Notes on the Second Epistle of Peter

Ephraim Venn

Part 3 of 5 of the series Epistles of Peter

WE have considered some of the seasonable  instructions and exhortations in this Epistle ;  we now turn to its
CALL FOR MORAL SAFEGUARDS (1. vv.  1-7)
" In your faith supply (super add) virtue." The same word has been used before : in 1 Peter 2. 9. We are to show forth the virtues of Him who hath called us. Two things are necessary for the display of these divine excellencies, which are described to us in this chapter. We are called by His own glory and virtue (v. 3), and we are to give diligence to super add to our faith, virtue. That which has been apprehended in God, must become an added grace to our faith, and so shall we show forth the virtues or excel¬lencies of Him who hath called us. That which is seen in God as excelling is in us courage or valour, and surely this is the very first requisite in connection with one faith. As Joshua was admonished to be strong and of a good courage, when about to take possession of the land for Israel, and every Israelite needed to be " very courageous " to take possession of his portion and guard it from the Canaanite enemies, so does the Christian need the energy of spiritual courage to take full possession of his present portion, to defy fleshly foes, and contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, in a day when many are departing from the faith, and con¬cerning the faith making shipwreck.
The energy of the new nature responds to the heavenly calling by taking possession, and actively asserting itself over the old lusts of the flesh.    Then we come to the next thing:
"In your virtue, knowledge" The flesh in us is the great hindrance to everything spiritual, and there can be little real progress or growth in grace, until it is denied and set aside as Worthless and offensive to God. Even knowledge would only puff up the flesh. True knowledge is the apprehension of the soul, and has the idea of certainty. The Children of God can say "We know." The word is used by John in his first epistle, in one or other of its forms, about 40 times. Everything is triumphantly certain to faith, in the midst of the vain speculations of the last days.
Then there is the thought of progress in the knowledge of divine things. We are not simply lo know the true grace of God, but to be filled with the knowledge of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, and increasing in the knowledge of God (Col. 1. 9, 10). We must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3.  18). But we do not get knowledge without inclining the ear, and applying (he heart: we must cry after knowledge, and lift up the voice for understanding. "If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasure, then shall thou . . . find the knowledge of God" (see Prov. 2. 1-6).
Then again, all spiritual knowledge is by the Holy Spirit, the anointing which teacheth us all things. And the object of all knowledge is that we may " know Him." " We know the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may (get to) know him that is true." And this is the climax of all knowledge here below : " I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning." Christ must be the Object, the Holy Spirit the Agent. The Word of God to impart, and prayer to obtain, must both be earnestly employed in super¬ adding knowledge to virtue.
"In your knowledge, temperance." The word translated "temperance" comes from two words meaning literally, inward power, government; having power over oneself, to be master of self: therefore self-control, self-restraint, moderation. It is the opposite of the lusts of the flesh so often mentioned in the epistle, that is, the gratifying of fleshly desires. We are informed that the corruption in the world is through lust. The licentious seducers walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness (2. 10), and allure through the lusts of the flesh, those that were a little way escaping (Gk.) from them who live in error (2. 18). This shows the necessity of self-government: we must " abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul." The power for this is our knowledge of the Lord ; therefore the grace of God is teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. If we are to advance in godliness, the flesh with its affections and desires, which have been crucified, must be controlled and restrained. The will must be bridled, the lusts starved, and self diminished, or the fearful course of the second chapter is before us : unsteadfastness—lured by fleshly lusts—carried away by the error of the misguided—entangled again- -defeated. If we arc not Abrahams, we shall be Lots. We must either stand apart:, and overcome by faith, or become en¬tangled, and defeated by the flesh. The Word (if God presents no middle course or climax.
" In your temperance, patience." Patience here does not mean to wait long for a thing : not continuance only, but endur¬ance : a determination to endure the temptations of present circum¬stances ; to sustain whatever things in our life are hard to bear, without bitterness or murmuring, " Ye have heard of the endur¬ance of Job." His patience was not that of long waiting for a cherished hope, but the calm resignation under the loss of all, and in great suffering, by which he could say : " The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." And we " have seen the end of the Lord," in the stripping, suffering process, even to give His servant " twice as much as he had before," not only earthly  possessions,   but specially  of acquaintance   with Himself. It is a grace hard to obtain, but which must be super¬added at all costs. Many bright examples might be mentioned (Jas. S. 10), but it was in the life of our blessed Lord only, that patience, like all these graces, had its perfect beauty. Exposed to all the enmity and rejection of man. He endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself, accompanied by the selfishness and ignorance of His few followers, surrounded by the wretchedness and suffering of human misery. Yet " no ungentle murmuring word escaped His silent tongue," and when, " led as a lamb to the slaughter," He endured the Cross, He prayed for His murderers. " The very spear that pierced His side drew forth the blood to save." His patience was wonderful, far surpassing all description. How little do we know of it I How little do we grow into it ! How little do we show it in our lives ! As long as we are here, our lives cannot be sheltered from trials and uncongenial circumstances. Therefore we have need of patience, to fortify us within by its " divine power," after the example of Christ. " The Lord direct your hearts into the patience of Christ " (2 Thess. 3. 5, R.V.). In every relationship of life, in all suffering and service, we are called to show patience ; hence the need of cultivating and supplying this central grace. The man who has no mastery of himself has no resignation to the will of God, and therefore meets everything that does not fall in with his own will with impatience and complaint.
" And in your patience, godliness." Godliness means God-fearingness : that reverence of God that is to come out in the life of those who know Him. According to 1 Tim. 5. 4 we are " to show piety at home " : the word " piety " is a cognate of the word " godliness," and clearly conveys its meaning to be the exercise of godly fear in the outward deportment of all such as truly reverence Him, It is much the same as the word " religion " in James (see Jas, 1. 26, 27). But the outward walk that befits us must spring from acquaintance with God.
And this is the thought here : the way it is produced. It is according as " his divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness." It can come only in the line of superadded grace, on the foundation of faith. Godliness is not a gift to be laid hold of by one definite act of faith : much less is it a product of nature. It is the outcome of grace teaching us, as in Titus 2. 12. True godliness cannot be produced without His divine power. Christendom is producing a form of godliness with a religion in the flesh, trying by the ordinances and traditions of men to bring forth something in the flesh that shall look just the same as the godliness produced only by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus it resists the truth by imitation, even as Jannies and Jambres withstood Moses (2 Tim. 3. 5, 8). I must " acknowledge the truth that is after godliness." knowing and walking with God, in order to live the life that is according to godliness.
" And in your godliness, brotherly love." If godliness is a great need in the present state of Christendom, brotherly affection is specially called for among Christians. Only as we are right with God, can we keep right with our brethren, and this is specially a thing of the heart. Knowledge is not sufficient to ensure love of the brethren. The heart must lie toward God, for the affections to show out toward them who are born of Him. When we love Him that begat, we love them that are begotten of Him. We know comparatively little of this experimentally in the assemblies. There may be prominent gifts, but it is only " by love " that we can " serve one another." How often where there is this grace in measure, it is dragged down to a human level, narrow and selfish, or even, in some instances limited by natural relationships; drawn out in particular directions and repressed in others, according to the nature and suitability of the object it views. We wait to be loved by the brethren, instead of seeing that we ourselves are loving others with a pure heart fervently. Our business is to love as brethren, and this must begin with us each personally, to have before all things our love to each other fervent, for " love covereth a multitude of sins."
"And in your brotherly love, charity (love)." This is the climax of grace. " The greatest of these is love." " Love suffereth long and is kind ; love envieth not; love vauntclh not itself, is not pulled up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, tliinkcth no evil (taketh no account of evil, Gk.), rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth ; covereth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. love never faileth." Like the wisdom from above, it is " first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy lo be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." Divine love is the very nature of God, and those who arc walking in it and governed by it are manifestly partakers of the divine nature, as in ver. 4, and escaping the corruptions which are in the world through lust.
RESULTS AND ADMONITIONS (vv. 8-11) In Christ Himself every one of these excellencies was seen in perfection, and each was perfectly displayed in His peerless life on earth. If these things are in us, they result from our diligence, and are produced through our increased acquaintance with our Lord Jesus Christ. But it is not enough to have these in us merely existent: they are to abound, i.e. grow to their full extent. Any measure of diligence will bring its measure of acquaintance with Christ, and produce a corresponding measure of these graces, but it is only by bringing in all diligence that these essentials can be in us in large measure, thus becoming the very substance of our spiritual being, enriching our character and dominating our whole life. Therefore may we each be more diligent in the Word, in prayer, and in serving the Lord, that these graces may become more perfectly developed in us. " He that diligently seeketh good procureth favour" (Prov. 11. 27).
"They make you to be neither idle nor unfruitful unto the fuller knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.''
Acquaintance with Christ is not the result of idleness, or the source of barrenness. No one will know Him in any full measure without diligence, and no one who thus becomes acquainted with Him will be barren. 1 cannot consciously know Him any further than I abide in Him, and He in me, and this is to bring forth much fruit (cp. 1 John 2. 27 and John 15. S). This experimental acquaintance with our Lord is never barren in our hearts ; it is the secret and source of all fruitfulness.
" But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old Sins." The child of God has gone wrong, not when he has gone back, but the moment he has ceased to go forward. When diligence began to slacken, idleness began to set in upon the soul. All the estate may be claimed, all the grace superadded, all the fruit present; but diligence is needed to work out the estate, to develop the full measure of the graces, and to ripen the fruit: or idleness will result in unproductive tillage, contracted graces, and withered fruit, making the life barren toward God. Then again, most serious results set in perhaps long before any outward decline is visible. " Unsteadfastness," " lured by lust," and " led away by error " (ch. 2. 18 ; 3. 17) are only the open results of secret damage sustained in the soul, by the insidious workings of spiritual slothfulness. " He that lacketh these things " has previously lacked in real earnestness, in regard of " the Faith." The Word has been slighted, prayer neglected, the Holy Spirit grieved, and therefore barrenness has set in upon the soul. With arrested development comes actual retrogression ; first illumination fades, and blindness, short-sightedness, and forgetfulness inevitably follow. Spiritual faculties are dulled and dimmed : as to the present, blind to the things of God : as to the future, sight is limited and contracted by earthly desires : and as touching the past, the mind lets slip the cleansing from old sins. We become like Lot, who " lifted up his eyes and beheld all the plain of Jordan " ((Jen. 13. 10) ; fascinated by the present advantages of its well-watered valley, he was unable to look above or beyond the scene of corruption and judgment. Our present portion in Christ is not perceived, the heavenly calling is not apprehended, and soon the cleansing from old sins is not remembered. All has lost its freshness and clearness, and grows dull and hazy, recedes into distance, and becomes vague and uncer¬tain ; thus the soul has lost consciousness of its spiritual position and enjoyment, and is exposed to the snares and dangers around, which offer a pleasing aspect with apparent advantage. The unsatisfied soul having lost the enjoyment of his own proper calling, and thereby being unguarded against the allurement of the flesh, is found unsteadfast and wavering. Forgetful that the cleansing of his old sins had stamped the character of purity upon his life at first, he realizes no longer the necessity of separation. Once more " the plain of Sodom " is chosen, and the " tent pitched toward Sodom " (Gen. 13), to dwell among the lawless, and vex the righteous soul with their filthy conversation (ch. 2. 7. 8). In this way also the days of Lot are being repeated in the " last days " (Luke 17. 28).    This is the thrice-solemn alternative of our epistle : " Idle " — " barren " — " blind " — " unstable " — " beguiled " — " allured " — " carried away." Therefore we get a fresh summons to diligence : " Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure " (I. 10). The apostle seeks to rouse us to fresh zeal : instead of growing slack and barren and dull, we must rather speed onward in earnest, because of the dangers described. But even diligence must be well-aimed : the greatest zeal may be misguided and misemployed. It is not diligence in service that is here enforced, although that will certainly follow. Many are hastening to do this and that, and perhaps crowding the life with engagements requiring all hurry and speed, leaving no idle moments for the enemy to fill in. This may be good as far as it goes, but it fails in accomplishing the end brought before us in verse 10 : " make your calling and election sure." The Israelite presenting his basket filled with the first-fruits of the land, had the proof of his calling and election before his very eyes (Deut. 26. 1-10). Just so when we have diligently superadded grace upon grace to faith, if these things abound in us we become fruitful in the fuller knowledge of the Lord. Everything is bright and real : we do not need to pry into the secret counsels of God, or wait till the Lamb's Hook of Life is opened, to know our election of God (1 Thess. 1. 4). We shall not feel anxious to fall back upon the doctrine of our election and calling, which .always go together (Rom. 8). We shall have the sure consciousness ever in our hearts ; there will be insight into the things of God ; instead of blindness and dullness there will be a keen fresh delight, springing up in communion with Him. The fruit of diligence will be the conscious certainty of our calling, which is itself the outcome of the eternal purpose in our election.
(To be concluded)