Notes on the Second Epistle of Peter
By the late EPHRAIM VENN (PART TWO)
(EDITOR'S NOTE. The Reader's attention is drawn to the first section in the previous Issue, which deals with the contrasts between Peter's First and Second Epistles. A re-reading of that section would prove a helpful Intro¬duction to the present study.)
As we have seen the Second Epistle of Peter discloses dangers with which the believer is beset in the present world. Put it does much more—it opens with helpful instruction and exhortation, in order to strengthen and secure the brethren against the cor¬ruption and departure afterward described. In view of the mass of error, self-will, and fleshly lust, carrying away unsteadfast Christians contrary to the Word of God, it is necessary to lay hold of that which is true, lest; we be corrupted or brought to ruin. The Apostle therefore begins by sketching out the boundary of our present portion : that which every believer has to start with, and its mighty possibilities (ch. 1. 1-4). " Faith " in general may mean either that firmly-relying confidence which is described in Hebrews 11. I ; or it may mean the revelation which God has made in grace, the whole range of common privilege and blessing now presented to Christians.
The " like precious faith " here (v. 1) is to be taken in the latter sense : not as that which received the precious promises, but the precious promises that arc received ; " the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints " (Jude 3), concerning which some have " erred " and " made shipwreck," and " departed from " in these last days ; " the faith " upon which we are to " build our¬selves up," and " earnestly contend for " and " follow after."
When the gospel is being corrupted, and the testimony of God is lost amid the Babel sounds of Christendom, we are directed afresh to the " common faith " of God's elect. The occasion is most suitable for it: the value and blessedness of that which has been given us of God are most realized in the tide of evils which has Hooded the last days. It not only stands imperishable, but its preciousness is increasingly felt in a day when ruin and disorder have become general. Thus, in the opening of this epistle, Peter regards it as that which is now revealed to and bestowed upon us, our present portion.
It is not according to our attainments, lint " obtained by lot (Gk.), reminding us of the tribal possessions under Joshua ; it is obtained not of human choice or merit, but through the righteous¬ness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. " When the time of the promise drew nigh which God had sworn to Abraham." Jehovah remembered His covenant, and in faithfulness to His promises, came down to redeem His people out of Egypt, and bring them into the land concerning which lie did swear to Abraham, to Isaac. and to Jacob, to give it them for a heritage.
Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and for ever, is Jehovah, the "ever-present " I AM " (cp. Ex. 8. 14, 15 ; Heb. 1. 10-12 ; Jn. 8. 58), our God and Saviour, faithful and true. So we have obtained our spiritual possession through His faithfulness to " the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets." These were the " Yea " of the promises of God in Him, and now the commandment of the Lord and Saviour by the apostle, is the " Amen " of Him who is faithful and true (ch. 3. 2).
Such is our goodly heritage, as made known by Christianity. But as in Joshua's day the tribes were slack to possess their portion, although Joshua had taken the whole land, and had given it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their tribes (see Josh. 11. 23 and 18. 2, 3) ; so in the faith the " Apostles of our Lord and Saviour " have put before us our spiritual possession. Hut how slow most of us are to make it our own in realization I We do not even explore its surface, much less dig into the depths of its untold riches ; and therefore we know but little of its productiveness. The law of real possession reads, " Every place that the sole of your feet shall tread upon, that have I given unto you." There must be the contact of the foot if we are going to take possession of that which the Lord has given us. We imagine that because God has given, we do therefore possess. As well might the Israelite, sitting in his tent, reckon that because God had sent the manna, he possessed it without taking the pains to gather it. This is the secret of much of the failure around us. The Israelite must first take possession of his allotted portion, and must work his inherit¬ance. before he could present his basket of first-fruits to God.
"Grace and peace be multiplied ": unlimited grace, un¬limited peace. Such are the first products of our spiritual estate, the outcome of precious faith : realized in acquaintance with God, and Jesus our Lord. The word for " knowledge " means clear, intimate knowledge : it expresses a thorough acquaintance on the part of the knower with the object of knowledge : it is the attain¬ment mentioned in the closing exhortation of the epistle to " grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
EXHORTATIONS (vv. 5-7)
"And beside this," i.e., for this very reason (see R.V.). The former instruction was but intended to rouse the saints to earnestness, just as the writer of Hebrews (5 sought to incite his slothful brethren to activity by pointing out the incapacities of their infantile condition, We are not to stand still ; there is no remaining on the first level; we are to advance; we must rise higher and higher, growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 1. " Giving all diligence." There must be diligence. We must be bringing to the task all earnestness. The word " dili¬gence " occurs again and again, and properly means to make haste, to use speed, to be in earnest. Without application our inherit¬ance will lie waste, and our possessions dwindle down to a mere profession. " Me becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand, but the hand of the diligent maketh rich " (Prov. 10. 4). Alas ! what fritters do we become ! Instead of redeeming the time, how oft is it wasted and misspent. We are called to make good in our daily life, by the power of the indwelling Spirit, all that has been made good to us by faith in Christ, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. But in many instances, if not in the majority, practically it is little better than " having a name to live," a form of religion without the power : there is faith without works, life without liberty, peace, or progress. In other cases blessings are apprehended without realization of their precious-ness: there is knowledge without power for enjoyment: the external form, the outward profession, with leanness of soul, and spiritual barrenness, because of spiritual sloth. " The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat " (Prov. 13. -1).
2. Then) with the bringing in all diligence, there is constructive work in the soul. Grace upon grace is super-added, until the divine nature (love) is reached, that is, morally and experi¬mentally. The new man is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him. The living stones in the first epistle are built up a spiritual house, including all who truly come to Christ. Here the building is personal, an erection within. It is building up ourselves on our most holy faith, as Jude speaks, for the way of the truth is ever constructive, as the ways of the false teachers are only destructive (eh. 2. 2). Once more, we are to begin with our faith, not viewed objectively as that which we obtained in order to work out its possibilities (v. 4), but subjectively now, a possession within, upon which to supply grace upon grace, and thus to develop a moral character, which shall become our great safe¬guard against the fearful perils of the last days as described in chapters 2 and 3.
We own with sorrow of heart the great lack in our days of stressing the necessity of spiritual progress and holiness of life among the people of God. The gospel is preached more or less clearly, though not always fully : but those who believe are often content with knowing themselves " saved by grace," regarding salvation as a thing begun and completed at a single stroke, when they decided for Clrrist. Ignoring its present and future aspects, they have little desire to press forward in things divine. Christ¬ianity with such is little more than a belief in the doctrines of grace, objectively stated ; to be followed by baptism, coming into fellowship, attending meetings, and (he like (all desirable as far as they go), while too often the soul settles down in a stationary, if not a backsliding, condition. Progressive Christianity is regarded as unnecessary, and with some, even undesirable : which results in a lack of spiritual life and character, and often, alas, in manifest failure in conduct. Such are satisfied that the tree lives though neither growth nor fruit appears, content with an easy profession that produces only leaves, unmindful that the tree is known by its fruit.
If conduct is to be satisfactory we must have not only a correct creed, but also a spiritual character, without which the highest truth, if known only as a doctrine, oft results in the lowest state of soul that (alien man can reach. This is why the conduct of many of the Lord's people differs so widely from their creed, and is a great stumbling block to those who are without.
(To be continued)