Notes on the Epistles of Peter

Ephraim Venn

Part 1 of 5 of the series Epistles of Peter

The Epistles of Peter are characteristic of the Apostle of the Circumcision. Whilst Paul—the Apostle of the Gentiles—

communicates  the  truth  of Christianity  as  a special  revelation given to him, these two epistles set forth the features of the spiritual kingdom, as foretold in the prophets, in their present application to the people of God, thus confirming the prophetic word which came in old time through holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. The Writings of Paul arc here acknowledged as forming part of the Scriptures (2 Pet. 8, 15, Hi) and as confirming Peter's own line of teaching—"speaking in them of these things" ; whilst the " things hard to be understood " (Heb. 5. 11) may be an allusion also to the heavenly aspect of his teaching, which is not further touched on, though here and there we are led up to the calling and hope proper to the Christian. Consequently, whilst there is doc­trine, the course and conduct that will suitably express it in our ways are more especially dwelt upon. The saints are not contemplated as in heavenly places in Christ, but as pilgrims on the earth, in relation to the government of God (1 Pet. 2. 11).

CONTRASTS BETWEEN THE TWO EPISTLES

The second epistle advances on these lines :—The known portion of the believer while here, rather than the reserved inheritance, is unfolded. The present disorder and confusion are described, that we ma}' not be stumbled in passing through it : whilst we arc kept. not simply by the power of God, but by the inward working of grace, through an increasing acquaintance with Josus Christ our Lord, thus working out our daily salvation.

The strong contrast between these two epistles throws much light upon the solemn character of these closing days. We shall be helped in discerning this by a further glance at the peculiar features of each epistle.

In the first, the enemy is as a roaring lion. The devil is the great unmasked opponent of the people of God, The world is antagonistic and persecuting, a place of fiery trial. The sorrows of the saints are detailed, and consolations are ministered by the apostle, suited to every kind of suffering, to strengthen them in their manifold temptations.

Christians are called out of the darkness of this world into the marvellous light of heavenly glory, put in possession of spiritual blessings, and begotten to an unfading inheritance beyond this earth-life. They are here as strangers and pilgrims, awaiting a salvation ready to be revealed.

To profess such a hope necessitates a course through life that will suitably express it. The doctrine of it, without a daily conduct formed and governed by it, is both impotent and dangerous ; there­fore Peter has much to say regarding our manner of living. In fact, it is an epistle dealing largely with our conversation as a peculiar people, who have obtained mercy to become the people of God. Hence the word " conversation " occurs no less than six times (ch. 1. 15, 18; 2. 12; 3. 1, 2, 16). The words "conversa­tion " and " behaviour " mean the manner of life which is dis­played in our ways.

(b) We are called to a holy conversation before God.

(c) We are to have our conversation honest among the Gentiles,

(e) so as to win such by their good con­versation.

(f) We are to put to shame those who falsely accuse our good conversation.

All this shows us how essential is the life that is according to godliness. But this calls forth opposition, for in the world ye shall have tribulation, yea. and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. The first epistle, therefore, is full of the suffer­ings of God's people, who are called to do well, suffer for it, and take it patiently, even as Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps. The fiery trial is not to be counted a strange thing. Christ has suffered for us in the flesh ; we must therefore arm ourselves with the same mind, after (he foreshadowing of Noah. who. in a day when the end of all flesh had come before God, surrendered everything, for the narrow limits of the Ark, wherein eight souls were saved through water. La short, suffering in the flesh is not a foreign, but a familiar, exper­ience to the godly, in the view of our epistle; the salvation of the soul only being secured.    (See ch, 1.9;  2. 11,25;  and 4. 19.)

But the Spirit of Christ had testified beforehand in the pro­phets, the sufferings of Christ and the glories that: should follow. And so Peter, who was himself a witness of the sufferings of Christ and also a partaker of the glory about to be revealed, brings before our eye the glory-recompense, like a ray of sunshine brightening the gloom of a winter's day, to encourage the heart of those who, since for a time it must be (Gk.), are in heaviness through manifold temptations. They may rejoice, inasmuch as they are partakers of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory shall be revealed, they may be glad also with exceeding joy (eh. 4. 13).

Suffering and glory are connected throughout Scripture. It was seen in the bush for a suffering Israel in Egypt. When passing through wilderness trials the glory of God dwelt in the cloud. Again, in Ezekiel's day, it was by the river Chebar for a captive people. So here, it is suffering and glory all through. As we are thrown into fellowship with the sufferings of Christ, we are morally fitted to hear of the glory, and also prepared (o wait for it. The enmity of the world gives us a relish for it.

What consolation is here for these scattered strangers, exposed to the fires of persecution, and (he ferocity of the roaring lion who walketh about, seeking whom he may devour ! With a few touches the whole picture of their past, present, and future is painted. Elect according to the foreknowledge of God—of His abundant mercy begotten again to an inheritance incorruptible—kept by the power of God through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed. And the heaviness of the present moment through manifold tempta­tions shall result in praise, honour, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. All things work together for good, for " if God be for us, who can be against us ?" Though all things combine, separation from the love of Christ is impossible. Kay. in all these things we are more than conquerors (Rom. 8. 35-39). May the Holy Spirit make this a present power in our hearts, lest we suffer defeat from the world of our day!

Before tracing the contrasts to all this in the second epistle, we may notice that the hostile world is not viewed as something of which to be afraid (ch. 3. 9-14). The saints are redeemed by blood—born again—and called from darkness into light :  a threefold separation from the world, and, whilst surrounded by its fiery trials, they are, as regards their souls, saved, and kept (ch. 1. 9; 4. 19). The flames of suffering only serve to loosen them from fleshly bonds, while, like the Hebrew youths of a former day, they walk in the midst of the fire, and have no hurt, for " when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee " (Isa. 43. 2).

The. chief object here in the first epistle is to present to those scattered strangers on earth, the incorruptible realities of their spiritual possession. Here, too, we may say death is annulled, and life and incorruptibility brought to light. Being redeemed with an incorruptible price—the precious blood of Christ (ch. 1. 18), born again of incorruptible seed—the Word of God (1. 23)—to an incor­ruptible inheritance reserved in heaven (1. 4), they are to adorn the hidden man of the heart with incorruptible apparel (3. 4).

Everything pertaining to their calling is without decay, undying, and cannot be spoiled. How the hearts of those sojourners of the Dispersion would rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, in their election to such an unfading inheritance and such a glorious salvation I Having lost their earthly hopes, they arc now begotten again to heavenly. Only as the loss of all things in the flesh is suffered are we able to make a gain of Christ (Phil. 3. 8, 9), for then only arc we morally prepared for entering into and enjoying that which is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away.

DANGERS REVEALED IN THE SECOND EPISTLE

I have dwelt upon these features to get a clearer idea of the contrasts in the second epistle, and to set off the special dangers it reveals.

Here you look in vain for the roaring lion : the enemy is dis­covered only as an angel o( light, working notwithstanding the more destructively, because covertly, behind the seductions of false teachers (2. 1-3)—his ministers transformed as the ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11. 13-15). The world's tactics, too, are completely changed : instead of persecuting, it is inviting the Christian with alluring fascinations. The sufferings of the first epistle are out of sight here : the saint is not made to suffer as a Christian for well-doing, or according to the will of God. The world offers friendly attractions with destructive effect.

Nothing is said by the seducers about being " elect according to the foreknowledge of God," or " sanctification of the Spirit," or " sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." These false teachers have no liking for such doctrines ; they prefer to build on other foundations. They have not " entered in by the door of the sheep " but, as in Jude (ver. 4), have " crept in unawares " by " some other way," being of old ordained to this destruction. " The sprinkling of blood " has given place to sprinkling with water, and the vows of confirmation for the improvement of the flesh have taken the place of " being born again," which sets the flesh  completely  aside. " They  come  in  sheep's  clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves," Let every sheep in the (lock of God beware of them, for they are " grievous wolves, entering in, not sparing the Hock." They bring in privily destructive heresies, and the effect is only too apparent. Many follow out their de­structive ways, and the way of the truth is evil spoken of, resulting in a fearful admixture of good and bad. Carnal and spiritual, truth and error, are joined together: lawlessness is mixed with righteousness, light holds fellowship with darkness, as if Christ and Belial were at last in agreement: " false teachers," " cursed children," and impious scoffers intermingling with the true brethren. This is Christendom of today. The cosily treasure, of the priceless pearl, is not in contemplation now : it is the last form of the kingdom in mystery that we see here. The net has gathered of every kind in its innumerable meshes (Matt. 13. 47, 48).

" There shall be false teachers among you," " sporting them­selves in their own deceivings while they feast with you." This brings in the retrograde movement. Unstable souls are beguiled by them, as with frenzied words they make merchandise of the righteous, and entice, through the lusts of the flesh, those " that were just escaping from them that live in error " (ch. 2. 13-20, R.V.). But the blind, both leader and led, fall into the ditch. The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. For if, after they have escaped the defile­ments of the world, through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state is become worse with them than the first. For it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment de­livered to them (2. 20). This is the downgrade drift of things we see here.

Although addressed to the same persons as the first epistle, how degenerate is the general state of things ! The saints are not addressed as homeless strangers in the earth : the pilgrim character is not even alluded to. Separation no longer marks them as a " peculiar people " who abstain from fleshly lusts and arm them­selves with the mind of suffering in the flesh. The condition is not illustrated by Noah, forfeiting everything in the old world to enter the narrow ark of salvation ; but by Lot, dwelling in Sodom, vexed from day to day by the filthy conversation of the wicked. It is no longer " strange that ye run not with them," as in the first epistle, but it would now be a strange thing to happen for any fiery trial to come from a ' reformed ' world (see 1 Pet. 4. 4, 12).

The incorruptible inheritance, reserved in heaven, is here obscured by the blinding influence of present advantage ; the glory is no longer visible to those who " cannot see afar off." And therefore the godly behaviour of the first epistle is displaced by the backsliding course : instead of unbelievers beholding the " good," honest." and " chaste " conversation of the righteous, the righteous one in seeing and hearing is vexing his righteous soul with the filthy conversation of the lawless.

Another contrast is that instead of dwelling upon the incor­ruptible things pertaining to the heavenly calling of saints, Peter now points to the corrupt and corrupting nature of earthly things. Jt is well Lo form a correct idea of the world, whether in its religious. moral, or social aspect: all is corrupt, in spite of its advancement and toleration. Its tactics may vary, its aim and nature never. " The corruption that is in the world through lust " was never more manifest than in the last days. Even religious teachers are spoken of as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed (Gk. corrupted) ; they speak evil of the things they understand not and shall utterly perish (Gk. corrupt) in their own corruption. For they are the slaves of corruption.    (See oh. 1.4;  2. 12. 19.)

The world is a dark place of "corruption " and " defilement " that shall soon pass away; in contrast to the " inheritance incor­ruptible and undented, and that fadeth not away," in the first epistle.

There are false teachers who through covetousness make mer­chandise of the righteous. They have hearts exercised in covetousness, following the way of Balaam, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, beguiling unstable souls, instead of being elders who shepherd the flock of God, not for filthy lucre. These are daring and self-willed, "speaking evil of dignities," rather than being " subject one to another " and " clothed with humility " ; impiously scoffing at the promise of His coming, instead of cherish­ing the hope of the Chief Shepherd's appearing as in the first epistle (1 Pet. 5. 1-7).

Such are some of the deceitful dangers of these closing days signalled by the apostle, calling forth the earnest admonition : " ye, therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness."

When in heaviness through manifold trials, from the hostility of the world and of the devil, Peter comforted the saints with the thought of their election and preservation, bringing the foreknow­ledge of God and the power of God into the trial of their faith. But now in view of the subtle influences of fleshly lusts, and their manifold dangers, he exhorts them to " give diligence " to make their calling and election sure. His object now is not to present comfort in sufferings, but to provide a safeguard from dangers : therefore he seeks to " stir up" the saints to mindfulness of the words spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the command­ment of the Lord and Saviour through the apostles, i.e., the scrip­tures of the Old and New Testaments (ch. 3. 1, 2). The remedy here is the use of the Holy Scriptures in their entirety.

Enough has been said to show the striking contrasts in these two epistles, and to intimate clearly the special dangers of the last days in which we live. Who can fail to grasp the peculiar value of such necessary warnings for us who must view the solemn spectacle, and feel each day the subtle influences of a religious world and a worldly religion absorbed in inch other ?

(To be continued)