Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
Peter's Salutation to the Saints
2 Peter 1:1, 2. Simon Peter, a servant and an Apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ: grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord.
IN reading the epistles of the different Apostles, whether written to particular Churches, or to the whole catholic Church throughout the world, we cannot but be struck with the benevolence which they breathe in every part, and especially in the salutations with which they begin, and the blessings with which they close. In the words which we have now read, which, as in the former epistle, are addressed to the whole Church scattered through the Roman empire, we may notice two things,—an inscription—and a salutation: to both of which we will now turn your attention.
I. The inscription.
Here the Apostle describes,
1. The writer.
His own proper name was Simon, or Simeon, as he is called in the original and by the Apostle James. The name Peter was given to him by his Lord on two different occasions; partly, to mark his characteristic boldness; and partly to intimate, that on his testimony both to Jews and Gentiles the Christian Church should be established. The office he held as a servant and an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ was the highest that could be assigned to mortal man: and the peculiar care which he took in thus designating his own name and character satisfies our minds that this epistle, no less than the former which bears his name, was written by him: for no bad man would have written it; and no good man could have been guilty of such a forgery as that of assuming the name and office of this inspired Apostle.
2. The persons addressed.
These were believers throughout the world. They "had faith" in our Lord Jesus Christ, as the only Savior of fallen man. They had "obtained" this faith, not by any efforts of their own, but, as it were, by lot, just as all the tribes of Israel obtained their portion in the promised land. To each the precise measure was assigned by God himself: nor was there one throughout the whole land who was not constrained to acknowledge that he owed his portion solely to the free and sovereign grace of God—This faith was precisely "the same" whether in Apostles or private Christians, and "alike precious" to them all: for though the faith of different persons might differ widely in its degrees and consequent operations, it was "alike precious" to all, inasmuch as it was the one means of uniting them to Christ, and of saving their souls alive—"Through the righteousness of God our Savior" too was this faith obtained: for by that righteousness it was purchased for them; and through the prevalence of that righteousness, as pleaded with God in their behalf, was the gift of faith imparted to them.
In this respect, then, every saint under Heaven answers to the character drawn by the Apostle, and may consider the epistle as addressed personally to his own self in particular, as much as ever it was to the saints in the Apostle's days.
From the inscription we pass on to,
II. The salutation.
"Grace and peace" comprehended all the blessings of the Gospel.
Sometimes, in the salutations of the Apostles, "mercy" is added; "Grace, mercy, and peace," but generally it is, as here, "Grace and peace." By "Grace" I understand all that is necessary for the transformation of the soul into the Divine image: and by "peace," all that is necessary for the comfort and encouragement of the soul in its progress heavenward.
These the Apostle desired to be "multiplied" unto the saints.
There should be no measure of these in which we should rest; seeing that there is no measure which may not be greatly and abundantly increased. We should therefore, even if our attainments were equal to those of the Apostle Paul, "forget what is behind, and reach forth to that which is before."
They are to be multiplied solely "through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord ."
It is by that knowledge alone that grace and peace are at first obtained: when we look to God as reconciled to us in Christ Jesus, then grace and peace flow down into our souls. In like manner, it is only through an increasing acquaintance with this mystery that we grow up into Christ, and are transformed into his image. Contemplate then more and more the wonders of redeeming love: and be assured, that in proportion as you are enabled to comprehend them, you shall "be filled with all the fullness of God."
Receive this as a faithful expression of my regards for you: and pray for me, that what I desire in your behalf, I may richly experience in my own soul.
Everything Needful Provided for Us
2 Peter 1:3. His divine power has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness.
THE Lord Jesus Christ, as Mediator, procures for us all blessings from God: but, as God, he authoritatively imparts them. It is of him that the Apostle speaks, when he says, "His divine power has given us all things that pertain unto life and godliness." But the words which follow my text are of more doubtful interpretation. Some understand them as importing, that these things are given for the acknowledgment of God, who has called us by the mighty working of his power. This rendering of the words is so extremely different from that which our translators have given us, and at the same time is maintained by so many persons of eminence, that I have chosen rather to wave the consideration of them altogether, than to determine which of the two is the more correct: though I cannot but say, that I prefer the sense that is given us in our authorized translation. The words before us convey a most important truth, which I shall endeavor to illustrate. The Lord Jesus has indeed given us all things that pertain unto life and godliness,
I. In a way of general provision.
In his blessed word, he has given to us, and to the whole world,
There is nothing needful for us to know, but it may be found in the Scriptures of truth. There we are informed how a sinner may be reconciled to his offended God—There we see how we may obtain a new nature, and be renewed after the image of our God in righteousness and true holiness—There we are told how we may walk so as to please and honor God—Nothing is omitted there, which can conduce, either to our obtaining of life, or to our possessing of vital godliness. And whatever has been added by man, has a tendency rather to counteract than forward our eternal interests.
These are "exceeding great and precious," and comprehend everything which our necessities require. Place us in any situation that can possibly be imagined, and there will be found a promise directly applicable to our state. Nor is anything required of us, in order to obtain an interest in these promises: if only we have a desire after the things promised, and a willingness to receive them as the free gift of God for Christ's sake, they become ours, and shall be fulfilled to us: and by them we shall be made partakers of that very godliness which might be supposed to be a necessary pre-requisite for an interest in them. We are not first to cleanse ourselves from sin, and then lay hold on the promises; but first to take the promises, and then, by their influence, to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness, both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God."
The force of example is pre-eminently great, as affording us both direction and encouragement. And there is no grace which we can be called to exercise, but we have it exhibited and embodied in some bright pattern that is set before us. As for faith, the first leading grace from which almost all others flow, the examples of it are innumerable; and the powers which it possesses to elevate the soul are displayed in the strongest colors. Would we wish to know the precise operations of patience and meekness? the lives of Job and of Moses afford us most distinguished patterns. Would we behold fidelity, devotion, and the constraining influence of love? Elijah, David, Paul, say to us, 'Be followers of us, and you shall attain these graces in perfection.' Such examples as these, not to mention any others of a different kind, which are "set forth for our admonition," serve to explain the precepts, and to show us what measure of godliness we should aspire after, and may hope to attain. So that nothing is wanting to us, that can by any means help us forward in the divine life.
But the Lord Jesus Christ has, to his obedient followers, given all things also,
II. In a way of special communication.
The instructions, promises, examples, which are contained in the Holy Scriptures, are common to all; but to his peculiar people the Lord Jesus Christ has given graces, which, by his divine power, he has wrought in their souls. On them he has bestowed,
1. The gift of faith.
This grace is essential to the welfare of every child of man; for it is through it alone that either life or godliness can be brought into the soul. But he enables his people to come to him, and lay hold on him, and to embrace his promises; and to draw forth out of his fullness all needful supplies, both of grace and peace. In their minds he works a conviction, that they have nothing in themselves to recommend them to God, and can do nothing whereby to obtain an interest in his favor. To them he makes himself known, as "the way, the truth, and the life;" and he brings them to "live altogether by faith in Him, who has loved them, and given himself for them."
2. The assistances of his grace.
"Without him they can do nothing," but "through strength communicated by him, they are enabled to do all things." Have they to conflict with Satan, and withstand his assaults? They go forth in the strength of Christ, and are made "more than conquerors," not all the powers of darkness can stand before them. Have they to sustain the heaviest afflictions? Through Christ they are enabled to "glory in tribulations;" and to "take pleasure in every species of distress for his sake," under a full assurance that "his strength shall be made perfect through their weakness;" and that "he shall be magnified in their body, whether by life or death." Whatever they have either to do or suffer, "his grace his sufficient for them;" and his divine power "makes them perfect in every good work to do his will, working in them that which is well pleasing in his sight."
3. The consolations of his Spirit.
These are of prime necessity in the divine life; for "the joy of the Lord is our strength." Without the light of God's countenance lifted up upon us, our "hands will hang down, our knees be feeble, and our hearts faint." But he will send to his people the Comforter, according to his word, to be in them "a Spirit of adoption," "a witness of their relation to him," and "an earnest of their eternal inheritance." This will support them under all their trials, and animate them in all their conflicts, and bear them up above all the concerns of time and sense. With "his love shed abroad in their hearts," nothing will move them: "nor will they count their lives dear unto them, if only they may but fulfill his will, and finish their course with joy."
1. Let us inquire whether these blessings have indeed been conferred on us.
As possessing the Book of Revelation, we have free access to all the benefits contained in it. But have we availed ourselves of this liberty, so as to have become partakers of the blessings themselves? How many are there who name the name of Christ, and yet have never received anything from him but the name! Look you well to this matter, my dear brethren; for, if you be not brought to live by him, and for him, and to him, it were better that you had never heard the Gospel at all; yes, and better that Christ himself had never come into the world.
2. Endeavor to make a just improvement of them.
If we are responsible to God for the offers of salvation, which are given to the whole world, much more are we for those special communications which are made only to God's peculiar people. Have you light in your understandings? follow it with holy assiduity, and with a tender conscience; never "hiding it under a bushel," or "shutting it up in unrighteousness." Have you good desires in your hearts? Labor to carry them into effect; and rest not until you have attained the object for which they were given. Let every grace "have its perfect work in you, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
3. Impart liberally to others what the Lord Jesus has so liberally conferred on you.
It is not for yourselves only that Christ has bestowed on you such blessings; but that you may be instruments in his hands to impart them to others. Have you the Holy Scriptures? Put them, if possible, into the hands of every child of man. Are you instructed in the knowledge of them? Send out missionaries into the world, to instruct the heathen, and to bring your Jewish brethren to the knowledge of that Savior whom their fathers crucified. Endeavor, too, that the rising generation be imbued with the principles of our holy religion, and be made partakers of all the benefits which you yourselves enjoy—"Freely we have received; freely give," and let every blessing that you possess be regarded as a talent to be improved for the Lord, and to be accounted for to him at his judgment-seat.
The Preciousness of the Promises
2 Peter 1:4. Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
COMMENTATORS are not agreed with respect to the connection of these words. Some connect "whereby" with "glory and virtue," in the preceding verse; and understand it thus: "By which glorious energy of the Gospel are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises." Others, understanding the third verse parenthetically, connect my text with "God and Christ," in the second verse, and translate the passage thus: "By whom are given unto us," and so on. But, for the use which I am about to make of the passage, it is of no importance to determine precisely what the connection is. It is to the greatness and preciousness of the promises that I propose to direct your attention: and, therefore, waving any further notice of the context, I will open to you the promises of God, and show you,
I. Their intrinsic worth.
But how shall I attempt this? Shall I bring them all in order before your eyes? Many hours would not be sufficient for this arduous undertaking: let it suffice, then, to say,
They extend to all the necessities of sinful man.
Even the things of this life are frequently and fully comprehended in them: for Paul says, "Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." And our blessed Lord has assured us, that, if we "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all needful things shall be added unto us." But "the things which pertain unto life and godliness" are those which are more immediately referred to in my text: and there is no want which an immortal soul can feel, in reference either to time or to eternity, which is not richly provided for in the promises of our God. Pardon, and peace, and holiness, and glory, are all secured to us, in terms the most explicit that language can afford. Nor, if men had been permitted to dictate unto God what things should be made over to them, or how freely they should be bestowed, could they ever have ventured to express what God has expressed, or to ask them on such easy terms: for all the promises are to be apprehended simply by faith, and to be possessed by all who will truly and sincerely rest upon them".
But fully to declare their worth is impossible.
Who shall appreciate a deliverance from the torments which are endured by those who are now cast into the lake of fire and brimstone? or, who shall form a correct estimate of the glory and felicity of Heaven? None but those who have experienced the one or the other can form any just conception of either: nor could any one fully and adequately comprehend what salvation imports, unless he have both endured the evil from which a condemned soul is rescued, and partaken of the blessedness to which a glorified soul is exalted before the throne of God. Eternity will be too short to count the inestimable worth of the exceeding great and precious promises which are contained in the Gospel of Christ.
Let us pass on to consider,
II. Their sanctifying efficacy.
We must not imagine that any sinner can so "partake of the Divine nature" as really to be united to the Divine essence. That is impossible. But to partake of all the communicable perfections of the Deity, is the privilege of all who believe in Christ.
We are exalted to bear a strict resemblance to the Deity.
In mind, in will, in our whole character, we may resemble God: for, in conversion, we "are renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created us;" so that we view everything no longer according to the apprehensions of our corrupt nature, but as taught of God, and enlightened by his Holy Spirit. With a renovated understanding we receive also a new heart; so that, instead of finding our will opposed to the will of God, "we delight in the law of God after our inward man," and desire to do his will even as it is done in Heaven. I say not too much, if I add, that the very character of God is imparted to his saints, even as the impression of a seal to the melted wax; so that, through the operation of his grace upon them, they become "holy, even as he is holy," and "perfect, even as their Father which is in Heaven is perfect." As for "the corruptions that are in the world through lust and inordinate desire, the true believer escapes from them," he renounces the world and all its vanities: he "becomes crucified to it by the cross of Christ," he rises above it, "keeps himself unspotted from it," and has his "conversation altogether in Heaven."
And by what is all this effected, but by the promises of God?
"By these we become partakers of the Divine nature, and escape the corruption that is in the world through lust." Paul is particularly careful in marking this important truth. He traces not any of these benefits to mere human efforts, but simply to faith in the Lord Jesus, which alone can "overcome the world," and "purify the heart." Hear his words; and mark especially the order which he prescribes for the attainment of these blessings: "Having these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Here, at the same time that he specifies the extent to which the promises will effect this change, he shows us, that we are not to attain the change first, and then lay hold on the promises; but first to lay hold on the promises, and by them to attain the change. Now, this is a point of extreme importance; and it was marked with singular precision in the Jewish law. In the ordinance for the cleansing of the leper, it was appointed that the blood of his sacrifice should be put upon the tip of his right ear, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the great toe of his right foot; which was to show, that, in all his faculties, whereby he either received or executed the will of God, even from head to foot, he needed an application of the blood of atonement, to cleanse him from his guilt: and then oil was not only to be applied by the priest to the same places, but to be "put upon the very place of the blood of the trespass-offering" And what was this intended to show? I hesitate not to say, it was intended to declare the very same thing which is intimated in my text; namely, that our justification by the blood of atonement must be first sought, and then our sanctification by the Holy Spirit; that the blood of atonement must be the foundation of our sanctification; and that, though the two are never to be separated, they must be sought in their due order, and be put each in its appointed and appropriate place. In a word, we must first go to God as sinners, to obtain mercy through the blood of Christ; and then shall we be made saints, by the operation of the Spirit of Christ upon our souls.
1. How desirable is an interest in Christ Jesus!
It is in Christ that all the promises are treasured up for us; and in Him alone are they ratified and confirmed to us. Unless as found in him, and united unto him by faith, we have no part in any one of them: but "all are ours, when we are Christ's." How earnest, then, should we be, in fleeing to him, that we may receive out of his fullness all the blessings both of grace and glory! I pray you, brethren, neglect him not; but seek him with your whole hearts, and cleave unto him with your whole souls.
2. How truly blessed are they who are united to him by faith!
To them God has secured everything, not by promise only, but by oath also! And this he has done in order that they might be assured of "the immutability of his counsel, and enjoy the richer consolation in their own souls." Take the word of God, my dear brethren: cull out of it every promise it contains, and carry it to the throne of grace, and plead it before God; and truly you shall, in your dying hour, be able to say with Solomon, "Blessed be the Lord, who has given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there has not failed one word of all his good promise which he promised by the hand of Moses," or by all his prophets from the foundation of the worlds.
The Christian's Graces
2 Peter 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 you shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he who lacks these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and has forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
GREAT and unspeakable are the blessings given to us by the Gospel: for in it "God has 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. 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 Spirit 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 until 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." Among the children of Issachar, we are told, "there were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to doc." Such should we be. The same conduct, if pursued at all times, and under all circumstances, would be very absurd: and perhaps scarcely in anything 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, and to "walk wisely before God in a perfect way."
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.) 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, 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 everything so as not to abuse it," and "keeping under all our bodily appetites, and bringing them into subjection, lest, after all our profession, we become reprobates."
"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 fulfill 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," and it is only "by a patient continuance in well-doing, that we ever can obtain glory, and honor, and immortality." 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 gardener waits for the precious fruit of the earth, and has long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain; so must we "be patient, and establish our hearts, until the Lord himself shall come," to crown, and to reward our labors.
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 everything; and receive everything 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;" and by it we ourselves also are to judge of our having "passed from death unto life."
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," 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."
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, while 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 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 valor, 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 Spirits," and "in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily," 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 who lacks these things is blind, and cannot see afar off; and has 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 shows, 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 shows, 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." But by his want of all these graces, or his allowed deficiency in the exercise of them, be shows 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 endeavor 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, while 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 control. 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. Until 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 control. 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 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."
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 valor 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. Paul well illustrates this idea in his description of the Christian's armor. The sword, the shield, the helmet, the greaves, the breast-plate, and the belt, are all necessary in their place: 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 armor," or none. So the want of any one of the graces specified in our text would suffice to ruin the soul forever. Our Lord has told us this in the most express terms. He supposes that we may fall short only in someone 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 dies not, and the fire is not quenched." 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. 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 yes, 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."
Making Our Calling and Election Sure
2 Peter 1:10, 11. Brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if you do these things, you shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
IN the system of religion which the inspired penmen have transmitted to us, duty and privilege go hand in hand. It is "the Divine power alone which gives us all things which pertain unto life and godliness," but we must exert ourselves in dependence on that power, to "escape the corruption that is in the world through lust." This plain and scriptural idea gives the true solution to many difficulties that occur in the sacred volume, and particularly so to those which arise from the words before us.
In the text are set before us,
I. Our duty.
Though all are agreed that our duty is here declared, the opinions of men differ widely respecting the precise nature of that duty. Our first point therefore is to fix the true meaning of the text.
By our "calling and election," is meant that effectual call which men receive when they are truly converted unto God, and which both evinces, and results from, God's eternal purpose to save their souls.
Now those who deny the doctrine of election, argue thus. We are commanded to "make our election sure;" and, if we neglect to do so, we may "fall" and perish forever: therefore there is no such thing as is generally understood by "election;" and that which is so called in Scripture, is nothing more than a designation of God to the enjoyment of outward privileges, or an acceptance of us upon certain conditions.
To avoid these consequences, many who hold the doctrine of election affirm, that the exhortation in the text means only that we should exert ourselves to get an assured sense of our election.
But there is no such ambiguity in the original, as there is in our translation. Whatever the text may prove or disprove, it can have but one meaning; namely, that we are to make our election firm, and, by diligence in good works, to secure the benefits to which God has elected us.
This however does not disprove the doctrine of election. The truth is, that God elects us to holiness as the means, as well as to glory as the end: He elects us to the end by the means; so that the end can never be secured but by the means prescribed. Though therefore God does elect us unto salvation, we can never partake of that salvation, if we be not found in a diligent discharge of all our duties, and the constant exercise of all moral virtues. Hence Paul, notwithstanding he was assured of his final enjoyment of Heaven, was careful to "keep his body under and bring it into subjection, lest, after having preached to others, he himself should be a cast-away;" and hence we also are commanded to "look to ourselves, lest we lose the things we have already wrought, and so come short of our full reward." The truth lies, not in a simple affirming or denying of the doctrine of election, but in connecting the means with the end, as the joint objects which God, in his eternal purpose, has determined to accomplish.
The meaning of the text being ascertained, the duty contained in it is clear.
There is a connection between all the graces of the Spirit: they are so many links in a chain, no one of which can be dispensed with. If we have faith, we must add to it "valor," that shall encounter difficulties; "knowledge," that shall regulate the whole of our deportment; "temperance," that shall make us indifferent to the pleasures of sense; "patience," that shall carry us through all hardships; "godliness," that shall fill us with a delight in heavenly things; "brotherly-kindness," that shall knit us to every member of Christ's mystical body; and "charity," that shall engage us in all offices of love even to our very enemies. All of these graces we should cultivate; and, having attained any measure of them, we should seek to grow in them daily; resting in no attainment "until we come to the measure of the full stature of Christ."
In laboring after these things, we shall "make our calling and election sure," we shall not only prove that we have been elected of God, and called by his grace, but shall "strengthen the things that remain," and "make firm" the work that has been begun in our souls. Indeed the very pursuit of virtue must in itself tend (in proportion as we are diligent) to keep us from declension: and it is certain, that God will prosper those who conscientiously labor to approve themselves to him.
Here then is our duty, namely, to secure by unwearied diligence in good works the final enjoyment of those blessings to which God has elected us by his grace, and called us by his good Spirit. And, to aid us in the discharge of this duty, the Apostle sets promises before us for,
II. Our encouragement.
"Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." But more particularly God engages to give his diligent and devoted people,
1. A steadfast life: "If you do these things, you shall never fall."
It too often happens that professors of religion are left to dishonor their holy calling by open and scandalous offences: nor have any of us any security against such falls, except as we are upheld in God's everlasting arms. But this security shall be afforded to the zealous and faithful follower of Christ. My text says, "If you do these things, you shall never fall." The diligent Christian doubtless will, even to his dying hour, have reason to acknowledge, that he is a poor imperfect creature: but he shall be kept from flagrant transgressions; and shall, in respect of them, "be preserved blameless unto God's heavenly kingdom." Numberless are the promises of God to this effect—And O, what encouragement do they afford to those who know their weakness and their frailty! Surely the hope of being enabled to "do all things through the strength of Christ," and of being made "more than conquerors through him that loved us, and of having "our strength in all respects proportioned to our day of trial," may well stimulate us to exertion, and make us diligent in performing everything which God requires at our hands.
2. A triumphant death.
A variety of things may occur to affect the mind of a dying saint, and to prevent him from displaying the full efficacy of his principles in his last hours: but, in the general, the peacefulness of his departure will be proportioned to the integrity and diligence of his life. Indeed, it may be expected by those who "abound in every good word and work," that God will be peculiarly present with them in the time of their greatest need: they may hope to be favored with Pisgah-views of the heavenly Canaan, and, like Stephen, to behold their Savior standing ready to receive them. Such was Paul's departure, after a life of unremitting exertion in his Master's cause: and such "an abundant entrance into the kingdom of our Lord shall be ministered to us" also, if we follow the steps of that distinguished Apostle.
Who that has ever seen the insensibility of some, or the terrors of others, would not wish to have this promise fulfilled to him in a dying hour?—Let us then live the life of the righteous, if we would die his death. Let us look to it, that we be daily ripening for glory: then shall we in due time be carried to it, "like a shock of corn" to the garner.
You will naturally ask me, what directions I would give you for the attainment of this great object? I answer,
1. Let there be in you no allowed sin.
The wisdom that is from above, is "without partiality and without hypocrisy." One leak will sink a ship; and one allowed sin will destroy the soul. If ever you would be saved at last, you must be "Israelites indeed, and without deceit." Faith in Christ must be laid as the foundation; but every Christian grace must compose the edifice that is built upon it.
2. Cry mightily to God to perfect and complete his work within you.
He who has been "the Author of your faith must also be the Finisher." "Be strong only in the Lord, and in the power of his might." Commit your soul into the Savior's hands, and entreat him to "keep you from falling," so shall you "stand perfect and complete in all the will of God," and "be kept by the power of God through faith unto everlasting salvation"
A Pastoral Admonition
2 Peter 1:12–15. Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you, always in remembrance of these things, though you know them, and be established in the present truth. Yes, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ has showed me. Moreover I will endeavor that you may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.
IN every period of the world, the servants of God, at the close of life, have labored with more than ordinary assiduity to impress on the minds of their people the truths, which, from the commencement of their ministry, they have inculcated. When Moses had brought the Israelites to the very borders of Canaan, he was ordered to "write a song, and to teach it to the children of Israel, that to the latest period of time it might be a witness against them for the Lord," in the event of their turning from him to serve other gods. Joshua, in like manner, at the close of his life, called for all Israel, and charged them to "fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and truth;" and, on their engaging so to do, he said, "You are witnesses against yourselves, that you have chosen you the Lord to serve him." Paul also, how affectionately did he warn the elders of Ephesus, who had come to take their leave of him at Miletus! Thus does the Apostle Peter, in this his second epistle to the Jewish converts dispersed throughout the world, endeavor to "stir them up," by calling to their remembrance the truths he had inculcated, that so they might, after his removal from them, retain their steadfastness even to the end.
In conformity with these examples, I would, after ministering to you for half a century, point out,
First, what, in conformity with Peter's example, I have, from the beginning, labored to instill into your minds.
I might here, in the review of my whole ministerial life, adopt the words which Paul used at the close of his career: "Having obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come; that Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people (the Jewish people) and to the Gentiles." Yes, I can appeal to all who have ever known me, that to proclaim a suffering and triumphant Messiah, as revealed to us by Moses and the prophets, has been the one object of my life, without any variation as arising from the persons addressed, "whether small or great," and without ever turning aside after novelties, or fond conceits, or matters of doubtful disputation. From the beginning, "I determined," like that blessed Apostle, "to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified."
But I will draw your attention rather to Peter's conduct, and to his expressions as contained in the foregoing context. He says, "I will endeavor that you may be able, after my decease, to have these things always in remembrance."
What "these things" were which he here refers to, I will endeavor to explain. He addresses himself to those who had obtained like precious faith with him, through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ," and he calls upon them to "add to their faith, virtue," and a whole series of other graces suited to the Christian character. These were the things which their profession of Christianity indispensably required, and which alone could justify any pretensions to the knowledge of Christ, or give them a hope of acceptance in the eternal world.
Now, my brethren, these are the things which I also, according to the grace given to me, have inculcated, from the first moment that I came among you. And these are the things which I am anxious that "you should bear always in remembrance after my decease." I am aware that you, my stated hearers, both "know these things, and are, for the most part, established in the truths that have been set before you." But I know also what danger there is of your forgetting them, when he, who has so long declared them unto you, is removed to a better world. You cannot but recollect, that the whole people of Israel, within the short space of forty days after that Moses had absented himself from them, turned away from Jehovah to worship the golden calf: and that "King Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, no longer than while he was under the eye, and the instruction, of Jehoiada the priest." What then can I expect, but that many of you will "let slip the things which you have heard," and "turn aside from the holy commandments delivered to you?" Excuse me, therefore, if I lay hold on this present opportunity to bring to your remembrance what you have so often heard delivered to you with all plainness and fidelity.
If it be asked why Peter adopted this course towards his Jewish converts, and why I endeavor to follow his example, I will proceed to show you,
Secondly, Why he was, as I myself also am, anxious that you should "have these things always in remembrance."
Among the numberless reasons that might be assigned, I shall content myself with stating the three following:.
First, I would impress these things on your minds, because on your remembrance of them depends the everlasting welfare of your souls.
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation of all your hopes. You all know that you are sinners, and that, as sinners, you are under a sentence of condemnation. And how shall that sentence be reversed? Need you be told, that you can never, by any works of your own, purchase the remission of your sins? You know you cannot. You know, that even your best actions are very imperfect, and incapable of claiming for you any recompense, if tried by the test of God's holy law: so that for them, no less than for any fouler transgressions, you need forgiveness at the hands of God. Hence, I trust, you are ready to say with Paul, "I desire to be found in Christ, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith."
At the same time, you know the necessity of universal holiness in order to prove and attest the sincerity of your faith. I bless God, there is not among you all, so far as I know, even one single individual, that leans to Antinomian licentiousness, or that has any conceit that his faith can avail for his salvation, unless it "work by love," and "purify the heart."
Yes, I am happy to say, that "you know these things, and are, for the most part, established in them." But is there no danger of your declining from them, when the tongue that now inculcates them shall be silent in the grave? Even in the midst of all endeavors to keep you in the "good old way," have you never seen any "turned from the simplicity that is in Christ?" Alas! alas! even in the apostolic Churches such declensions were common: we must not wonder, therefore, if, among ourselves, some be drawn aside by Satan, to "make shipwreck of their faith, and of a good conscience." But what must be the result of such instability? The Apostle tells us, that "if any man draw back, my soul," says God, "shall have no pleasure in him." Yes, beyond a possibility of doubt, every such person, whoever he be, and whatever he may imagine, "draws back unto perdition;" and his last end is worse than his beginning."
And shall it be thus with any of you, my brethren? God forbid. I tremble at the thought of it, and will endeavor, as far as in me lies, to prevent so awful an issue to my present ministrations. Let me tell you again and again, (for "to speak the same things to you, to me is not grievous, but for you it is safe;") let me tell you, I say, that "there is no other foundation for any sinner in the universe to build upon, but that which God himself has laid in Zion, which is Jesus Christy." And let me further declare, that "it is not a dead faith that shall save you, but one which is productive of good works;" and that "without holiness, real, universal holiness, no man shall see the Lord."
Next, the Apostle labored to impress these things on their minds, because he knew that his opportunities for reminding them of them were coming to an end.
The Lord Jesus Christ had told him many years before, that, when he should be old, he should be bound, and crucified by his enemies. And the time for this catastrophe was now near at hand: yet with such sweet composure did the Apostle contemplate this tremendous death, that he spoke of it only as the taking down of a tent or tabernacle, to rear it again in a better place: but, as it would put a termination to his earthly career, he was anxious to improve his few remaining hours in fixing these things upon their minds, in order "that they might have them in remembrance after his decease." And though I have no reason to expect such an end, yet it cannot now be long before I must be called to "put off this my tabernacle," and to cease from the work in which I have been engaged these fifty years. I do indeed bless God, that I have one to succeed me in part who shall carry on the work to far greater advantage than I have ever been able to do: but yet, who shall occupy the more ostensible post of your stated minister, God alone knows; and whether he shall maintain among you the same doctrine of justification by faith, and hold up before you the same high standard of practical piety, none but God can tell: but this I know, that no doctrine but that of a crucified Savior, can ever avail for your salvation; and that no measure of holiness, less than that of an entire devotedness of heart and life to God, can ever justify a hope of an interest in Christ. And, whether all this be inculcated on you or not, who can tell whether you shall retain the experience of it in your souls? I look at the Seven Churches of Asia, and see how they were fallen, even while the Apostle John yet remained to instruct and warn them. And in what state are they now? Or see, if you will, places in our own land, where once a faithful ministry was established, and to what a state are they now reduced! Richard Sibbes and John Preston once ministered in this place; but how little of their mind and spirit was transmitted to later generations, the records of this parish even in my own time, most fully testify. While then God is pleased to continue me among you, "I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though you know them, and be established in the present truth." As long as I am able to bear any testimony among you, I will still declare, that Jesus, our adorable Lord, is the only Savior of sinners; and that as his atoning blood alone can ever cleanse you from the guilt of sin, so his blessed Spirit alone can ever renovate you after the Divine image, or make you "meet for the inheritance of the saints in light." Receive you this, my brethren, as by anticipation, my dying testimony. Treasure it up in your minds, that, "after my decease, you may have it always in remembrance." It is a comfort to me to think, that "long after I am dead," I shall, by my printed works, "yet speak to you;" and, though I cannot hope that they should occupy the attention of persons situated as you are, they will exist as records of the doctrines delivered to you, and among them, this, as my dying address, will find a place, as a memorial of my love to you, and of my desire for your eternal welfare.
One more reason for Peter's so insisting upon these things was, that he could not otherwise discharge his duty towards those whom he had been commissioned to instruct. He says, "I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance." His expression here is remarkable: The word "meet," would be properly translated "just," He thought it just to do this: he considered, that, to be remiss in the discharge of this duty, would be an act of injustice; an injustice to them; an injustice to God; an injustice to himself. In this light I also consider it, my beloved brethren. If I should not press upon your minds the knowledge of Christ, and the necessity of universal holiness, it would be an act of injustice to you. You have been committed to me by Almighty God, as sheep to a shepherd, that I might watch over you, and lead you into the pastures which God has provided for you; and rather lay down my life for you, than suffer you to fall a prey to that "roaring lion that seeks to devour you." It would also be an act of injustice towards God, who is the great Proprietor of the fold, and who will "require at my hands the blood of every one among you that has perished through my neglect." Alas! What account shall I give to him when he shall summon me to his tribunal, and inquire into my discharge of my pastoral office? 'Did I not send you to watch over them? Did I not appoint you a "steward of those great mysteries" which I had revealed in my word, the mysteries of redeeming love? Did you not undertake to make known to them all that my dear Son had done and suffered for them? Did you not engage to declare all that my Holy Spirit was empowered to work within them, by transforming them into my perfect image? Why then did you accept the office of an ambassador from me, if you did not intend to discharge it with fidelity? Why did you suffer so much as one single "soul for whom Christ died, to perish" through your neglect? Was it for this that I entrusted you with so high a commission, and put my interests into your hands, that you should be so remiss in the discharge of the one, and so careless in the advancement of the other?' I may add also, it would be an act of injustice to myself. I know that "your blood will be required at my hands," and I engaged at my ordination to "watch over you as one that must give account" to the Judge of quick and dead. How then shall I appear at the judgment-seat of Christ, if I neglect to "declare unto you the whole counsel of God?" What shall I say when that question shall be put to me, "Where are those sheep which I committed to you in the wilderness?" My dear brethren, if I have no concern but about my own soul, I must fulfill the ministry committed to me, and labor, while yet any remnant of power is continued to me, to stir up in your minds a love to that Savior who has died for you, and to bring you to that conformity to his image, which can alone fit you for the enjoyment of his presence and glory.
But now, in the third place, what shall I say in order to effect my purpose? What considerations shall I urge upon you in order the more effectually to impress your minds with the truths which I have before stated? I will adopt the line of argument suggested by the Apostle himself in the preceding context.
An adherence to these things is what you engaged for in your baptismal covenant. Then Christ was received by you as your Lord and Savior: and you professed to look for remission of sins altogether in his name, and through faith in his blood and righteousness. At the same time you gave up yourselves to him to be sanctified in body, soul, and spirit by his grace, and to live altogether to his glory. But, if you recede in any respect from these engagements, you abandon all the hopes which were then held out to you by that covenant of being "purged from your sins," and you forfeit that remission, which, if you received your baptism aright, or subsequently realized the engagements then entered into, was then conceded to you. And are you willing to cast off thus your Christian profession, and to sacrifice your interest in those "great and precious promises" which were then offered to you in the Savior's name, and "by which you might have been made partakers of the Divine naturel," and heirs of the Divine glory? Think, I pray you, of the loss you will sustain, and the tremendous responsibility that will attach to you: and beg of God, that he will never leave you thus, nor suffer you to "receive all this grace in vain."
Further let me say, These are the things on which your perseverance in the divine life entirely depends. A simple life of faith on the Lord Jesus Christ is to you what the union of a branch is to its parent stock. If from adopting any notions whatever your communion with him is interrupted, nothing but decay and death can ensue. So likewise, if there be any one grace which you do not cultivate, the neglect of that will open the door to numberless other evils, and you will be "left to fall" and perish. It matters not what that virtue is which you neglect: if "intemperance," or "impatience," or "uncharitableness," or "ungodliness" of any kind be suffered to retain an ascendant over you, it will, as water in a leaky ship, in a little time fully occupy your soul, and finally sink you to perdition. "A right hand or a right eye," however necessary it may appear to your present happiness, will, if retained, "destroy both body and soul in Hell." The union of faith and holiness must be complete and abiding, even as the root of the tree with the fruit: both, in their place, are necessary to "make your calling and election sure," and, if either fail, you will inevitably and eternally perish.
Once more—It is by bearing these things in remembrance that you will ensure to yourselves a happy dismissal from the body at the hour of death, and an abundant entrance into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." As to anything of exalted joy in the hour of death, I do not see much of that in the death of the Scripture-saints, nor do I think that, as a general occurrence, we are authorized to expect it. But peace in a dying hour we may expect: "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace." But how is this to be secured? It is by cleaving to the Lord Jesus Christ with full purpose of heart, and by endeavoring to glorify him by a holy life and conversation. An entire reliance on him is necessary. Nothing but a view of his all-atoning sacrifice can satisfy the mind in a dying hour. We may now run after notions that are mooted and propagated in the Christian world: but they will afford us little comfort when we are about to enter into the presence of our Judge, and to receive at his hands our eternal doom. Nothing, I say, but a view of Christ as the appointed Savior of the world, will give us boldness at that day. But, if now we "live entirely by faith on him, as having loved us and given himself for us," we shall be able then to commit our souls into his hands with an assured hope of acceptance, and a blessed prospect of dwelling with him forever. At the same time, however, we must have the testimony of our conscience, that, amidst all our infirmities, we did not retain any allowed iniquity, but did endeavor to walk "as he walked," and to "purify ourselves even as he was pure." If in relation to this matter "our heart condemn us not, then shall we have confidence toward God."
Now consider, my dear brethren, how desirable this blessing is. To have misgiving fears in the hour of death will be very terrible: but to possess a sweet assured confidence that we are accepted of our God, and to have "an abundant entrance into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior," like that of a ship, with wind and tide in its favor, into its destined port, what felicity will that be! And how greatly is it to be desired! Would you then possess this blessing, keep in remembrance the things which I have preached to you; and get your minds so fully and continually occupied with them, that, after my decease, as well as during my few remaining hours, they may have their full influence upon you; and that, when we shall meet around the throne of God, I may have you as "my joy and crown of rejoicing to all eternity."
The Truth and Certainty of The Gospel
2 Peter 1:16. We have not followed cunningly-devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
AMONG the various proofs which we have of the truth and certainty of our holy religion, one of great importance is, that among all the authors and founders of it no diversity of sentiment obtained upon any essential point of doctrine; whether the teachers of it were learned (like the Evangelist Luke and the Apostle Paul), or unlearned (like the rest of the Apostles), they were all of one mind: nor during the whole apostolic age was there so much as one controversy among them, if we except the doubt that was raised about imposing the yoke of the Mosaic law upon the Gentiles: nor was this question moved by the teachers themselves, but only referred to them by some who were less instructed among their converts. This shows, that they were all taught by one and the same Spirit: for it is not to be conceived, that among so great a variety of persons, so differently situated, and so differently gifted, there should not have been a considerable diversity of sentiment, sufficient to distract the minds of their hearers, and to cause divisions in the Church. Moreover, we never find one of the inspired Apostles speaking with doubt upon any fundamental point: they knew infallibly, and declared without hesitation, that we are all guilty and helpless in ourselves, all redeemed by the blood of Christ, all renewed by the influences of the Holy Spirit, and all to be summoned to the judgment-seat of Christ, to receive according to what we have done in the body, whether it be good or evil. We cannot but be struck with the confidence with which the Apostle Peter speaks in the words before us, and with the simplicity with which that confidence is expressed.
That I may place his words in a just point of view, I will endeavor to show,
I. What he had declared respecting Christ.
The generality of commentators confine "the power and coming" of the Lord Jesus Christ to his future advent to judge the world. But I see no reason for so limiting them: I see nothing in the context that should lead us to such a contracted view of them. I conceive that they include what Christ has done, as well as what he will do; and that the Apostle refers to,
1. The power with which Christ has come.
Both the epistles of Peter are catholic, addressed to the whole Church. In the former especially he speaks very fully, and forcibly, of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the different ends and purposes of his advent. He declares him to have been "fore-ordained before the foundation of the world, but manifest in these last times for his people." He specifies the end of his manifestation, which was, to "redeem his people by his blood," and to bear their sins in his own body on the cruel tree. He declares him to have been "raised up from the dead by the Father; that our faith and hope might be in God," and he states, that by his "resurrection from the dead he has begotten us again to a lively hope of an incorruptible, and undefiled, and never-fading inheritance." He represents him further as "the foundation-stone upon which all his Church and people are built," and which will infallibly support them all forever and ever. And, lastly, he speaks of him as gone into Heaven as our forerunner, and as "reigning there above all the principalities and powers" of Heaven, earth, and Hell.
In the epistle that is before us too, he had spoken fully to the same effect, declaring that "grace and peace were to be multiplied unto us through the knowledge of this Savior," who is the one source and fountain of all good, and has "by his divine power given us all things that pertain unto life and godliness."
Now these things Peter had declared: and they are no other than what every minister of Christ must declare. His ordination to his office from all eternity, his execution of it in time for the salvation of a ruined world, his exaltation to glory, from whence he communicates all blessings to his people, and overrules everything for their eternal good, this must be made known by every minister of Christ, and must be received by every child of man.
2. The power with which he will come.
At a future period, that same Jesus, who was crucified, shall appear again "in power and great glory," and will come to "judge both the quick and dead." Then shall "his glory be fully revealed;" and his kingdom be established forever in the Heaven of heavens.
These things also the Apostle affirmed. And what less could be declared by any one that has undertaken to preach the Gospel?
If they appear to any to be a cunningly-devised fable, I ask, Why do they appear so? The only answer that can be given is this; That these things are too great to be comprehended by us, and too good to be expected or believed. They are great, no doubt; and they are good also, beyond all that any finite intelligence could have conceived. But they are not on that account to be questioned. The creation of the world out of nothing, as far exceeds our conceptions as the redemption of it. Both the one and the other are the offspring of infinite wisdom, and power, and goodness: and, if we were not compelled by the evidence of our senses to acknowledge the wonders of creation, we should be as ready to deny the possibility of them, as we are to question the wonders of redemption. But the Apostle declares, that even these latter had, as far as they could be, been made objects of sense; and every evidence of them that could be submitted to the senses had been given to him.
In confirmation of this the Apostle proceeds to state,
II. On what assured grounds he was enabled to bear
his testimony respecting him.
The Apostle had all the evidence respecting the Messiahship of Jesus that was possessed by the Church at large. He had beheld all the miracles that Jesus wrought, and heard all his discourses, and seen his bright example, and witnessed his resurrection and ascension, and had received from him the Holy Spirit according to his promise on the day of Pentecost; and had beheld also the triumphs of the Gospel over all the power and policy of earth and Hell. (Of the prophecies which he had seen fulfilled in him, we shall have occasion to speak hereafter.) But in addition to all these, he himself possessed an evidence which had made the deepest impression on his own mind, an evidence, which no other human being, except James and John, was ever permitted to behold, and which he could not forbear to adduce on this occasion in confirmation of all that he had stated.
He had received the evidence of his senses respecting the power and coming of the Lord Jesus.
He with James and John had been taken up to Mount Tabor by his Divine Master, who had there been transfigured before them. On that occasion the bright effulgence of the Deity had been made to shine forth in the person of the Lord Jesus, whose "face was as bright as the meridian sun, and whose clothing was as white as the light," whiter far than any fuller on earth could make them." This bright effulgence Peter had seen with his bodily eyes.
On that occasion too Moses had been raised from the dead, and Elijah brought down from Heaven, to bear their testimony to him. These two persons represented the law and the prophets, both of which had their full accomplishment in him: and they now, as it were, surrendered up their respective offices to him, who was henceforth to be the great Prophet, Priest, and King of his Church and people. Of this also Peter had been "an eye witness."
But, in addition to this, God the Father had borne witness to his Son by an audible voice from Heaven, saying, "This is that my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased: Hear you him." In these words there was a direct reference to what God had before said to Moses, "A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren like unto you: him shall you hear: and whoever will not hear that prophet, I will require it of him." This voice declared, that very Jesus was the prophet so referred to, and the prophet whom all must obey at the peril of their souls. And this voice Peter distinctly heard.
This evidence fully confirmed all that he had asserted respecting Christ.
He had declared that Jesus Christ was the only-begotten Son of God, "the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person," and of this, as far as it was possible, he had been an eye, and ear witness. He had declared the sufficiency of his death for the redemption of the whole world: and how could he doubt this when God had audibly proclaimed his acquiescence in it in that view? He had declared, that the salvation or condemnation of every living man would depend on his acceptance or rejection of this Savior, who was the one Prophet, whom all must hear; the one Priest, in whom all must trust: and the one King, whom all must obey: and so strongly were these truths assured to him by all that he had seen and heard, that he could not doubt of them one moment, or hesitate to appeal to them, in proof that "he had not followed any cunningly-devised fable," as ignorant Gentiles, or superstitious Jews, were accustomed to do. And to these things do we also make our appeal: for in these things the three Apostles could not be deceived: and their whole life and death showed clearly enough, that they had no design or wish to deceive.
1. Let not any of you then be moved by the impious and blasphemous attempts which are made to undermine the Gospel.
You may see in my text the construction which infidels and blasphemers are accustomed to put upon the truths of revelation: they pour contempt upon them as "cunningly-devised fables," invented and propagated by designing priests for the advancement of their own interests. But who could ever disprove the truth and authority either of the Old or New Testament? It is easy enough to sneer and cavil at anything: and impious scoffers ever have treated in this way the truths of revelation, even from the days of Jannes and Jambres, who withstood Moses, to the present hour." "Men of corrupt minds, and reprobate concerning the truth," ever have, and ever will, "sport in this manner with their own deceivings." But, beloved, search the Scriptures for yourselves: examine the evidences which have been adduced in proof of their divine authority: see the suitableness of the provision which has been made for you by Almighty God in the person and work of his only-begotten Son: and you will soon see, that the great mystery of redemption carries its own evidence along with it, and that what is spoken in Scripture respecting it, is "a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance."
2. Let all of you get an experimental acquaintance with the Gospel in your own souls.
Peter believed the evidences which he had in common with others: but he felt peculiar conviction from those which he derived from his own personal experience. So the people of Samaria, who had believed on Jesus on account of the woman's testimony, told her afterwards, "Now we believe, not because of your saying; for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world." Thus do you seek, if not the evidences of your senses, yet the evidence of your own experience; for it is certain, that "he who truly believes in Christ, has the witness in himself," he knows the power and grace of Christ in a way that he never could know it from mere argument: and in speaking of Christ he can say, "What my eyes have seen, my ears have heard, my hands have handled of the word of life, that I declare unto you." There are "spiritual senses which may be exercised;" and though their testimony is not satisfactory to others, it is peculiarly convincing to those who possess it. For the good of others then I say, Seek an acquaintance with the established evidences of the Gospel: but for your own good I say, Go up to Jesus upon the holy mount, and there hear and see what God will reveal for the conviction and consolation of your souls. So shall you have an evidence which nothing can shake, and feel yourselves standing on a rock, which defies the assaults both of earth and Hell.
The Testimony of Prophecy
2 Peter 1:19. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto you do well that you take heed, as unto a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts.
THAT persons ignorant of the grounds on which Christianity is established should doubt the truth of it, ought not to occasion us any surprise: for it must be confessed, that on a superficial view of the leading points contained in it, it does appear to surpass the bounds of credibility. That the God of Heaven and earth should assume our nature, and be made in the likeness of sinful flesh; that he should thus humble himself, in order that he might in his own person bear, and expiate, the sins of his rebellious creatures; that, having wrought out in our nature a perfect righteousness, he should offer that righteousness to all who will believe in him, and accept it in their behalf for the justification of their souls before him; there is in all this something so wonderful, so glorious, so delightful, that it does indeed appear like "a cunningly-devised fable;" and one is tempted to say concerning it, as Job did under a similar impression of the manifold grace of God, "If I had called to God, and he had answered me (and told me by an audible voice from Heaven that Christianity was true), yet would I not believe that he hearkened to my voice." As Peter, when actually liberated from prison, "knew not that it was true, but thought he saw a vision," so, when we have the actual experience of the Gospel salvation in our own souls, it actually seems at times to be "a dream." But it is no dream, no cunningly-devised fable; but a glorious reality. Of this the Apostle was well assured. He had received the most positive evidence of it from his own senses. He had seen his Lord transfigured upon the holy mount: and had heard the testimony which the Father had borne to him by an audible voice from Heaven; "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." But, however satisfactory this evidence was to him, it could not be so convincing to others, because it depended solely on the testimony of himself and the other two Apostles who were admitted to that sight, and because the inferences which he drew from what he had seen and heard would not commend themselves with the same force to others as they did to him. But there were other grounds on which all might feel the same assurance as he himself did. There was "a more sure word of prophecy," which every one might examine for himself, and of which every one who did examine it was competent to judge. This no man could weigh without being convinced by it: he might as well doubt his own existence, as doubt the truth of Christianity, if only he examined the prophecies with a candid mind.
It is my intention to show you,
I. The evidence of our religion as founded on prophecy.
Truly it is "a sure word," that may well be depended on. Consider the vast collective body of prophecies: consider,
1. Their fullness.
There is not any one point relating to Christianity that has not been the subject of prophecy. Everything relating to Christ, his person, his work, his offices; his life, his death, his resurrection and ascension; his investiture with all power at the right hand of God; the nature, extent, and duration of his kingdom; and his second coming to judge the world; all has been fully and distinctly declared by holy men of God, who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. Now I ask, Would any one have ventured to predict so many things respecting an impostor? Supposing that the dangerous ground of prophecy had been taken by any who conspired to deceive the world, would they not for their own sake have been satisfied with a few general predictions, that were capable of different interpretations, and that were likely in the common course of events to happen? Would any persons have undertaken to give beforehand so full, so large, so complicated a disclosure of all that should come to pass? But add to this,
2. Their minuteness.
It is surprising that prophecy should condescend to such minute occurrences as were actually foretold concerning Christ. Not only were the time and place of his nativity foretold, but his expulsion from thence to Egypt, and his subsequent abode at Nazareth. So again, not only was the manner of his death declared, but such minute circumstances as could not be conceived; such as the very words which his enemies should taunt him with, while yet he should hang upon the cross; and their offering him vinegar to drink; and even the manner in which they should dispose of his clothing, casting lots for one part, while they divided the rest. Now I ask, Could any but the omniscient God predict such things as these? things, which could not be fulfilled by any except by the very enemies who put him to death as an impostor?
But the evidence, as arising from the fullness and minuteness of the prophecies, will derive great strength from marking,
3. Their consistency.
Certainly, when we consider that the prophecies were delivered by different persons wholly unconnected with each other, at distant times and places, during the space of three thousand six hundred years, and that the things which they predicted were in appearance so opposite to each other; it is inconceivable, that no inconsistency should be found in any of them, if they were not inspired by the omniscient and unchangeable God.
Let us enter a little into this point.—The person of the Messiah. He must be "Jehovah's fellow," "the mighty God," and yet "a man," yes "a worm, and no man, the very scorn of men and the outcast of the people." He must be "the Root and yet the Offspring of David," "David's Son, and yet David's Lord." He must be "a Lion," and yet "a Lamb." He must be a King, a Priest, and a Prophet, all in one. He must die, yet live. Though a Jew, he must die a Roman death, and yet not experience the same treatment as was shown to those who were crucified with him, in having his bones broken: yes, he shall "be pierced in his hands and feet," where the bones are so numerous, and by the soldier's spear also, and yet "not have a bone broken." He shall die as a malefactor, and yet "have his grave with the rich." He shall surfer thus under the hand of his enemies, and yet triumph; yes, and triumph by dying, and pass through the grave to his throne of glory; and, after standing at the tribunal of his rebellious creatures, summon the universe to his tribunal, and fix the everlasting doom of men and angels. Say, whether such apparent inconsistencies would ever have been predicted respecting an impostor, or, if predicted, would have been ever realized and fulfilled? There are, it is true, many prophecies which are not yet fulfilled. The restoration of the Jews, the conversion of the Gentiles, the universal establishment of Christ's kingdom upon earth; these things have not yet taken place: nor have the prophecies taught us to expect that they should yet be accomplished. But the fulfillment of such diversified predictions which we have already seen, leaves us no doubt respecting the accomplishment of the remainder in due season: and this is one reason why the evidence from prophecy is so convincing; that it is ever growing stronger and stronger by the augmented and ever-increasing force which it receives, from the events which are yet daily taking place in the Church and in the world.
This then may suffice for the first point which we were to consider, namely, the evidence of our religion as founded on prophecy. We now proceed to show,
II. The use which we should make of that evidence.
"We should take heed to it," and consider it well;
1. To satisfy our minds respecting the Messiahship of Jesus.
In the world at large we have nothing to guide us in relation to this point: and even from Judaism we gain but little light. The whole Mosaic dispensation was dark and shadowy: and the very predictions which were handed down to us by successive prophets were so dark, that they were not understood by the very persons who uttered them. But these prophecies serve us for a light, which, duly improved, will infallibly lead us to the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. We may illustrate this by the star which appeared to the Magi in the East, which first of all directed them to Judea, then to Jerusalem, the capital of Judea. There they made inquiries respecting "the person who was born King of the Jews." There, they learned that Bethlehem was to be the place of the Messiah's nativity: and Herod was the person who directed them to go to Bethlehem. But, when they were going thither, the star which they had before seen in the East went before them, and stood over the very house in which the infant was. So will prophecy guide us. At first we are informed, that "the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head," but where or when to find him we know not. Next we find, that he shall be of the seed of Abraham; and in the particular line of Isaac, and of Jacob. Proceeding further, we are directed to the family of David; and are told that he shall come while the second temple is yet standing, and be born at Bethlehem. Then we come to all the minute particulars respecting him. He must have such a forerunner as Elijah: he must have the Holy Spirit descend upon him: he must work unnumbered miracles in confirmation of his word: he must be scourged, and yet crucified; (though his scourging was inflicted by Pilate in order to prevent his crucifixion). A thousand minute circumstances must attend his death: and on the third day he must rise again; and ascend to Heaven, and send down the Holy Spirit upon his Disciples, and enable them to speak all manner of languages, and work all manner of miracles: and, by their instrumentality, he must so establish his kingdom in the world, that the gates of Hell shall never prevail against it. Now, where shall I find the person in whom all these, and ten thousand other predictions, meet? I go to one and to another; but I am stopped in a moment: I do not find in them any two requisites. I then come to Jesus; and I find he answers the description in some particulars. I then follow him to see if other things concur to point him out: and the more minutely I examine, the more evidence I gain, without one single disappointment. As the lot for the discovery of Achan fell first on the tribe, then on the family, then on the household, and then on the individual; so does every prophecy lead me nearer and nearer unto Jesus. until they fix infallibly on him as the object of my pursuit Thus, I say, I take prophecy for my light; and I follow it, until it stands over the very person of my adorable Lord, and leaves me no possibility of doubt respecting his being the true Messiah, the Savior of the world.
2. To lead us to an experimental sense of his excellency and glory.
We must not be satisfied with knowing that Jesus is the Messiah, but must seek to experience all the blessings of his salvation in our souls. Suppose a condemned criminal to receive a pardon from his prince, and at the same time a grant of large estates, and a title to all the highest honors of his kingdom; and the man were to satisfy himself with examining and ascertaining that the writing which conveyed to him these benefits, was not a forgery: what should we say of that man? Should we think him sane? Should we not expect that, as a rational being, he would leave his prison, and go forth to possess his estates and honors? Yet this is the very folly which we are guilty of. We are contented with ascertaining to our satisfaction the Messiahship of Jesus, and go not forth to him to obtain the blessings he has purchased for us. But let us remember, that a lamp is only to guide us through a dark place: when the day has dawned and the sun is risen, we are then to walk in the light of that sun, which will supersede the use of the glimmering taper we have just employed. Now thus it is that the Lord Jesus Christ, "the true Morning-star," "the Sun of Righteousness," will arise in our hearts, and "will manifest himself to us, as he does not unto the world." And, as light is its own evidence, so will he bring his own evidence along with him, and prove himself to be the Messiah by the blessings he imparts. Only let that "God, who commanded light to shine out of darkness, shine into our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ," and we shall have the same evidence of his Messiahship as a man has of the sun's existence when he is basking in the beams of its meridian splendor. This then is what we must seek. We must seek to have "the day dawn, and the day-star arise in our hearts," and then we shall be able to say to prophecy, as the Samaritans did to the woman who had guided them to Jesus, "Now we believe, not because of your saying; for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world." It is said of Heaven, that "the glory of God does lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof," and thus may it be said of us when Christ has once revealed himself within us; so bright, so cheering, so glorious will be his presence in the soul!
We may learn then from hence,
1. The propriety of considering the evidences of our religion.
Were we habituated from our early youth to consider these things, how vain and impotent would be the efforts of infidels to shake our faith! If we regarded nothing but intellectual amusement, we can scarcely conceive a richer feast to the mind than the study of prophecy. But, when we reflect that on the truth of Christianity our eternal welfare depends, it is surprising that we are not more interested about this all-important subject. We should not be satisfied with believing Christianity, because our fathers have believed it: we should examine for ourselves. We should search the Old Testament Scriptures, which testify of Christ; and compare them with the New Testament, in which the fulfillment of the prophecies is recorded. Thus should we examine the foundation upon which we propose to build, and assure ourselves that it will bear the edifice which we design to construct upon it.
2. The folly of resting in them.
A man who lays a foundation proceeds to build upon it. And so must we do. We have ascertained beyond a doubt that Jesus is the Christ. But what does the assurance of that fact avail us, if we go not to him for the salvation which he has purchased for us? The Israelites, when they found the manna that was round about their tents, inquired, "What is it?" But when they had ascertained that it was a species of bread given them from Heaven, were they satisfied with having learned that fact? No, they proceeded to gather it, each one for himself, and then to feed upon it from day to day. Do you then so in reference to Christ, who is "the true bread from Heaven." Do not imagine, that because you know he has been given, and are acquainted also with the ends and purposes for which he has been given, you will receive any benefit from that. You must lay hold upon him, and feed upon him from day to day. If he be indeed, as he has declared, the light of the world, you must walk in his light. Then shall your path to Heaven be clear, and your way delightful: and then shall you be prepared to dwell with him in that place, where "the sun shall be no more your light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto you, but where the Lord shall be unto you an everlasting light, and your God your glory."
God the Punisher of Sin
2 Peter 2:4–9. If God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to Hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; and spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an example unto those that after should live ungodly; and delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.
THERE were in the Apostles' days a set of religious professors, such as, I would fondly hope, scarcely exist at this time. If we take the chapter before us, and the Epistle of Jude, and mark the characters which are there portrayed, we shall not know where to look for persons of a similar description: or, if we find a few, they are so few and so insignificant, that they have no influence whatever in the Church. If they were at all numerous, we should not wonder that "the way of truth should be evil spoken of." But what has been, may be: and, if we be not alive to the dangers of an Antinomian spirit, we may yet see "false teachers among us, privily bringing in their damnable heresies, and denying the Lord that bought them, and bringing both on themselves and their followers a swift destruction." One of the most fearful and disgusting traits of such characters is, the boldness and confidence with which they propagate their errors; professing to expect for themselves, and promising to others, impunity in "their pernicious ways." But, whatever they may dream of in relation to their security, "their judgment now of a long time lingers not, and their damnation slumbers not." In confirmation of this truth, the Apostle adduces many striking examples, which attest, that God will put a difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve him, and those who serve him not.
The truths deduced from these records will form the ground-work of our present discourse:
I. God knows how to punish impenitent transgressors.
He has inflicted terrible judgments on account of sin.
Angels in Heaven have experienced his wrath. Respecting the fall of the angels we know but little. But this we know: there were a countless multitude of angels, once as holy and as happy as any that are now around the throne of God; but, on some temptation, they fell, and "left their first estate" of holy obedience, and for their wickedness were cast down from Heaven, into a place of inconceivable horror and misery created on purpose for their reception, where they are "reserved in chains of darkness unto the judgment of the great day." Their sin will in that day be made known before the whole assembly of men and angels, and the justice of God in their punishment be universally acknowledged. Their misery is not yet complete. God has seen fit to give them somewhat of a respite, as it were, until the counsels of God respecting the redemption of the world shall be completely fulfilled: but then, together with the ungodly from among our fallen race, they shall receive their final doom. They are indeed yet continually adding to their former impiety, by laboring with all their might to frustrate the counsels of Heaven in the salvation of mankind: and thus are they treasuring up continually an augmented weight of wrath, which at the appointed season shall come upon them to the uttermost.
On men too, even on the whole world, has God inflicted vengeance on account of sin. Scarcely had the world existed fifteen hundred years, before wickedness abounded in it to such a degree, that "God repented that he had made man." On this account, he determined to destroy the world: and for that purpose he sent a deluge, which soon covered the face of the whole world, and overwhelmed every living thing, with the exception of those which, with Noah and his family, were assembled in the ark.
Another instance of God's displeasure against sin has been manifested in the destruction of Sodom and the cities of the plain. Grievous beyond measure, and beyond sufferance, was the iniquity of those cities. Yet, if only ten righteous persons had been found in them, God would have spared the whole for their sake. But their being one only, he rained down fire and brimstone upon them from Heaven, and reduced them all to ashes, making them a terrible example to the whole world, of the vengeance that should overtake all who should thereafter live ungodly.
From these instances it is undeniably clear, that he both can, and will, inflict judgments on sin and sinners.
Here are facts; facts, which cannot be denied; facts, which bear upon them the stamp and character of divine agency; facts, which speak so loudly, that we cannot shut our ears against them.
There are doubts on the minds of men: 'Can God, or will he, execute his threatenings, when, if he should proceed according to his word, so many will be destroyed? Shall the great and noble be of no more account in his eyes than the meanest of mankind? or, if some notice shall be taken of sin, shall it be so severe as we are taught to expect?' Look, brethren, into the divine records, and all these doubts shall vanish in an instant. Angels confessedly are a far more exalted race of beings than men: yet not even angels were spared, when once they had sinned against their God; but were cast headlong from Heaven into the bottomless abyss of Hell. But will God proceed against so many? Look to the old world, where not a human being, except Noah and his family, was saved. But shall it indeed be so terrible? Look at the cities of the plain, and see what terrible destruction was brought on them: and bear in mind, that these very judgments were intended "for an example unto them that should thereafter live ungodly." Look, I say, at these things; and then doubt whether that judgment which is threatened shall be executed; "God will rain down upon the wicked snares, fire and brimstone, storm and tempest; this shall be their portion to drink." If, after seeing such proofs of the Divine veracity, we will not believe, we shall be constrained to believe when our own bitter experience shall leave no room for a possibility of doubt. The judgments may be delayed, even as the deluge was: but at the appointed season the vengeance shall come, and shall not tarry.
But from the aforementioned dispensations we are taught, that,
II. He knows also how to deliver and to save his tempted people.
Wonderfully did God interpose in behalf of Noah and of Lot.
Noah was a righteous man, and "a preacher of righteousness" to others. For the space of one hundred and twenty years he ceased not to warn and to exhort the world around him: but in all that time we read not of one whom he was the means of converting unto God. He however maintained his steadfastness amidst all the aboundings of iniquity: and God instructed him how to build an ark, for the saving of himself and his household. Of his family there were seven given to him; and he was "the eighth;" not the eighth lineal descendant from Adam; (for he was the tenth;) but one of eight, or the eighth of those who were saved in the ark. Besides him and those embarked in the same vessel with him, not a creature upon earth was saved: but he was brought forth to the new world in perfect safety.
Nor was the deliverance of Lot less wonderful. He also was "a righteous man," and his piety was made evident, by the deep interest which he took in the welfare of his fellow-citizens, and by the grief with which the iniquities of all around him oppressed his soul. And, until this righteous man was placed beyond the reach of harm, God himself could not proceed to execute his threatened vengeance. Two angels were sent from Heaven to bring him forth, and by a holy violence, as it were, to urge him forward, that he might not be overwhelmed by the impending storm.
And is he less concerned about his people now?
Your temptations and trials may be such as no human wisdom could foresee or avoid. But such were the calamities from which Lot and Noah were delivered. You may be a poor despised creature, derided as an enthusiast by all around you, and accounted either conceited or mad, on account of your hope and confidence in God: but such was the light in which those holy men were viewed by their contemporaries; yet they were dear to God, and were saved by him with a great and glorious salvation: and so shall you be saved also from your trials, whether they regard your temporal or your eternal welfare: nor shall so much as one thing occur, which shall not be ultimately over-ruled for your good.
Express you then your faith in God as they did.
Fear to offend him. No doubt those holy men were sorely tempted at times to yield to the solicitations, and to comply with the practices of those around them. But they maintained their integrity, and walked before God in all good conscience in the midst of all the abominations that surrounded them. So then do you: let your one concern be to serve and please him. Never forget that God is a holy God, and that he will punish iniquity: and "though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished." Walk uprightly before him; and none can hurt you: but give way to sin; and none can deliver you.
Learn also to trust him. Neither Noah nor Lot had any human help. They trusted in God: and he was all-sufficient for them. Confide you then in God, as they did. Bear in mind, that he is Almighty to effect whatever will conduce to your welfare; and that he is faithful to all his promises; not one jot or tittle of which shall ever fail.
Finally, dare to serve him. "Fear you not the reproach of man, neither be afraid of his revilings: for the moth shall eat him up." What if, through the aboundings of iniquity you be as singular as Noah was in the old world, or Lot in Sodom? it is not your fault, but the fault of those who will not serve God. Let the world deride your fears: they will before long see who was right; they who mocked at the impending judgments, or you who sought to escape them. Let them deride your hopes: the time is quickly coming, when they will wish that they also had entered into the ark, or fled to the mountain appointed for their abode. Be content to be derided now; in certain expectation, that God will before long "appear to their shame, but to your unspeakable and everlasting joy." While they are laughing at you, or sleeping in their sins, "their judgment lingers not, and their damnation slumbers not." And, while you are faithfully adhering to the service of your God, "the mansions in Heaven are preparing for you; and your Lord will quickly come to take you to the possession of them."
Apostates in A Worse State Than Ever
2 Peter 2:20, 21. If after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.
THAT persons inspired with the love of God should endeavor to bring their fellow-creatures to the knowledge of him, and to a participation of the blessings which they themselves enjoy, seems easy to be accounted for; because nothing but good can result from their labors: but that men should be active in proselyting to impiety those who are walking uprightly before God, appears almost incredible; because no good whatever can issue from their exertions. Were we to see a bond-slave laboring with anxiety to reduce to the same situation with himself those who were enjoying the sweets of liberty; we should account it strange. Yet is the zeal of many exercised for this very end, while they strive to reduce to the bondage of corruption their brethren, who through grace have been delivered from it. In the Apostles' days, some professed to have been favored with sublimer views of the Christian system than others; and to have juster notions respecting the nature and extent of Christian liberty: and by "speaking great swelling words of vanity, they allured, through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, many who had clean escaped from those who lived in error," thus, under the semblance of ministers of righteousness, promoting most effectually the interests of Satan's kingdom. And such "false Apostles" will be found in every age, "deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the Apostles of Christ," and ruining the souls whose welfare they profess to seek. That this is the sad effect of their labors, the Apostle does not scruple to affirm: he even declares, that the persons so deceived by them are brought into a worse condition than they were in previous to their first acquaintance with the Gospel salvation.
In this statement of the Apostle we have,
I. A case supposed.
The case which he supposes is simply this; That a man may have attained the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, so as to see that salvation is by him alone, even by his blood which he shed for our fallen race, and his righteousness which he wrought out for their acceptance with God. Further, he supposes that a man may have experienced a considerable efficacy from this knowledge, so as to have been sanctified, in some degree, by means of it, and delivered from the pollutions of a sinful world. Thus he may practically and experimentally "have known the way of righteousness, and yet be again so entangled with the world as to be overcome by it;" and be so overcome by it as "to turn away finally and forever from the holy commandment delivered unto him."
Now this case may well be supposed.
Consider how extremely weak our nature is; how incapable we are of doing anything that is good, or of resisting anything that is evil, any farther than as we are strengthened by the grace of God. As it is of God alone in the first instance that we are enabled "either to will or to do" what is right; so is it by the continued operation of his grace alone that we can hold on in the right way: "without Christ" continually assisting us, "we can do nothing."
Consider also to what innumerable temptations we are exposed. There is not anything, however innocent in itself, which may not prove to us an occasion of sin. Our food, our clothing, our connections in life, may all be inordinately loved, or in some way be employed to ensnare our souls. Wherever we go, and whatever we do, we are exposed to temptations of different kinds; nor can any man living tell what a single hour may bring forth, or what a change may, through the influence of some unforeseen temptation, be speedily wrought in his moral or religious character.
Consider farther, what both Scripture and experience teach us on this very subject. Do not the Scriptures tell us, that many had already "made shipwreck both of faith and a good conscience," and that in the latter times such defections would be very numerous? Paul's expostulation with some of the Galatian Church deserves particular notice in this point of view: "Now, after that you have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn you again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto you desire again to be in bondage? I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed on you labor in vain." Why are we so often and so urgently cautioned against "being moved away from the hope of the Gospel," and "falling from our own steadfastness," if no such instance could occur? Is the case of Demas no warning to us? And have we not ourselves either known, or heard of, many, who, like him, "after running well for a season, have been hindered," and, like Lot's wife, become monuments and warnings to all around them? Are the stony-ground hearers, and the thorny-ground so rare in the Church, that there is no foundation for the supposition in our text?
To attempt to invalidate the supposition by an appeal to human systems, is highly inexpedient.
We never can sufficiently deplore the use which is made of human systems. Men will attach themselves to some fallible creature like themselves, and so adopt his sentiments, as to reject even the Scripture itself, when its declarations militate against their favorite opinions. There are in the Church of God not a few, who would shut their ears against a faithful exposition of our text, as much as they would against blasphemy itself; because they cannot reconcile the leading sentiment contained in it with the dogmas of their party. But who are we that we are to sit in judgment upon the sacred records, and to wrest from its obvious meaning every sentence which does not accord with our views? That there is no real contradiction between the supposition in our text, and many declarations in Scripture which have an opposite aspect, we could easily show, if it would not draw us too far from our subject: but suffice it to say, that many assertions, which are erroneously thought opposite to each other, have in reality a subserviency the one to the other, and, like wheels moving in an opposite direction, concur to the production of one common end. I therefore entreat you, brethren, not to attempt to weaken the force of the supposition in my text, by an appeal to human systems; but to admit it as a beneficial caution to yourselves, and to improve it with all diligence, that you yourselves may not become examples of the case that is supposed.
Admitting then the possibility of the case supposed, let me draw your attention to,
II. The evil of it declared.
Wherever such a case occurs, the man is indeed in a most pitiable condition: "His last end is worse than his beginning." Yes truly, he is in a worse state than ever,
1. In respect of guilt.
The more light a man has in his mind, the more he sins if he resist that light. Now in the case under our consideration, the person is supposed to have obtained "a knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and such a measure of it as has been attended with the happiest effects; and yet, after knowing the way of righteousness, to depart from it." Here then he must sin against light and knowledge: he must violate the dictates of his own conscience: for, though it is true enough, that a man may persuade himself that he is acting right, while yet he is violating the plainest commands of God, he cannot experience a transition from the service of God to the service of Satan without many rebukes from conscience, and strong misgivings in his mind. And every step he takes in such a state exceedingly augments and aggravates his guilt: insomuch that the sins which he committed in his days of ignorance, have no guilt in comparison of that which he now contracts. What our blessed Lord said to the Jews of old is strictly applicable to him: "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin." If to this be added, that in departing from the ways of righteousness he in a tenfold degree dishonors God, and brings disgrace upon his Gospel, and weakens the hands of the godly, and hardens the hearts of the ungodly, the sin of an apostate is great indeed.
2. In respect of bondage.
The Spirit of God strives more or less with every living man: but with those who have experienced the sanctifying effects of the knowledge of Christ, he must of necessity have wrought in a more abundant measure. Consequently, by the increased resistance necessary to overcome his sacred motions, he must have been the more deeply "grieved." And when once "the Spirit is quenched," and caused "to depart," and is so "vexed" as to become an "enemy" to the backslidden soul, What can be expected but that Satan should re-occupy the post from which he had been driven, and bind in stronger chains than ever his unhappy captive? This our blessed Lord has taught us to expect. He says, that Satan, under such circumstances, "will bring with him seven other spirits more wicked, if possible, than himself; and they will enter into the backslider's heart, and dwell there: and that the last state of that man will be worse than the first." The heart of the apostate must of necessity become more hardened in proportion as he has "rebelled against the light," and provoked God to give him up to his own heart's lusts. Hence the apostle speaks of it as "impossible to renew such an one to repentance." By this I understand not that it is absolutely impossible, but so difficult as to be beyond all reasonable expectation.
3. In respect of condemnation.
If guilt be increased, an increase of punishment must follow of course. "The servant that knows his lord's will and does it not, will be beaten with many stripes;" while he who sins through ignorance will be beaten with comparatively "few stripes." Hence our Lord declared to the cities of Bethsaida and Capernaum, that it should be "more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for them," for though their wickedness was not of the precise nature with that which so abounded in Sodom, yet it was committed in the midst of advantages which Sodom and Gomorrah never enjoyed. The same may be said of the apostate: "If we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour us." And this judgment will be proportioned to the guilt which we have contracted by our abuse of our pre-eminent advantages: for (it is added), "He who despised Moses' law died without mercy, under two or three witnesses. Of how much sorer punishment, suppose you, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, with which he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite unto the Spirit of Grace?"
From all these considerations it is clear, that the last state of the apostate is worse than his beginning: and that it would have "been better for him never to have known the way of righteousness, than, after he has known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto him."
There are, it is to be feared, many here present, who have never yet been delivered from the pollutions of the world.
In truth, of this description are the great mass of nominal Christians throughout the world. If you take men's victory over the world as a criterion whereby to judge of their piety, you will find among the professors of Christianity quite as little as among Jews, or Muhammadans, or Pagans. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, that is, pleasure, and riches, and honor, are the great objects of ambition in every place: and, if a man be dead to them, he is "a sign and a wonder" to all around him. Look, beloved brethren, and see how your hearts stand affected to these things. Can you truly say, as before God, that "you have overcome the world," and that it is, as it were, under your feet? Have you ever had such views of "the cross of Christ, as have rendered the world and all its vanities like a crucified object in your eyes; and that you also are become like one crucified unto it?" I entreat you to attend to what the Apostle speaks in my text: "If after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." He here takes for granted, that this effect will follow, universally, and invariably, follow; all who know our adorable Savior will escape the pollutions of the world. I pray you to mark this: the Apostle takes it for granted: and he was right; for there never was, nor ever will be, one exception to this truth: all who know Christ aright, will become dead to the world, and escape from its pollutions. Bring yourselves then to this test: try yourselves, you whose friends and companions are worldly, whose desires and pursuits are worldly, whose joys and sorrows are worldly. If you were Christians indeed, you would "not be of the world, even as Christ was not of the world." You cannot be of the world, and of God too; for they stand in direct opposition to each other. "You cannot serve God and Mammon." Know then, that while you love and "mind earthly things," you have never yet "known the way of righteousness," and that though your state may be "worse," it is exceeding bad: for, if "the last end of the apostate is worse than his beginning," his beginning must of necessity be bad: and such is the state of all who have not yet devoted themselves to the service of their God.
But some there are, we may hope, who have, through the knowledge of Christ, been delivered from the world.
It is well you have thus far answered one end for which our blessed Savior died: for "he gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world." But you will do well to bear in mind the caution in our text. A change of situation often brings with it a change of conduct. Perhaps you may be somewhat advanced in rank or station, or may form some new connection, or be brought into some new circumstances: and you may easily persuade yourself that this change not only sanctions, but requires, a change in your habits and deportment. But "beware lest, as Satan beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so you also should be turned from the simplicity that is in Christ." Whatever your situation or circumstances may be, God's command to you is, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Even "the friendship of the world, if unduly sought or delighted in, is enmity with God." Beware then how in heart and affection you return to the world. "Remember Lot's wife." "After once putting your hand to the plough, you must never look back again." Methinks, if you would duly consider the image by which such apostasy is represented in the words following my text, you never could return to the world. One scarcely knows how even to quote the Scripture itself; so exceedingly does one nauseate the ideas suggested in it, and so utterly do one's feelings revolt from it. But it does paint the world, and all who love it, in very humiliating colors. O that all the votaries of gaiety, and fashion, and pleasure could but hear what the Apostle compares them to; even to "swine wallowing in the mire!" and that all who are tempted to conform to them, could be brought to reflect on "a dog returning to his own vomit again!" Yes, brethren, this is the feast to which your earthly friends invite you. Ah! learn to view the world as God views it: learn to regard it as a country infected with the plague: and let your great concern be to get through it in safety. Go not unnecessarily where the infection rages most: but "come out from among them, and be separate; and touch not the unclean thing." And, as it was the knowledge of Christ which first brought you forth from the world and its pollutions, seek to "grow in the knowledge of your adorable Lord and Savior," that, through the abundance of his grace communicated to you, you may live more than ever unto God; and that, "shining already as lights in the world," your "path may shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day."
The Day of Judgment
2 Peter 3:7. The day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
A FUTURE state of rewards and punishments is, in theory, universally acknowledged; but, in practice, it is grievously forgotten, and, by not a few, is held in derision. Because God delays to execute his threatenings against ungodly men, they imagine that he never will execute them. Just as in the days of Noah, because the menaced deluge was suspended for one hundred and twenty years, it was to multitudes an object of scorn; so now the idea of an universal conflagration, when "the heavens and the earth shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burnt up," is deemed a fable; and the destruction which will then come upon the whole ungodly world is disregarded, as the dream of a fanatical or superstitious mind. The day of judgment, it is hoped, will prove alike favorable to all; and no great difference be put between the righteous and the wicked. But the name given to that day deserves particular attention: and I beg you to attend to it, with the humility that becomes you, while I open to you,
I. The terms by which the day of judgment is here designated.
It is called "The day of the perdition of ungodly men." Let us consider,
1. Why it is so called.
As, at that period, rewards and punishments will be alike distributed, one would suppose that that day might with equal propriety be called "the day of the salvation of godly men." But this designation would by no means be so proper as that which is given to it in my text. For, though the salvation of the godly will be then completed, it will not then be begun: it is begun in this world: the saints, as soon as they believe in Christ, "receive the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls," nor is there any one blessing which they shall ever enjoy in Heaven, but is now conferred upon them through the medium of faith; insomuch, that they are represented by Paul as already "sitting in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Their bodies will indeed be then partakers with their souls in the felicity of Heaven; but, as far as their souls are concerned, they have already, even while here upon earth, an earnest and foretaste of their heavenly inheritance. The ungodly, on the other hand, have to wait for their award until the day of judgment. I say not, indeed, but that God does sometimes make them to feel a foretaste of his wrath even here; but, generally speaking, they are left to pass their time here under a fearful delusion, by which they pacify their consciences, and lull themselves asleep in their sins. They are under condemnation now, as much as ever they will be: as it is said, "He who believes not, is condemned already, because he believes not in the name of the only-begotten Son of God," but the day of execution is that which is specified in my text: and so Jude expressly calls it; "Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, The Lord comes with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodily committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him." And the great use of the judgment will be, to display before the whole assembled universe the justice of God in inflicting on the wicked this punishment, while so different a portion is given to the righteous: as Paul has said; "It is the day of wrath, and of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God." Hence there is a peculiar propriety in that name, by which the day of judgment is designated, in my text, "The day of the perdition of ungodly men."
2. That it will so prove.
Doubtless, at the time of our death, a suitable award is made to every man: but at the day of judgment there will be a public assignment of this doom to every individual of mankind, attended with solemnities which will greatly augment the keenness of their perceptions; and the bodies of all will be made partakers of the sentence that shall be accorded to their souls. In that day every child of man, from the very beginning to the end of time, will be called forth, and summoned to appear before their God. "The sea will give up the dead which were in it; and death and Hell will deliver up the dead which were in them: and all will be judged according to their works: and whoever is not found written in the book of life, will be cast into the lake of fire." Then will be a separation between the righteous and the wicked, even as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats; and then shall the wicked go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal." Yes, truly, this separation shall take place; for "the wicked," whatever they may now imagine, "shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous."
And now let me endeavor to place before you,
II. The considerations which such a view of the judgment should suggest to our minds.
And surely it should lead us,
1. To inquire into our own real character.
At that day, the Judge will not determine according to our partial views, but according to his own most righteous law: and, whatever may have been the line chosen by ourselves, he will bring our conduct to that infallible test, and determine our doom in perfect accordance with is.
Now, in that day, the ungodly, of every class, will be sentenced to perdition. Paul appeals to us respecting this: "Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?" And then he guards us against that self-deception to which we are so prone; "Be not deceived," and then, enumerating a sad catalogue of persons addicted to wickedness, as fornicators, adulterers, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners, he declares that no one of them "shall ever inherit the kingdom of God." To these may be added "the impenitent" and "unbelieving, as sure to take their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone." Nor must we omit the unregenerate, even though their lives may have been as exemplary as that of Nicodemus himself: for, "except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Care, too, must be taken not to deceive ourselves in relation to our own experience: for there is much hypocrisy in the human heart; and "a hypocrite, even though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and reach unto the clouds, will be detected by God, and will perish forever, like his own dung;" so that his former admirers, with a mixture of surprise and grief, will say, "Where is he?" The apostate too, however eminent his profession may have been, will share the same fate. The man who turns back, "turns back to inevitable and everlasting perdition;" and plunges himself into deeper misery than he would ever have experienced if he had never known the way of righteousness at all. Seeing, then, that so many must perish, is it not of vast importance that we ascertain our true character, in order that we may know what doom we are to expect? Yes, beloved, to all of you I would most affectionately say, "Judge yourselves, that you be not judged of the Lord."
2. To realize in our minds the terrors of that day.
Paul, "knowing the terrors of the Lord, persuaded men." And we, too, should meditate upon them, in order to stimulate our souls to a holy activity in the ways of God. Consider how many millions of our fellow-creatures will in that day "call upon the rocks to fall upon them, and the hills to cover them from the wrath of that Lamb," whom here they neglected and despised! What "fearfulness, too, will surprise the hypocrites," who indulged the vain conceit that their specious conduct would find a happier issue! and with what bitter cries will they exclaim, "Who among us can dwell with the devouring fire? Who can dwell with everlasting burnings?" In vain will they knock at the gate of Heaven, crying, "Lord, Lord, open to us;" since they were content with the lamp of outward profession, without the oil of true grace in their hearts. Some will venture even to expostulate with God, as though they had been hardly treated: "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, and in your name cast out devils, and in your name done many wonderful works?" But they will be repelled with that indignant reproof, "I never knew you: depart from me, you who wrought iniquity." O, the millions, the countless millions, that will perish in that day; all of them "drinking of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation, and be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and the smoke of their torment will ascend up forever and ever: and they will have no rest day nor night! Who can reflect on this, and not determine, through grace, to shun so awful a doom, and to make "the long-suffering of God the means and prelude of everlasting salvation?"
3. To improve to the uttermost the advantages we now enjoy.
This is the day of grace; "this is the day of salvation," to every soul that desires to be saved. Yes, truly, "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, and live." Do but consider this, my brethren: you will never have to cast the blame of your condemnation upon God. If the day of judgment prove the day of perdition to your souls, the fault will be utterly your own. There is no want of sufficiency in Christ to save any who shall come unto God by him. Nor is there in him any want of willingness to save even the chief of sinners. Of those who rejected him in the days of old, and provoked him to abandon them to utter destruction, he complained, "How often would I have gathered you, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not!" The same may he say of you in the day of judgment. Be diligent, then, in the use of all the appointed means of salvation. Repent of all your sins: believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world. Flee to him for refuge: lay hold upon him: hide yourselves under the shadow of his wings: and then, in that awful day, when all who offend and do wickedly shall be cast out, you shall stand before him with great boldness, and "be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless."
2 Peter 3:8, 9. Beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
THE compassion of Almighty God has in all ages been abused by ungodly men, and made an occasion of impenitence and persevering wickedness. In the minds of many it has been made a source of triumph against God, as though he were not able or willing to vindicate the honor of his law. Just as our blessed Lord's condescension in noticing an abandoned, but penitent, woman was made by his enemies a reason for doubting whether he was a prophet—since, if he had been really inspired of God, he must have known how unworthy she was of such an honor; so the forbearance of God with an ungodly world has given occasion to "scoffers to say, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." But such persons forget, that, however long God may have borne with the wickedness of men, he has given at the deluge a very awful testimony of his determination to punish it. And, though he now bears with sinners, he reserves the earth for a similar display of his vengeance by fire; and will surely, in due season, execute his threatenings against sin and sinners. In the mean time, however, he waits to be gracious to returning penitents, and will gladly lay aside his anger the very instant that they come to him in his appointed way.
The words which I have now read will naturally lead me to show,
I. In what light God's delay of his final judgment should be viewed.
God forbears to punish sinners, because he desires to save them.
Scoffers, indeed, impute it to weakness or indifference; and take occasion from it to cast reflections on God himself, as either not seeing, or not regarding, the wickedness of men: since, if he did see it, and did regard it as he professes to do, it would not be possible for him to pass it over from year to year in the way he does. But such persons forget, that time, which to us appears long, has, in fact, no existence before God. All things past, present, and future, are alike present with him, and form in his mind but a single point: "One day is with him as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." Men are afraid to suspend the exercise of their displeasure for a number of years, lest they should be considered as acting from policy, or a sense of weakness and fear. But with God there is no scope for any such views or feelings. He is able to punish whensoever he will: nor is it possible for any to escape from his hands. He, however, is averse to proceed to extremities, until he has used every possible method to reclaim sinners, and to open a way for the exercise of his mercy towards them. "He is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness." He is kept back, not by any conscious weakness, or by indifference, or by fear, or by any other motive which may be supposed to influence us: he is restrained by long-suffering alone, and by a desire to spare those who have deserved punishment.
He desires to save every child of man.
"He is not willing that any should perish," no; he would not that so much as one should ever become a monument of his indignation. This he affirms in the strongest manner; yes, and confirms his assertion with an oath: "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live." It is surprising, that any, after such a declaration as this, should maintain the doctrine of absolute reprobation. Were that, or any other doctrine, clearly revealed in the Holy Scriptures, I should feel it my duty to receive it with the simplicity of a little child: but to receive it merely as a deduction of human reason, an inference drawn by weak and fallible man from the doctrine of election, when the whole Scriptures uniformly declare the very reverse, is, to say the least, very dangerous, and exceeding sinful. I know it is said of ungodly men, by Jude, that "they were of old ordained to this condemnation." I know, also, that Peter says of many, that they "stumbled at the word, being disobedient, whereunto also they were appointed." But it is not of individuals that these Apostles speak, but of characters. God has ordained, that they who will not receive the truth with humility shall stumble at it; and that they who will resist the faith which he has delivered to his saints, shall be left to turn the grace of God into lasciviousness, and to deny the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. And this is a wise and righteous appointment. But it is a far different thing from creating any with a fixed determination to consign them over to perdition, purely of his own arbitrary will, without any fault of theirs. Such an idea as this is directly contradicted by the assertion in my text: and by the oath which I have before mentioned; and by numberless other portions of Scripture, which can admit of no doubt. Our blessed Lord said to his hearers, "You will not come to me, that you may have life," and to the Jews, even after they were given up to the judgments they had merited, he said, "O that you had known, even you, at least in this your day, the things that belong unto your peace! but now they are hid from your eyes." And again: "How often would I have gathered you, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you would not." The whole Scripture attests, that "God would rather that all should come to repentance and live." He "commands all men everywhere to repent." He exhorts them to it also; saying, "Turn you, turn you from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?" and he declares to all, without exception, "Him that comes unto me, I will in no wise cast out." Now shall we, in deference to human systems, set aside all these passages of holy writ? God forbid: we dare not do so: and if we cannot mark out the precise boundaries where truths of an opposite aspect meet, we are contented to say, "What I know not now, I shall know hereafter." If we choose to speculate on divine truths, we may soon get out of our depth: but if we will practically apply them to our own souls, we shall find them as clear as we can wish. Where is the man who has not experienced more or less the strivings of God's Spirit in his soul? Who among us has not a consciousness that he has resisted those strivings; and that, if he had made a due improvement of them, "God would have given him more grace?" The truth, then, is plain: if God forbear to execute upon the world the judgments we deserve, it is not because he is indifferent about our proceedings, but because he is long-suffering towards us, and desirous, if we would improve the opportunity, to save us all. This is the true reason why "he endures, with such astonishing forbearance, the vessels of wrath who are fitted for destruction."
Having seen the long-suffering of God towards this sinful world, let us consider,
II. What improvement we should make of it.
From a sense of it, we should be led,
1. To acknowledge our obligations to him.
Who among us has not reason to acknowledge the long-suffering of God towards him? Who is not a sinner before God? Who has not merited his wrathful indignation? Who might not, on ten thousand occasions, have justly been cut off, and made a monument of God's righteous displeasure?—Let us not, then, impute his forbearance to any indifference in him respecting us, but to its true source, his tender compassion, and unbounded mercy.
2. To humble ourselves before him.
"Because judgment against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of too many are fully set in them to do evil." But let it not be so with us. Paul tells us, that the true intent of "God's patience and long-suffering is, to lead us to repentance." Let it operate upon us in this manner; and let us humble ourselves before him in dust and ashes.
3. To justify him in his judgments.
Whatever men may urge against the denunciations of God's wrath, we are sure he will be justified in every sentence which he shall pass, and be just in every judgment which he shall inflict. The man who had not on the wedding-garment was speechless, when called to an account for his neglect. He might have said, "Lord, I was called suddenly, and compelled to come in," and had not time to procure the requisite apparel. But there was no room for any such excuse. The Master of the feast would have provided him with the garment; but he would not deign to ask for it. Therefore, when cast into outer darkness, he had not a word to say in vindication of himself, or to criminate his Lord. And so, when sentence shall be past on those who despise the forbearance of their God, the whole host of Heaven will cry, "Righteous and true are your ways, you King of saints."
4. To improve the time that may be yet allotted to us.
God is now "giving us space to repent." But how soon his patience may come to an end, we know not. We see persons taken away at every period of life—Let not another day pass unimproved; but "today, while it is called today, turn unto the Lord, and seek him with your whole hearts."
The Day of Judgment
2 Peter 3:10–14. The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hastening unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that you look for such things, be diligent that you may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.
BUT have we never contemplated our own situation? Have we never considered that the solemnities of the judgment day are now in actual preparation; and that, not our own individual dwelling, or friends only, will be affected by them, but the whole universe? Our minds are at this time justly, and almost exclusively, engrossed with the consideration of this tremendous plot, which God, in mercy to this whole nation, has defeated. And I hope rather to strengthen, than efface, those impressions, by leading you to contemplate,
I. The events predicted in our text.
These are widely different indeed from each other; but they are inseparably connected, and infallibly simultaneous. Let us consider,
1. The dissolution of this present world.
Once the world and everything in it, with the exception of that small portion contained in the ark, was destroyed by water: and there is a time coming when the whole of it without exception will be destroyed by fire. Of the latter there will be no more expectation at the time, than there was of the former. In the days of Noah they were eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage, as securely as at any former period of the world: and would not believe that they were in any danger, until, on the entrance of Noah into the ark, the flood came and destroyed them all. So, at the last day, the inhabitants of this globe will be as little occupied with the thoughts of judgment, as we are at this moment. Our Lord tells us, that "he will come as a thief in the night;" that, without any previous warning, the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth, with everything in it, shall be burnt up."
Conceive now the feelings of men at the very first moment that this tremendous and irresistible combustion shall burst forth. Some faint idea may be entertained, if only you suppose that the plot, which God in his mercy has defeated, had been accomplished. Conceive the company that was assembled, either as partaking of the friendly repast, or as deliberating on the affairs of state, and consulting with each other for the welfare of the nation: conceive of them as beholding the desolating instrument cast in among them, and ready in a few moments to execute its destined office: with what terror would they be filled! and, if a moment were allowed for an ejaculatory petition, with what ardor would they implore mercy for their souls! Thus will it be in every quarter of the globe. All, except the remnant, who, in the habit of their minds, have been dying daily, will be ready to "call upon the rocks and mountains to fall upon them, and to cover them from the wrath of the Lamb," whose judgment they dread.
But to that happy remnant another scene will open: for to them shall be revealed,
2. The establishment of a new and better state.
They, "according to God's promise, are even now looking for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness," and then shall that new state open to their view. In the bold and figurative language of prophecy, the Millennial state is sometimes described under these terms—and well it may be; since, when compared with the present state of things, wherein iniquity so awfully abounds, it will be indeed "a new creation." But the period here spoken of is contemporaneous with the final judgment; and, consequently, must refer to Heaven itself, where neither sin nor sorrow can ever dwell. That is the period of which John speaks, when he says, "I saw a new Heaven, and a new earth: for the first Heaven and the first earth were passed away … and there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defiles."
Contemplate the feelings of the godly at the moment that this glory bursts upon them. In vain shall we look for anything with which to compare it upon earth. Alas! the visions of the godly are not so bright; nor do their sublimest raptures make so deep an impression as do the terrors which are inspired by sudden and appalling danger. But, as contrasted with the feelings of the ungodly, we may conceive in some little measure their bliss. Let us picture to ourselves the Rich Man and Lazarus, entering at the same moment into the eternal world, the one beholding the abyss of Hell ready to swallow him up, and the other fixing his eyes upon his God and Savior, whose glory and felicity he is about to share. But
We shall contemplate these things to more advantage, if we view them in connection with,
II. The effect which the prospect of those events should produce upon us.
This the Apostle sets forth,
1. In a way of candid appeal.
We all look for these events; nor do any of us doubt but that they will come in due season. Let me then ask of all who are here present, "What manner of persons ought you to be?" Should you not be waiting for that period "in all holy conversation and godliness?" Should you not be "looking for it, and hastening unto it" with a holy eagerness, to meet "your God at his coming?" As for the things of this life, they should be as nothing in our eyes. Being so soon to part with them all, we should sit loose to them; as the Apostle says; "They who have wives should be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passes away." I well know, that, when such a state of mind is recommended by us, we appear to require more than is necessary. But I will venture to appeal to every considerate man, whether this be not the conversation that becomes us, when our God is coming to judgment; and when he has told us that "he will come as a thief in the night?" Would it not be madness to be dreaming of "peace and safety, until sudden and everlasting destruction come upon use?" The wise virgins were not wise in this respect, that, like the foolish virgins, they slumbered and slept. Happily for them, they had oil in their vessels with their lamps; or else, with the foolish virgins, they also would have been excluded from the nuptial feast. The true frame for all of us to be in, is that of ardent and affectionate expectation; "our loins being girt, and our lamps trimmed," and our whole souls as "those who wait for the coming of their Lord." Maintaining this frame, you may rest assured, that "the Lord Jesus Christ will confirm you to the end," and present you faultless before the presence of his Father's glory with exceeding joy."
2. In a way of affectionate entreaty.
"Beloved" brethren, "seeing that you look for such things, I beseech you be diligent that you may be found of God in peace, without spot and blameless." Think, if that day should come upon you unprepared; and, instead of going forth to meet a loving Savior, you should behold only an angry and avenging Judge; how terrible will this be! Lose not an hour then; but be diligent in seeking peace with God through the Son of his love. It is the blood of Christ, and that only, which can effect your reconciliation with God: and therefore lose not a moment in sprinkling it upon your souls; yes, let your holiest actions, as well as your more acknowledged sins, be purged with it from their defilement. Endeavor, too, to preserve a "spotless and blameless" conduct throughout your whole lives, being "sincere and without offence until the day of Christ." Let no allowed sin be found in you: but so "cleanse yourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, that you may perfect holiness in the fear of God," and be acknowledged by him as "Israelites indeed, in whom there was no deceit." This will doubtless require "diligence," but surely the occasion justly deserves all the care and labor you can bestow upon it. Can you doubt whether those, whose lives have been lately in such imminent peril, have taken precautions against any future surprise? Would they not be justly blamed, if they were to be as heedless of danger, as they were before they knew of the conspiracy that was formed against them? Be then on your guard. They, whatever attempts were made against them, might escape: but no possibility of escape remains for you. "Your God will come, even as a thief in the night;" and therefore I entreat you all to be diligent, that, "whether he come in the evening, or at midnight, or at cock-crowing, or in the morning," "you may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless."
I only add, "Account the long-suffering of God to be salvation." You have long been spared; and God is still forbearing to call you to your great account. "Beloved brethren," "despise not this goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering of your God; but let them lead you to repentance." Though the general judgment should be long deferred, your own particular doom will be fixed the very instant that you shall be summoned into the eternal world. Do not then delay until it be too late; but "today, while it is called today, harden not your hearts," lest God cut you off in your sins, and "swear in his wrath that you shall never enter into his rest."
Growth in Grace
2 Peter 3:17, 18. You therefore, beloved, seeing you know these things before, beware lest you also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
HOWEVER averse men are to receive warnings and exhortations from each other, there is, in reality, no greater proof of affection, than the administering of faithful cautions, and beneficial advice, to those whom we love. It is evident how much Peter's mind was warmed with affection towards his brethren, since he, no less than four times in this short chapter, addresses them by that endearing term, "Beloved." And how did he testify his love, but by guarding them against the dangers to which they were exposed, and by prescribing to them the most effectual means of deliverance and safety?
Let his word then be thankfully received by us, while we consider,
I. His caution against apostasy.
The wicked will take occasion from God's forbearance to question his remunerative justice—and even the godly need to be on their guard against the influence of this delusion. Certain it is, that they are liable to fall from their own steadfastness; and that, without the greatest vigilance, they will do so—But they "know" the certainty and awfulness of the day of judgment, and should therefore be afraid of meeting it unprepared. It will then be too late to rectify their "errors," or repent of their instability; and this consideration should make them doubly cautious against every occasion of falling.
II. His direction for preventing it.
The Christian should seek to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."
None, who have received grace, will be satisfied with the measure they have received; but they will be seeking to attain more and more. Nor will any, who know Christ, think they "know anything yet as they ought to know," they will perceive that there are in him "treasures of knowledge," which they have never explored, and which to all eternity will be progressively opening to their view.
Hence the Christian's duty is to be continually advancing in every part of the divine life; and to "make his profiting appear unto all men."
This will be his best, his only, preservative against apostasy.
Painting or statuary admit of intermissions in labor: such work, left for a season, may be resumed without any increased difficulty: but, in religion, every intermission is a positive injury: if the work proceed not, it declines: it always either waxes or wanes. Now every declension weakens the vital principle within us—restores to activity our dormant corruptions—exposes us to the assaults of our great adversary—and provokes God to withdraw his accustomed aid: consequently, our downfall begun, will, if not prevented by sovereign grace, be speedy, gradual, irretrievable. On the other hand, a progress in grace confirms every good habit—fastens round us the whole armor of God—keeps our enemy at a distance—and secures to us the continued protection of Heaven. Go on adding to your grace, says God, "and you shall never fall."
1. Reflect much and often on the day of judgment.
Through a forgetfulness of that day we become the sport of every temptation: but if we would frequently endeavor to realize the strictness of the scrutiny, and the severity of the judgment which will then take place, we should be more fortified against error in principle, or evil in practice. We must expect our Lord's coming, if we would be found ready on his arrival.
2. Be diligent in the use of all the means of grace.
It is in vain to hope that we shall grow in grace or knowledge, if we do not use the means which God has appointed. But, if we watch unto prayer, and conscientiously devote ourselves to him, he will "bless us with all spiritual blessings," "our faith and love shall grow exceedingly;" our "hope shall abound through the power of the Holy Spirit," and, from being "babes," we shall become "children, young men, and fathers in Christ," and, having attained at last "the measure of the full stature of Christ," we shall "enter into his joy," and be partakers of his glory for evermore.