The Second Epistle Of Peter
In the second Epistle of Peter (and here I must be brief, because of the hour; and I may be brief because Jude will afford us a further consideration of it) we have the same substantial truth of God's righteous government maintained. But the apostle here supplements his first letter by bringing in its effect on the world in that coming day, and especially in its judgment of Christendom or corrupted Christianity. Written of course for the guidance of the saints, it may well serve as a warning to sinners, whether in the profane world or as to those that abuse righteousness and truth.
There is an expression in 2 Peter 1: 3 to which I particularly call your attention. "According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us by glory and by virtue." It is really not to glory and virtue, but by His own glory and by virtue. This seems to me an important statement of the Holy Ghost's to understand. What serves to make it plain is this: - Adam was not "called" when in Paradise. When innocent, he was not called by God's own glory and by virtue. What Adam was bound to do was just to stay where he was. That is, he was responsible to do the will of God, or, rather, not to do what God prohibited in his case. There was a simple test of obedience. It was not a thing that Adam really needed in the smallest degree. He had everything that he wanted and much more, for God showed Himself to be one that delights in abundantly blessing when He put man in Paradise. The business of man, then, was to keep his first estate; he should have simply abode in his position. When he listened to the devil, this was a call not by God's own glory and virtue, but to do the devil's will. It was a seeking of his own independence by disobeying God's express word. Our calling is by God's own glory.
The whole principle of Christianity is just this. It takes the believer out of the place in which he naturally is, and alas! now in sin; and therefore it is spoken of as a calling. The Christian "calling" supposes that the gospel, where received, deals with the soul by the power of the Spirit of God; and that he who receives it is called out of the condition in which man is now plunged by sin, not put back again into the position of Adam, but taken into another position altogether. It is no longer a question of man on earth; he is called by God's own glory and by virtue. It is by God's own glory, because if God saves, He calls to stand in nothing less than that glory. The declared effect of sin is, as it is said in Romans 3, that all "come short of the glory of God." By this they are now measured. Are they fit to stand in presence of the glory of God? The glory of God is the standard of judgment now for a sinner; it is no question of regaining the lost paradise or of keeping the law, even if it were possible. The blessedness of the gospel is that it calls a man not to put him in the place of the unfallen man or of a Jew on the earth, but by God's own glory; and along with this "by virtue." There is a holy restraint put on the allowance of the flesh in any respect whatever. It brings in not "virtue" as the first great point, but God's own glory, and then virtue along with this (that is, the moral courage which refuses the gratification of the old nature).
"Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature." Such is the efficacy of the call of grace. A new nature is communicated which loves the will of God, and abhors the evil whereby Satan has inundated the world. "Having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." Then he shows there is no time for waiting or ease. "And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue" (or the moral courage I have already described); 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 love." These last two qualities are not the same. "Love" is a great deal more and deeper than "brotherly kindness." The latter makes one's brother the prominent object; the former tests everything by God and His will and glory. Therefore you may find a Christian very full of brotherly love, but sadly at fault when the test of love comes, which feels and insists that the first of all duties is that God should have His way. "By this we know," as John said, (and who knew love better?) "that we love the children of God, if we love God, and keep His commandments."
In the next part of the chapter (2 Peter 1) we have the kingdom introduced, which is really the main object of Peter's testimony in the first epistle as well as in the second. Being about to depart himself, he as it were throws open the blessed prospect of the Lord's interference to put aside evil in the world, and display His own power and goodness here below. Such is the kingdom that will be brought in at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. His coming, or presence, embraces the kingdom within its wide circumference.
But then in stating this, the utmost pains are taken to show that there is something better than the prospect of the kingdom, glorious as it is; and this is of capital importance to see clearly. Thus verse 19 opens the matter, which I must give you rather more exactly than as it stands in our version: "We have also the word of prophecy more confirmed, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed." They were quite right in holding fast the old prophetic scriptures. Even as Jews they had known those portions of the word of God, and the apostle in no way blames them for adhering to them tenaciously. So far, it was quite right. "Ye do well that ye take heed" to them. It was needless to press attention with greater warmth; but still he commends the heed they paid to the prophetic word of the Old Testament. Yet study it either in the New Testament or in the Old Testament, one cannot but dread when prophecy becomes the all‑absorbing object. It is not meant deeply to engage the affections. It may occupy the mind to the exclusion of what is better still. Its nature forbids it from adequately filling the heart that is purified by faith; nor does the apostle mean that it should ever have such a place. When he says, "Ye do well that ye take heed to it," he adds the instructive comparison, "as unto a lamp that shineth in a dark place." This is what prophecy resembles. He does not then stop, but points us to another and brighter light - "until the day dawn, and the morning‑star arise in your hearts." He means that prophecy is a divinely given lamp for this dark scene. None can despise without loss the light it casts on this obscure place, the world which is going to be judged. It shows us the awful end and thereby guards us all the way through.
As a lamp for the dark, prophecy is therefore excellent; it is given of God for this purpose; and no Christian can afford to slight or overlook it as an unprofitable study, which does not claim and cannot reward his heed. They were quite right, then; but let them see to it that the heart possess a far better treasure. And what can this be? Not Christianity indeed as a whole, but the Christian hope. The Lord's coming, and all that is bound up with Him on high as the hope of the Christian and of the church, must not be lowered to a mere prophetic event. Prophecy deals with the earth, with the Jew, with the nations, with evil here below; prophecy declares men to be so bad that the Lord must come and judge them, and then introduce His own kingdom, no longer morally and in testimony, but in power and glory. But is this all that Christ is for us? Do you confound the Christian hope with the judgment of Babylon, the overthrow of the Gentiles, the restoration of Israel? A Christian has the faith that in principle all evil has been judged long ago in the cross; that it has been absolutely and perfectly condemned, beyond whatever can be in the creature here below. His hope, therefore, rises far above the revelation of that display of power in righteousness as well as mercy which is to put aside evil, and then bless a long guilty and miserable world with peace and joy and every form of creature goodness. The Christian hope is the taking the Christian out of the world altogether to be in glory with Christ, the object of his heart. Therefore Peter says, "Until the day dawn, and the day‑star arise in your hearts." When does he mean by this expression? When the Christian lays hold of this hope; when he is not merely warned by prophecy, but has his heart reached and filled with the heavenly hope, the light of a better day, yea, Christ Himself the source and centre of it all.
Accordingly, "till the day dawn" does not mean till the day come - till the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings, and the wicked are trodden down like ashes under the feet. This is not at all the meaning of the phrase. It is the dawn of day in the heart; it is a hope that should be realized now because we are children of the day. Consequently we ought to have, as a present thing, that daylight dawning, and the morning star arising in our hearts. A soul born of God might believe all that is in the prophecies - and it is well to heed it all - but this is not enough. Not the downfall of Nineveh, nor the judgment of the great whore, nor the destruction of the beast, is the Christian hope. Our hope is that we and all Christians are to be taken out of the world, and translated into heavenly glory. Consequently the light of the lamp does not suffice; we need also daylight. Good as the lamp is, its main value in an obscure place is "till daylight dawn" - not till we acquire more of its own light, but till a brighter character of light, daylight, dawn. It is not the actual arrival of the day that he means, but the light of day before itself comes: "Till daylight dawn, and the morning‑star arise in your hearts." Christ is made known in this heavenly light for the Christian. It is not Christ dealing with the world and judging the nations. This is the way in which Christ is described in prophecy. But not thus is Christ set before the Christian.
In short, the apostle means that it is well to hold fast the prophetic lamp, which he did not want to disparage in any way, provided it were kept in its proper place. It foreshows the judgment of the world, and it separates the believer, if he believes it, from the world. But this is negative. Do we not ourselves belong to another scene? It is all well then to turn our back on the world, which the prophetic lamp judged; but are we also turning our faces to the light that dawns from above? There are many Christians now that seem to be all occupied with the vast changes either in progress or in anticipation for the earth. About them they fritter away thought and time with no worthy, positive, sanctifying object for their affections. How can one have affection for the judgment of Babylon and the beast? I am not called to anything of the sort. The lamp shows it me, and I am glad to be warned and responsible to warn others. But am I not called to have the only worthy object filling my heart? It is Christ Himself; and this not in the execution of judgment, but in the fulness of grace about to take us out of the world to heaven, and not merely to be assessors with Himself in judging the world when He appears in glory.
Therefore I do most strenuously oppose the petty efforts that have been made to sever the expression "in our hearts" from this verse. It is a sorrow to see them, and to know that any Christians could be influenced by them. Only this morning I was looking at a book in which there was a most misleading parenthesis introduced, as if the meaning were, "Ye do well to take heed in your hearts;" thus severing the connection of "in your hearts" from "the day dawn and the day‑star arise." What can one call this but abominable?
There is another way also in which I have seen the truth sought to be destroyed, by connecting "in your hearts" with "knowing this first," contrary to all analogy of Peter or any one else, and in fact without the smallest reason, but with the evident object of obliterating for the heart the value of the heavenly hope. Such dealings with the text I cannot characterise as mistakes only, but as unwarrantable meddling with the word of God. There is not the slightest foundation for either the one punctuation or the other. The English version is perfectly, correct in this at least.
And it may help some enquirers perhaps if I show them that Peter elsewhere thoroughly confirms this to a plain English reader. In the first epistle it is written, "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts." It is clear that the expression "in your hearts" is no unimportant phrase in Peter's epistles. If we do not "sanctify the Lord God in our hearts," we shall not gather much good either from prophecy or from the heavenly hope; but if we do, it is of. the highest moment for us to have Christ as the morning‑star arising in our hearts, and not such a knowledge of prophecy satisfying us as a godly Jew might once have possessed. Compare also "knowing this first" in 2 Peter 3: 3. There is no connection with "in your hearts" there any more than here.
It is difficult to speak with patience of these rash ways with the word of God. I hold it to be a grievous sin indeed to warp scripture from the purpose for which God has written it. If it be said that these innovations meant only what is good, the question is whether any are at liberty without the best reasons to change the form of the text, and particularly to do so without telling you. In this very place for instance, in a book which professes to be the authorised version of the bible, you unsuspectingly take up the book without knowing. any chance has been made in the punctuation, and your hope is destroyed before you know why, - that is, if you trust their form of the book, which the compilers meant you should.
There is another phrase that follows, on which it may be well to say a word: "No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." Many a soul asks, What is meant by this? Of course, the error of Catholicism is not to be thought of: the remedy against making prophecy of private interpretation is in no way ecclesiastical tradition. I am speaking now to persons uninfluenced by such thoughts, and need not expose its irrelevant absurdity. But, again, there are many Protestants like Bishop Horsley who think it means that the way to hinder prophecy from being of private interpretation is to take history to interpret prophecy. In this I do confess I see little change for the better. Whether you take the church to interpret prophecy, or look into the world to read its interpretation, it is but a sorry choice, and as far as possible either way from the sense. The meaning is, that no prophecy of scripture is of its own insulated interpretation. Limit a prophecy to the particular event that is supposed to be intended by that scripture, and you make it of private interpretation. For instance, if you so regard the prophecy of Babylon's fall in Isaiah 13, 14, you make this prophecy of private interpretation. How? Because you make the event to cover the prophecy, you interpret the prophecy by the event. But this is precisely what scripture prophecy is made not to be; and it is to hinder the reader from this error that the apostle writes as he does here. The truth, on the contrary, is that all prophecy has for its object the establishment of the kingdom of Christ; and if you sever the lines of prophecy from this great central point on which they all converge, you destroy the intimate connection of these prophetic lines with the centre. It is like lopping off the branches from the tree to which they belong, or limbs from the body of which they are integral parts.
So it is with prophecy. All prophecy runs on to the kingdom of Christ, because it comes from the Holy Ghost. If it were the forecasting of men, a man might apply it to a particular event; and there it would end. It might be a sagacious conjecture or not. But supposing it to be ever so correct, after all it is only within the limits of a man's mind. But not so with prophecy of scripture. The Spirit of God is satisfied with no aims short of the kingdom of Christ, and hence therefore prophecy as a whole looks onward to that bright end. It may have had a partial accomplishment, a just application by the way, but it never stops short of His coming and "that day." For the very same reason, when Moses and Elias were put by Peter on the smallest approach to equality with the Lord Jesus on the mount, the Father set aside Moses and Elias with the words, "This is my beloved Son: hear ye him." His object is not Moses, or Elias either: it is Christ, the beloved Son of God. So the Holy Ghost in prophecy does the self‑same thing. He had the same object as the Father - the glory of the Lord Jesus. Only as the Father held to the glory of His Son as such, the Holy Ghost in prophecy looks to the kingdom to be put under the Lord Jesus: and so "the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." They could not therefore have any object other than that of the Holy Ghost who inspired them; and so prophecy must be interpreted, not isolatedly, but as forming part of the Spirit's testimony to the purpose of God in glorifying Christ.
The second chapter shows us the opposite side - Satan's instruments in defaming Christ and injuring souls - the false teachers in Christendom, just as there had been false prophets among the people of old. What an awful character is given to them, justifying the judgment that is coming upon them!
In the last chapter we have not merely false teachers, corrupt in their ways as in their doctrines, but scoffers ridiculing the coming of the Lord Jesus. What is the answer of the Holy Ghost to this? Their ground was the assumed unchangeableness of the world. Oh the folly of man when he opposes God! What a confirmation it is that at this present time philosophy is precisely coming to this! Christendom is going back to heathen conclusions as fast as possible. It does not matter whether we look at the popular physiologists, geologists, naturalists, astronomers, economists, metaphysicians, historians, or any others you like, they are in general hastening to this humiliating end; that is to say, a denial of the distinct statements of scripture and an exclusion of God from His own world. Their idea is, that a sort of cycle governs nature, ever repeating itself through the same round. It is the same at bottom as Peter denounces here - the notion that there is a perpetuity in the state of things around us.
Consequently such as believe in nature must scoff at the assertion of the Lord coming to change the face of all things. The apostle warns them to abandon that delusion, for after all God has intervened already. The God that caused the flood, and destroyed the world that once was, can destroy the world again. And this is precisely what the Lord is going to do. Therefore, if you tauntingly say," Where is the promise of his coming?" I answer you, not that He is coming for you, but that the day of the Lord is coming on the world. What can scoffers have to do with the coming of the Lord for His own people? You may ask with a scoff, "Where is the promise of his coming?" But we can answer with assurance that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night - as sudden, unexpected, and unwelcome, for the judgment and destruction of the creation which is your rest and ruin. When everything has disappeared that can, and all that is to be shaken shall have been dissolved, the result will be the new heavens and new earth, "wherein dwelleth righteousness," without one scoffer more.
The believer then in the face of this is exhorted to holy conversation and godliness. "Ye therefore, beloved, seeing that ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away by the error of the wicked, should fall from your own stedfastness;" for there is danger of the Christian's contamination by the spirit of the world. What then is the preservative? "Grow in grace, and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."