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to the Lord, his practical piety and his active disposition, are all reflected in it. How full is his heart of the hope of the revelation of the Lord ! With what earnestness does he exhort his readers to lift their
above the sufferings of the present to this future glory, and in hope of it to stand firm against all temptation! He who in loving impatience cast himself into the sea to meet the Lord, is also the man who most earnestly testifies to the hope of His return :-he who dated his own faith from the sufferings of his Master, is never weary in holding up the suffering form of the Lord before the eyes of his readers to comfort and stimulate them :-he before whom the death of a martyr is in assured expectation, is the man who most thoroughly, and in the greatest variety of aspects, sets forth the duty and the power, as well as the consolation, of suffering for Christ. If we had not known from whom the Epistle comes, we must have said, It must be a Rock of the church who thus writes : a man whose own soul rests on the living Rock, and who here, with the strength of his testimony, takes in hand to secure the souls of others, and against the harassing storm of present tribulation to ground them on the true Rock of ages.” The whole may be summed up by saying, that the entire Epistle is the following out of our Lord's command to its Writer, “ And thou, when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."
It will be observed that I have throughout this chapter abstained from introducing considerations and comparisons of the Second Epistle of St. Peter. I have done this, because I wished to keep the first Epistle clear of all the doubt and difficulty which surround the treatment of the other, which I have reserved entire for the following chapter.
- I cannot forbear, as caring above all for the spiritual life in God of the students of His holy word, recommending to them most strongly the commentary of our own Archbishop Leighton, as a devotional subsidiary to their critical and exegetical studies of this Epistle. To the mere scholar, it may not present much matter of interest; but to one who wishes that the mind of God's Spirit, speaking in the Apostle, may live and grow within his own breast, no writer on Scripture that I know furnishes a more valuable help than Leighton.
THE SECOND EPISTLE GENERAL OF PETER.
OBJECT, CONTENTS, AND OCCASION OF THE EPISTLE.
1. I THINK it best to approach the difficult question of the genuineness of this Epistle, by a consideration of the internal characteristics of the writing itself.
2. Its general object is nowhere so distinctly declared, as that of 1 Peter in v. 12 (ch. iii. 1, 2 being special). But the two concluding verses contain in them the double aim which has been apparent through the whole. In iii. 17 we read, “ Knowing before, take heed lest ye being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness," and in iii. 18,“ Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” These two, the prohibitory and the hortatory, are the objects of the Epistle. The former is the introduction to the latter, which, as might be expected, is the main and ultimate aim.
3. And this ultimate aim is apparent from the very beginning. Ch. i. 1-11 is devoted to fervent enforcing of it. Then i. 12–21, laying down the grounds on which the “knowledge" rests, viz, apostolic testimony and prophetic announcement, forms a transition to the description, ch. ii., of the false prophets and teachers who were even then coming in, and should wax onward in activity and influence. Then in ch. iii., the further error of false teachers in scorning and disbelieving the promise of the coming of the Lord is stigmatized and refuted, and the Epistle concludes with a general reference to the Epistles of St. Paul, as teaching these same truths, and as being perverted like the other Scriptures by the ignorant and unstable.
Throughout all, one purpose and one spirit is manifest. The “ knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” is ever the condition of salvation (ch. i. 8 ; ii. 20; iii. 18). Sometimes we have it on the side of knowledge of the Father who hath called us (i. 2, 3), sometimes on that of knowledge of the gospel as the way of righteousness (ii. 21: compare ii. 2). This knowledge is the central point of the Christian life, both theoretically and practically considered: it is the vehicle of the divine agency in us, and so of our highest participation of God (i. 3, 4): it is the means of escape from the pollutions of the world (ii. 20),—the crowning point of Christian virtues (i. 8),—the means of access into Christ's kingdom (i. 11).
And the side of our Lord's own Person and Office on which attention is fixed is not so much His historical life, as His "might" and "authority” in His exalted state of triumph (i. 16). The promises which are introduced refer to His second coming and kingdom (i. 4 ; iii. 4, 13).
4. And in this peculiar setting forth of the Christian life must we look for the necessary bringing out of the dangers of seduction by false teachers, and the placing of this knowledge and these promises over against it. The "false teachers " (ii. 1 ; " lawless men," iii. 17) are described partly theoretically, as denying the lordship of our glorified Saviour which He has won by Redemption (ii. 1, contrasted with His might, i. 16), and His promise of coming again (iii. 1 ff., contrasted with His presence, i. 16), -partly practically,—as slandering God's way of righteousness (ii. 2) and His majesty (ii. 10 ff.), -as disgracing their profession of Christian freedom (ii. 19), -as degraded by a vicious life (ii. 13),-full of lust and covetousness (ii. 14), -speaking swelling words (ii. 18), deserters of the right way (ii. 15 f.), traitors (ii. 17), seducing the unstable (ii. 14, 18),—the objects of God's inevitable judgment (ii. 3–9, 17),-preparing destruction for themselves (ii. 12, 19), and the more so, because their guilt is increased by the sin of apostasy (ii. 20—22).
5. In strong contrast and counterpoise against both sides of this heretical error stands their knowledge : against the former of them, in its theoretical aspect, as the right knowledge of the power and coming of Christ (i. 16: see above): against the latter, in its practical, as insight into the way of righteousness. This latter contrast is ever brought up in the description of the false teachers in ch. ii. Noah, as an herald of righteousness, is excepted from the judgment of the Flood (ii. 5): Lot, as "righteous," from that of Sodom (ii. 7, 8): God knows how to punish the “unrighteous," and rescue the "godly” (ii. 9): the heretics are described as having left the “straight way” (ii. 15), and the example of Balaam applied to them (ii. 15, 16). And accordingly it is the “ knowledge of Jesus Christ " which is to preserve the readers from “ corruption” (i. 4 ; cf. ii. 12), and from falling away (i. 10).
6. This main subject of the Epistle, which not only occasions the minute depiction of the adversaries, but also keeps together the whole, is, notwithstanding the parenthetical allusions and polemical digressions, in close coherence. The later portions are all based on the earlier. Thus ch. i. 16 ff. is the foundation of ii. 1 ff., iii. 1 ff. : thus the conclusion is in intimate connexion with the opening, the same union of “knowledge,” “grace,” and “peace,” being found in both (i. 2; iii. 14, 18): thus the words, “that ye fall not from your own stedfastness," iii. 17, refer back to i. 10, 12: thus the conditioning clause, “having escaped the corruption which is in the world through lust," i. 4, is remembered in the warning “bevare lest, being led away together with the error of the wicked,” &c., iii. 17; and the more detailed exhortation of i. 5—8 is compressed together in the shorter“ but grow in grace," &c., of iii. 17. Thus also the qualifying expression, “in the righteousness," ch. i. 1, is borne in mind in ii. 21 and iii. 13. So again, iii. 1 takes up again i. 13, and the words “ by the holy prophets” of iii. 2, refer back to i. 19. In fact, the contents of this short Epistle are bound together by the closest and most intimate connexion and coherence.
7. The above notices will make sufficiently plain the occasion of the Epistle. It was, the prompting of a holy desire to build up and confirm the readers, in especial reference to certain destructive forms of error in doctrine and practice which were then appearing and would continue to wax onward.
8. If we seek to fix historically the heretics here marked out, we find the same difficulty as ever besets similar enquiries in the apostolic Epistles. They are rather the germs of heresies that are described, than the heresies themselves as known to us in their ripeness afterwards. These germs ever found their first expansion in the denial of those distinctive doctrines of the Gospel which most closely involve Christian practice and ensure Christian watchfulness. First came the loosening of the bands which constrained man by the love of Christ and waiting for Him; then when true liberty was lost, followed the bondage of fanciful theological systems and self-imposed creeds. The living God-man vanished first out of the field of love and hope and obedience, and then His place was taken by the great Tempter and leader captive of souls.
9. So that when we enquire to which known class of subsequent heretics the description in our Epistle applies,—whether to the Carpocratians as Grotius believed, or to the Sadducees, as Bertholdt, or to the Gnostics, or Nicolaitans, as others, the reply in each case must be, that we cannot identify any of these precisely with those here described : that the delineation is both too wide and too narrow for each in succession: but that (and it is an important result for the question of the date of our Epistle) we are here standing at a point higher up than any of these definite names of sects: during the great moral ferment of the first fatal apostasy, which afterwards distributed itself into various divisions and sects.
FOR WHAT READERS IT WAS WRITTEN,
1. The readers are nowhere expressly defined. By ch. ii. 1, it would appear that they are identical with at all events a portion of those to whom the first Epistle was addressed. And to this the expression of
ch. i. 15,
on each occasion which offers," seems also to point: besides appearing to refer to some previous personal connexion of the Writer with his readers. This latter has frequently been assumed from ch. i. 16; but without necessity; see note there. All that is there assumed is that which is also stated in ch. i. 1, the delivery of the truths and faith of the Gospel to them by competent eye-witnesses, of whom the Writer (in office, but not necessarily in connexion with themselves) had
2. The address, ch. i. 1, is more general than that of the first Epistle: the words of warning and exhortation are for all who bore the Christian name. The dangers described were imminent throughout the then Christian world. And the expressions, whether of praise and encouragement, or of caution, must be taken as generally applicable to all believers in Christ, rather than as descriptive of the peculiar situation of any circle of churches at any one time.
3. Of necessity, the same general view must not be taken of the enemies of the faith here depicted. The city of God, with its bulwarks and towers, is ever the same: this was a special attack beginning to be made on it by a body of foes of a special character. The firmness and watchfulness which seem to be predicated of the readers (ch. i. 12, iii. 17, i. 19) are rather assumptions, certain to be true of true believers, than statements of objective matter of fact : whereas the depravities and errors of the heretics, as far as spoken of in the present, were things actually occurring under the Apostle's notice. This must be borne in mind, or we shall be liable to go wrong in our inference respecting those addressed.
4. On the other hand it must be borne in mind, that the Apostle's field of view, as he looked over the church, would naturally be bounded by the lines which marked out the cycle of his own observation : that those to whom he had before written would be on this second occasion nearest to his thoughts: and by consequence, that when he seems to address these readers as in the main identical with those, this inference must not be carried too far, but allowance made for the margin which may fairly be granted to each Epistle: for expanding the apparent limited character of the former address towards that more general reference which was sure to have been in the Apostle's mind: and for contracting the very wide address of this one merely by believing that in writing he would fix his thoughts on those whom he knew and especially cared for.
5. If it be said, as it has been, that we find no trace, in the former Epistle, of the peculiar kind of adversaries of the faith of whom so much is here said, and on the other hand nothing in this Epistle of the persecutions, which bore so considerable a part in the matters treated in the former one: the answer to both these is exceedingly easy. A very