be severely felt by the Christian combatant, and occasion his ultimate failure in his warfare. We must have “the whole armour,” or none. So the want of any one of the graces specified in our text would suffice to ruin the soul for ever. Our Lord has told us this in the most express terms. He supposes that we may fall short only in some one particular point: and that for that failure we may have an excuse, which might appear sufficient to satisfy any candid mind. The particular evil which we know not how to part with may be dear to us as a right eye, or necessary to us as a right hand. Yet, if we submit not to pluck out the one, or amputate the other, our whole body shall be cast into hell, “where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched [Note: Mar_9:42-48.].” In this the beauty of religion, as the beauty of the human frame, consists: only with this difference; that the body, though defective in its parts, may live; but the soul, if any one grace be wanting, is dead.

I pray you, brethren, consider this; and let the truth of it receive a daily illustration from your conduct. Never place religion in any one duty, or in any one set of duties; but let all the graces of the Spirit have their appropriate place, their seasonable attention, and their harmonious exercise.]

3.       How lovely in its influence—

[Only conceive of any person living in the constant exercise of all these graces: how amiable, how godlike, I had almost said, would be his deportment! Then conceive of a whole family penetrated with this spirit, and what a picture of heaven would you behold! But conceive of religion filling, as assuredly it will one day fill, the whole earth, and every individual of mankind living in the unvaried exercise of these heavenly dispositions: well may such a state as this be called, as it is frequently in Scripture called, “The reign of Christ on earth.” Blessed, blessed state! O that God would hasten it m his time! But if we be not privileged to behold that day, let us at least seek the commencement of that period in our own souls Let us seek to resemble Christ as much as possible, and to “have the beauty of the Lord our God” beaming from our own face [Note: Psa_90:17.]. This Moses had, by communing with God upon the holy mount; and this we also may have, if we will “give all diligence” to attain it. Rise then to the occasion: let your efforts be without intermission: cry mightily unto God for grace and strength: plead with him the promises which he has made to you in his Gospel; and “which in Christ Jesus are all yea, and amen.” So shall you be enabled to “cleanse yourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2Co_7:1.].”]