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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
2 Peter 1

 

 


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Verse 4

EXCEEDING GREAT AND PRECIOUS PROMISES

‘Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.’

2 Peter 1:4

Why are these promises so great and precious?

I. Because of the source from which they come.—These promises flow from the highest source, they flow from Him Who is the fountain of supply to all His people. They are great because they are bestowed upon us by a great God. Let us have great thoughts of God. We often dishonour Him by expecting so little from Him.

II. Because of their intrinsic character.—How can they be described?

(a) They are free. ‘Whereby are given unto us.’ They are not earned, still less can they be deserved, but they are freely bestowed—free as the sunshine, free as the air. These great announcements of the mercy of God are offered without money and without price, they are within the reach of the humblest and feeblest believer, and since they are so there is no excuse for any man remaining destitute of them. He has but to put in his claim to enjoy them, and they are his.

(b) Further, these promises are not only free, but they are full, they are wonderfully complete.

III. Because of the purpose for which they are given.

(a) The negative side. Why are they given? To furnish a way of escape from sin. ‘Having escaped the corruption which is in the world through lust.’ And where is lust or evil desire? Not in the outward, material world. Sinful lusts are found in human hearts. This verse is a promise of deliverance from the corruption of the heart. ‘Having escaped.’ A wonderful escape indeed to be set free from the workings of that corrupt heart that has so often brought us into danger and difficulty. There is no real evil but sin. Sorrows, troubles, and trials are not necessarily evils after all—the only real evil is sin. It is sin that darkens our souls and covers us with shame; it is sin that separates men from God.

(b) The positive side. ‘That ye might be partakers of the Divine nature.’ Does some one ask, ‘What is the Divine nature?’ The answer is, ‘God is love.’ With that nature you can achieve the impossible—you can love your enemies. Are you aware that that is a Christian command? Have you ever thought it possible? Or do you think that Christ is like the Roman Emperor Caligula, who wrote his statutes so high up that the people could not read them, and then punished them for disobedience to them. No, ‘His commandments are not grievous.’ You say, ‘I cannot do it.’ I know you cannot, but—Christ in you can. Christ loved His enemies when He was upon earth, and prayed, ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’ What we want is the indwelling of God. There is no other remedy for the sins and miseries of men.

—Rev. E. W. Moore.

Illustrations

(1) ‘When Alexander the Great, distributing the spoils of war, allotted to one of his generals a valuable prize, some one standing by remarked, “Those cities are too great a gift for Parmenio to receive.” “They may be too great for him to receive,” replied the king, “but they are not too great for Alexander to give.” Alexander was a great king and he gave according to his greatness. He gave “according to the estate of the king” (Esther 2:18). If so, what may we not expect from the King of kings?’

(2) ‘Shall we not lean our weight upon the promises of God, yea upon Him Himself? Dr. John Paton, of the New Hebrides, in his wonderful missionary story, gives us a striking definition of faith. The natives had no word for faith; when they wished to say they did not believe a report, they said they did not hear it, by which they meant that though they heard it they gave no heed to it. That, however, was not a sufficient definition of faith. Many passages, such as “Faith cometh by hearing,” would be impossible of translation by such means, and the good missionary prayed and pondered, asking God to “supply the missing link.” One day as he was anxiously weighing the matter over at home an intelligent native entered and the missionary thought he would make another trial. “He sat upon an ordinary chair, his feet resting on the floor,” and he asked the native, “What am I doing now?” The native replied, “Koikœ ana, missi”—“You are sitting down, missionary.” “And what am I doing now?” said Dr. Paton, taking his feet off the floor and leaning back in the easy-chair with both feet on the lower rail. Immediately the man replied, “Fakarongrongo, missi,” meaning, “you are leaning wholly or all your weight, missionary.” “That’s it,” shouted the missionary, with an exultant cry. His prayer was answered. Yes. To trust is to lean all your weight.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

A GREAT INHERITANCE

How do these promises come to us? They are all of God; they have their source in His unchanging and eternal love. ‘I have loved Thee with an everlasting love.’ There is the fountain from which they flow, the great heart of God beating with an eternal love. And they flow down to us through Christ. All the promises circle round Him. They stand to Christ as the light to the sun, the stream to the fountain, the branch to the tree, fragrance to the flower. No Christ, no promise. We can truly say, ‘All to Christ we owe.’ They are all ‘in Him.’

I. They are described as ‘exceeding great and precious.

(a) Great in number. As well attempt to enumerate all the stars which hang out like beautiful lamps in the sky when night falls upon the earth as endeavour to reckon up the promises of God. Promises for the family of God in duty, in temptation, in trouble, in bereavement, in sickness, and in death; for the penitent—outside the inner circle of the children are those who border on the kingdom, but do not enter—there are promises to encourage these: ‘The Son of Man has come to seek and to save,’ etc.; for sinners—we might have thought that God would have passed these by, but no; He says, ‘Let the wicked forsake his way,’ etc. He would win them by promises of mercy and forgiveness.

(b) Great in breadth. They give to the true child of God all things needful for the earthly life; all things necessary for the spiritual life—pardon, purity, peace; and all things pertaining to the future life, culminating in that wonderful word, ‘We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.’

(c) Precious because of their value in supporting us while on earth and unfolding to us a grand future. They tell of pardon for all sin, strength against all temptation, comfort in every trial, a glorious resurrection and a happy immortality. Without the promises how dark, with them how bright, the future! As the aurora borealis shines on the cold and frosty sky, tinging it with light, flashing across it bright rays, cheering men, so the promises of God sparkle in the dark night of gloom and trouble, throwing brightness around the grave and illuminating all the future, making glad the children of God.

II. How they operate.—‘That by these ye might be partakers of the Divine nature.’ They are means to holiness. In Hebrews 12:10 we are told that chastisements are sent by God ‘that we might be partakers of His holiness.’ Both work for the same end—likeness to Christ, and, as a consequence, to God. We are not to be partakers of the Divine essence, nor are we to be absorbed into the Divine nature, but we are ‘to be holy as He is holy’; we become one with Him in the moral nature; and this oneness will increase more and more for ever, until in heaven, in a sense much higher than can be true on earth, we become ‘partakers of the Divine nature.’ The work of sanctification is gradual, and it may necessarily be so. The greatest things in nature take the longest time to mature. God gives us the promises to accelerate our progress in escaping the corruption that is in the world through lust. Men may be very slow to develop the blossoms of holiness, but let us have hope in God. Let us sometimes think of men in the light of that land where they shall be cleansed and purified through the sanctifying love of God in Christ Jesus; when, free from all temptation, purified from all alloy, they are ennobled and glorified, seated in heavenly places as ‘partakers of the Divine nature.’

III. How they are obtained.—‘Given unto us.’ They are given freely, but we must grasp them by faith. ‘Who through faith have obtained promises.’ Therefore, though free, they may be said to be conditional. Most of them have this condition attached to them: ‘For these things will I be inquired of by the house of Israel to do them for them.’ There are promises which need only the outstretched hand of faith to accept them: ‘Ask,’ etc.; others require importunate prayer: ‘Seek,’ etc.; others, importunate prayer combined with earnest effort: ‘Knock,’ etc. Some are like grapes in the winepress—only tread them and the juice will flow; others are like fruit-bearing trees from which the fruit does not readily drop—you must shake again and again before you obtain it. But whatever the condition may be, remember to fulfil it. Moses knew that God had given a promise to Israel—‘I will make thee a great nation,’ etc.—but he felt that in order to obtain it he and others must work and toil and practise self-denial; so he ‘refuses to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,’ etc., and led the nation on to inherit the promise.

These exceeding great and precious promises are our common heritage. No Church has a monopoly of them; they belong to one and all who will accept them. Seek for those that are applicable to your case.


Verses 5-7

PRACTICAL CHRISTIAN LIFE

‘And 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.’

2 Peter 1:5-7

Such words are evidently addressed to those who are professedly separated from an evil world. They have ‘escaped from the corruption of the world through lust.’ But the Apostle would have them making good their escape by putting as wide an interval as possible between their old life and their new. ‘Beside this’ escape, he says, there is something else, ‘make your calling and election sure’ by ‘working out your salvation with fear and trembling.’ ‘Giving all diligence’ complete the work which is begun. The Revised Version renders the words more exactly, ‘Yea, and for this very cause, adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply virtue,’ etc. The meaning is substantially the same. The idea is that of Christian progress.

I. There is the starting-point, faith.—If we are seeking a destination, the place from which we set forth is of the greatest importance. So in the Christian life. Faith must come first. Without faith—and it is essential that we should learn the lesson—it is impossible to please God.

II. From faith to virtue.—Christian virtue is moral manliness, fighting the battle of life with a brave spirit in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. No doubt the Apostle remembered that spiritual enemies and dangers surrounded Christians at all times. There is nothing more perilous than having faith without the support of manly life. The individual or the community which attends much to doctrine or to feelings, without moral earnestness, without practical endeavour, will be tempted to Pharisaic pride or inflated fanaticism. ‘Devils believe and tremble,’ but ‘Satan cannot love.’ What the world especially wants is not so much confident believers to dogmatise, but Christ-like men and women sending forth spiritual influence like streams of new life into the moral wilderness. The ‘virtue’ is something that all men can appreciate. It is not only light, but heat. It appeals not only to the head, but to the heart. When it touches men in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, it bids them rise up and walk, and spiritual miracles testify to the truth with a power which ‘none of the adversaries are able to gainsay or resist.’ For our own sakes, that we may be held up in a time when many fall, for the world’s sake, that the truth may be glorified in us, let us add to our faith virtue.

III. From virtue to knowledge.—In Bible language, knowing is not a mere cultivation of our human faculties, nor a mere receiving goods into a warehouse. In the Christian life, knowledge calls in the light of God into the treasury of a sanctified intelligence, whence the steward brings forth continually things new and old. ‘The entrance of Thy words giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple.’ ‘I have more understanding than all my teachers, because I have kept Thy word.’ In a busy age like ours, energetic life makes great demand upon us. The multiplication of efforts and interests is necessary in all departments of practical Christianity. But our activity is prone to dissipate itself for lack of concentration, to exhaust itself prematurely for lack of nourishment. Knowledge, when it is derived immediately from God, obtained by prayerful search into the Scriptures, thoughtful inquiry after the mind of Christ, diligent cultivation of fellowship with higher and holier minds than our own, wonderfully feeds the vital strength, lifts us up into the higher life.

IV. Faith, virtue, knowledge, these are the leading graces of the Christian character, and those which follow them in the Apostle’s exhortation are fruits of the Spirit, which abound wherever the Word of God strikes downward into the heart and comes forth into the life—temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity.

Illustration

‘If you would succeed in your efforts to make progress in the Christian life, every plan should be formed, every business entered upon, every work, engaged in, with prayer. Sir Matthew Hale once observed, ‘If I omit praying and reading a portion of God’s blessed Word in the morning, nothing goes well the whole day.’ The late Earl Cairns was known to go constantly from his knees to important meetings of the Cabinet. Such men were Christians indeed. They brought everything to the touchstone of their religion. And they brought their religion into everything. We want more effort in the Christian life, more decision for Christ, more determination to be separate from the world.’


Verse 19

THE DAY STAR

‘And the day star arise in your hearts.’

2 Peter 1:19

We should leave our subject very incomplete if we did not go on from ‘the day dawn’ to ‘the day star.’ It fills up the interim, and so fits the whole together—‘Until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.’ There is a difference between ‘the dawn’ and the ‘day star.’ The light of ‘the dawn’ is general. The ‘day star’ gives the thought a focus and fixes it to one spot. ‘The dawn’ is to the whole world; ‘the day star’ arises in our hearts. Now let us observe concerning ‘the day star.’

I. It ‘ariseth’ of its own free action, of its own will and power, of the very necessity of its being; in its very nature it ariseth. It must ‘arise.’ We do not make the day star ‘arise’; neither do we make Jesus come into our poor dark hearts. He does it of His own free grace and favour. He comes of His own necessity. Such is His love He cannot but choose to come. He ‘arises’ in your heart.

II. It is gradual.—‘He arises.’ He goes higher and higher. The light gets stronger, and we see Him more and more. ‘He ariseth,’ and with Him the dawn increaseth.

(a) And where the days are His, we know that there will be dayperfect day. It will not be all night here, but it will be day. The day has begun. Believe me, you who are struggling with darkness, with fears, with difficulties, with sins, with doubts, with shadows: let God now see that it is dark, and by that token more and more light will come.

(b) ‘The day staralready lies on the horizon, but be careful to know where it all is. Not in anything outside; not in forms; not in creeds; not in great learning; not in high intellect; not in knowledge; not in head work—it is a matter of the affections. ‘The day star ariseth in your hearts.’

III. The great question for every one of us is, ‘Is that day star yet arisen in my heart?—If not, why?’ Are you wilfully hindering it? Are you turning away from it? Do you not know it when it comes? I am inclined to think that many persons do not recognise the extent, or the preciousness, or the very effect of the light which is now in them. They scarcely dare to believe that some thought or feeling which they have is really the Lord Jesus Christ in their heart.

(a) ‘The day staris a little star, though it be the harbinger of great things. Perhaps the little thing which is now going on in your soul is ‘the day star!’

(b) There may be much that is still very dark after ‘the day star’ has ‘arisen.’ Believe it, recognise it! That desire you have—that sense of sin—that little feeble ray—is the sign of ‘the dawn’ of a better day, a brighter day, an eternal day. It is ‘the day star!’

(c) If you believe that, that faith will of itself go very far to make it ‘the day star.’ Accept it; honour it; sing praises to it. ‘The day star’ has ‘arisen!’ the day star has arisen! It will soon be all day.

—Rev. James Vaughan.


Verse 21

HOW THE SCRIPTURES WERE WRITTEN

‘Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.’

2 Peter 1:21

Here we have the apostolic definition of the work of inspiration, and by that definition we are taught that there are two distinct elements to be considered, the Divine and the human; the Divine, for the Holy Ghost moved the writers; and the human, for the communication did not come as a direct voice from heaven, but holy men spake as they were moved. In order therefore fully to investigate the subject, it will be necessary to examine: (1) the Divine element; (2) the human element; and (3) the combination of the two.

I. The Divine element.—I need scarcely say that this Divine element is the great subject of modern controversy. But I hope we may meet the points more especially agitated, by considering four questions:—

(a) Does it extend over the whole book? We have no right to pick and choose amongst the various portions of the Word of God. The whole is arranged as a whole for the accomplishment of God’s great purpose, the whole is included in ‘the Scriptures,’ and the parts are so interwoven one with another, and so beautifully fitted into each other by God’s Divine hand, that there will be found ultimately to be no intermediate path between receiving the whole as the Word of God, or sweeping away the whole and launching forth on a sea of scepticism, without a Bible, without a Saviour, and, as the last step, without a God.

(b) Is it equal? So far as the authorship is concerned, we find no distinction whatever. All alike is called ‘Scripture’; all ‘the Word of God’; all is included in the statement, ‘Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scripture might have hope’; and all is stamped by Divine authority in the words, ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.’

(c) Is it verbal? It is our privilege to regard the whole as one, to receive the whole with equal reverence, and to accept the whole, prediction, psalm, history, facts, thoughts, and words, as the inspired Word of the living God. But the question of verbal inspiration is not the one really at issue. For no one believes that, if there be any accuracy, it took place in the words only. It must have taken place in the thoughts, in the matter, in the facts. If, e.g., there is a variation between St. Matthew and St. Luke, no one supposes that they meant to convey the same thoughts, but made a mistake in accidentally selecting different words. The real point of the controversy is the infallible accuracy of the matter.

(d) Is it infallible? The testimony of our Lord Himself is sufficient. Witness two passages—the one referring to a nice point in a quotation from the Psalms (John 10:35); the other to the whole Word in its sanctifying power (John 17:17). Now what is His language? In the one, ‘The Scripture cannot be broken’; in the other, ‘Thy word is truth.’ With these statements of our Blessed Lord, I am content to leave the subject. In the words of Scripture, I believe that God Himself has spoken to man, and therefore, in the midst of all the world’s disappointments, and in all the failures of even the Church of God, we have here that on which the soul may calmly, peacefully, and fearlessly repose. And whether we look at history or prediction, at promises or judgments, at prophecies understood by those who uttered them, or language veiled in mystery until the Divine purpose is developed in history, we receive the whole as inviolable truth, for all has the stamp of the Spirit Himself, and all is given by inspiration of God. We receive it, we honour it, we submit to it, we acknowledge its Divine authority, and welcome with heartfelt thanksgiving its infallible promises. Yes, we receive it not merely with the deepest conviction of our most deliberate judgment, but we welcome it to our soul with all the deep feelings of a thankful heart, and say with the inspired Psalmist, ‘Thy word is very pure, therefore Thy servant loveth it.’

II. The human element.—But there is a human element in the book as well as a Divine. ‘Holy men spake as they were moved.’ The human authorship is as prominent and conspicuous as the Divine, and any theory of inspiration which excludes it is, I cannot but think, opposed to the facts of Scripture.

(a) There is distinctive character in the different writers. Compare St. Paul and St. John, St. Peter and St. James, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and you see the most transparent variety, a variety which renders it impossible to suppose that they were merely pens, machines, or copyists.

(b) There is the use of natural powers or gifts. St. Paul was a well-educated, intellectual man, with great reasoning powers, so he supported truth by argument. David was a poet, so he breathed out as the sweet psalmist of Israel the hallowed outpourings of a sanctified heart.

(c) There is the use of feeling. All the emotions of the human heart may be found in Scripture.

(d) There is the use of memory. Our Lord’s promise to His Apostles in John 14:26 applies clearly to this point, and shows that the gift of the Holy Ghost, so far from superseding memory, would quicken it, and give it the power of recalling with accuracy the words entrusted to it. ‘He shall bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.’

(e) There was also the use of personal experience, as, e.g., when St. John said, ‘The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory’ (John 1:14); and again, ‘That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you’ (1 John 1:1; 1 John 1:3).

(f) There was the diligent use of collected information. See St. Luke 1:1-3, where St. Luke does not claim to write original matter, but to have received it from those who from the beginning were eye-witnesses, and ministers of the Word.

III. The Divine and the human element.—How is the union to be explained?

(a) Not by supposing that the writers were mere pens, or machines. This is sometimes termed the mechanical theory, but it is clearly inconsistent with facts. Pens never think, argue, remember, weep, or rejoice, and all these things were done by the writers of Scripture.

(b) Not by supposing them to be mere copyists or amanuenses employed to write down the words of the Spirit, as Baruch took down the words of Jeremiah. This may have been the case when they received direct communication, as when Moses wrote out the ten commandments at the dictation of God; but it will not apply to inspiration, as it gives no scope for variety of character. The one dictating mind would be the only one to appear on such a theory.

(c) We will not attempt to explain it by constructing any artificial theories as to the action of the Spirit on the mind of men. Some have endeavoured to classify the modes in which they consider the Spirit may have acted, as, e.g., supervision, elevation, direction, and suggestion. All this may be right, and it may be wrong; for we are taught (Hebrews 1:1) not merely that God spake in divers times, but in divers manners unto the fathers by the prophets. But all such distinctions are unsupported by Scripture, and therefore we may leave them.

Remember that there are two channels through which God has manifested His will, viz. the incarnate Word and the written Word; and surely we are justified in expecting that there will be something of the same character in the two manifestations.

Rev. Canon Edward Hoare.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Peter 1:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/2-peter-1.html. 1876.

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