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Bible Commentaries

Smith's Writings

2 Peter 1

Verses 1-21


Life and Godliness

( 2 Peter 1 )

The first portion of the Epistle is occupied with two great themes: first, the life of practical godliness that will enable the believer to escape the corruptions that are in the world through lust; secondly, the certainty of the Kingdom of Christ which lies at the end of a life of godliness.

It is of the first importance that believers, young and old, should clearly recognise that the real safeguard against the corruptions of Christendom will be found, not merely in a life of great outward activity, still less in seeking to combat evil, but in living a life of godliness in communion with divine Persons and in the enjoyment of divine things.

(Vv. 1, 2). We learn from the first two verses that the apostle is definitely writing to those who have obtained “like precious faith” with the apostles. He is not appealing to sinners or mere professors, but to believers in the midst of the profession. “The precious faith” is the faith of Christianity, in contrast to Judaism with which these believers had been connected. This precious faith has come to us in perfect righteousness; and God can act in righteousness through our Saviour Jesus Christ.

He desires that grace and peace may be multiplied to us “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord”. The grace that enables us to escape the corruptions of Christendom will not be found in the mere knowledge of the evil, but in the knowledge of God and all we possess in Him. The peace that we need in the midst of lawlessness will not be found in seeking to combat and crush the lawlessness, but in being kept under the sway of Jesus “our Lord”, the One to whom we owe allegiance. The sheep escape the foils of the stranger by knowing the voice of the Shepherd. “A stranger will they not follow”, not because they know all the evil devices of the stranger, but because “they know not the voice of strangers”.

(Vv. 3, 4). It is possible for the believer to escape the corruptions of the world, which is under Satan's power, because “divine power” has given us “all things which relate to life and godliness”. We are also reminded that “all things” needed to live this practical life of godliness are linked with the “knowledge of Him that has called us by glory and virtue”. We have been called by the attractive power of the glory that is set before us, and by the virtue, or spiritual courage, that enables us to overcome the enemy on the way to glory. The glory before us is here viewed as being reached in the spiritual energy of a life of practical godliness.

In connection with this call to glory, God has given unto us “exceeding great and precious promises”. Calling and promise are ever found together. If God calls it is in view of some purposed blessing. Later in the Epistle the apostle refers to these promises, the promise of the Lord's coming, and the exceeding great promise of the “new heavens and a new earth” ( 2Pe_3:4 ; 2Pe_3:13 ). With these great and precious promises in view we have before us what God has before Him, and, in this way, partake of the divine nature. We look on to a scene where love and holiness will be in display in contrast to the lust and lawlessness of this scene. We partake of the divine nature in hating the evil of this scene and in delighting in the coming scene of holiness, love and joy. Thus we escape the corruption that is in the world through lust.

In these verses the apostle is not pressing the great fact that we have life - as he is writing to believers this is hardly necessary - but he is insisting upon the deep importance of living the life we have. Every believer has a new life, but we may well challenge our hearts with the question, Are we content to know that we have that life, or are we seeking to live the life? The fact of having life, blessed as this is, will not in itself enable us to escape the corruptions of this world. If we are to be preserved from lust and lawlessness we must live the life of practical godliness.

(Vv. 5-7). In these verses the apostle sets forth in order the qualities that mark this life of godliness. It is a life marked by faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly love and love.

The first great quality of this overcoming life is faith, so the apostle John can say, “This is the victory that overometh the world, even our faith”. Moreover, faith must have an object, and John goes on to show us this object, for he says, “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” ( 1Jn_5:4 ; 1Jn_5:5 ). So, too, the apostle Paul can say, “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” ( Gal_2:20 ). Faith turns from everything of sight and sense and looks to Jesus, in the realisation that He knows “all things” about me, and that He alone can keep me ( Joh_21:17 ).

Secondly, with our faith we shall need virtue, or spiritual courage, and energy (as the word implies). By this moral energy we shall be enabled to refuse the working of the flesh within, and to resist the devil without. To live a practical life of godliness in a world such as this will demand spiritual energy to deny ourselves, refuse the world, and resist Satan.

Thirdly, with virtue we shall need knowledge, by which we acquire divine wisdom to guide us in all our practical ways. Apart from the knowledge of God and His mind, as revealed in His word, our very energy may lead us into paths of self-will.

Fourthly, knowledge may puff up; therefore with knowledge we need temperance, or self-restraint. Without this self-restraint, knowledge may be used to exalt ourselves.

Fifthly, with self-restraint, by which we govern ourselves, we need patience with others. Without this patience, the very temperance by which we restrain ourselves may lead to irritation with others who are less restrained.

Sixthly, our patience is to be exercised with godliness, or the fear of God, otherwise patience may degenerate into compromise with evil. Godliness supposes a walk in communion with God by which our life is lived under His guidance and direction. Do we take all the changing circumstances of life that test our piety, whether prosperous or adverse, from God and to God?

Seventhly, with godliness that thinks of what is due to God we are not to forget brotherly love, or what is due to our brother. Godliness will lead to the affections flowing out to those who, being God's children, are our brethren.

Lastly, with brotherly love we are to have love - divine love - otherwise our love may be limited to our brethren, instead of flowing out in the largeness of the love of God to the world around. Moreover, brotherly love may easily degenerate into partiality and mere human affection. One has said, “If divine love governs me, I love all my brethren; I love them because they belong to Christ; there is no partiality. I shall have greater enjoyment in a spiritual brother; but I shall occupy myself about my weak brother with a love that rises above his weakness and has tender consideration for it”. Brotherly love makes our brother the prominent object. “Love” is a deeper thing, and has God in view, even as we read. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments”.

(Vv. 8, 9). In these verses the apostle sets forth on the one hand the blessed effects of having these qualities and on the other hand the serious consequences to the one in whose life they are lacking. A life marked by these qualities would be a full and abundant life, according to the Lord's desire that His sheep should not only have life but have it abundantly ( Joh_10:10 ). So too our knowledge of the Lord Jesus would not be barren and unfruitful. The life of practical godliness is one in which there is fruit for God and usefulness and blessing for man.

The one who lacks these qualities of the life of godliness, even if possessing life, will fall into spiritual blindness. Suffering from shortsightedness, he will only see the present things of this world and its lusts. He will not be able to see “afar off”. A heart occupied with its own will and the gratification of its lusts will no longer see “the King in His beauty” and “the land that is very far off”. Not only will such lose sight of coming glories, but he will forget the mighty work by which he has been purged from his sins. If we fail to live the life of godliness, we shall lose sight of the coming glory, we shall slip back into the world around, and fall into the very sins from which we have been cleansed.

(Vv. 10, 11). With this solemn warning, the apostle exhorts us to give diligence to live this practical life, and thus make our calling and election sure. We keep the consciousness of our election fresh in our souls, while giving no uncertain testimony to the world around. Moreover, thus living, we shall pursue our path without stumbling, and thus have an abundant entrance into “the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”.

(Vv. 12-15). The apostle is evidently conscious of how quickly we forget the great practical truths of Christianity, for three times in these four verses he speaks of putting the saints in remembrance. Possibly he is thinking of the experience on the resurrection day of the disciples, to whom the angel said, “Remember how He spake unto you”. Then we read, “They remembered His words”, showing that, though the Lord Himself had spoken of these great events, they had forgotten His words ( Luk_24:6-8 ).

So alas! how quickly we forget “the present truth”. The devil cares little how much truth we know, if only he can prevent us being established in “the present truth” - the truth of our present position before God, and all things that have been given to us that pertain unto “life and godliness”, together with the kingdom glories to which this life leads. In these things the apostle would have us established; and to the remembrance of these things he would stir us up. He knew that shortly the Lord's words, as to putting off his earthly tabernacle, would be fulfilled ( Joh_21:18 ; Joh_21:19 ), and therefore commits “the present truth” to writing, so that after his decease we would have the truth in a form always accessible. It is noticeable that he appoints no apostolic successor to maintain the truth, nor does he throw the saints upon the church: he gives them the written word of God as the sole authority for their belief.

(V. 16). Having, in these parenthetical verses, given us his motives for writing, he passes on to remind us of the reality of the kingdom glories to which we are going. In speaking of these glories he had not repeated fables cunningly devised by some visionary mind. He had spoken of things seen as well as of things heard. The apostles Peter, John and James were eye-witnesses of the majesty of Christ, the three forming a complete witness to His glory. They had known Christ in circumstances of weakness and humiliation: they saw Him too in His power and majesty. The scene on the mount of transfiguration was a foretaste of His coming, for His coming will be in power and majesty, a power that will change our bodies of humiliation into conformity to His body of glory according to the working of the power which He has even to subdue all things to Himself ( Php_3:21 ). Thus, on the mount, they not only saw the glory of Christ, but they saw the power of Christ by which Moses and Elias appeared in glory with Him, representatives of all the saints that will yet be with Him in the glory.

(Vv. 17, 18). Further, the apostle reminds us that in the mount they saw in Christ One who was to the delight of God the Father, One who was suited to the glory and greeted by heaven. In contrast to the dishonour and shame that men heaped upon Christ, He received from God the Father honour and glory. In contrast to all others who have come short of the glory, here was One who was greeted by “the excellent glory” as the beloved Son of the Father. Moreover, the voice which the apostle heard came from heaven; all heaven is in accord with the Father's delight in Christ. The whole scene lets us into the secret of heaven's delight in Christ, and of the preciousness of the Son to the Father. The honour and glory He receives comes “from God the Father”, “from the excellent glory”, and “from heaven”.

Well, indeed, may the apostle speak of such a spot as “the holy mount”. Above the earth, and apart from the world, we are permitted to share with the Father in His delight in Christ. It is not what Christ is to sinners: we learn that amidst the sorrows of the plain and the sufferings of the cross. Nor is it what Christ is to His tried saints: we learn that in the upper room. In the holy mount we learn what Jesus is to the Father, to glory, and to heaven.

(V. 19). We are now told that this wonderful scene on the mount makes the prophetic word more sure. There are many prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the kingdom glories of Christ; and to such, the apostle says, we do well to take heed “as unto a light that shineth in a dark place”. Morally, the world is in utter ignorance of God and of all that is coming. Prophecy gives us God's mind about the darkness, and of all that He is going to do to dispel the darkness, and that keeps us from losing our way amidst the darkness. It is well then to take heed to prophecy “as unto a light” for the present, and not simply as that which interests the mind by unfolding the future.

The prophetic word is filled out by the revelation on the holy mount. Prophecy tells us of earthly glories; the mount, while speaking of the same kingdom, tells us of its heavenly glories. Taken in conjunction with the scene on the mount, and rightly used, the prophecies of Scripture will lead to “the day dawn” and “the day star” arising in our hearts. The apostle does not speak of the actual day dawn upon the earth, nor of the day star appearing in the sky, but rather of the glory of that day and the glory of that Person having their rightful place in the heart. We do well to emphasise the three words “in your hearts”.

The time is soon coming when the morning without clouds will dawn and when the Sun of righteousness will arise with healing in His wings; but, before the Sun rises, the watchers of the night are cheered by “the day star”. While passing through a dark place it is our privilege to know Christ in the affections of our hearts before He is revealed to the world.

(Vv. 20, 21). In order that we may give due heed to prophecy, the apostle reminds us of its true character and origin. First, he tells us that prophecy looks beyond the immediate circumstances that called forth the particular prophecy. Were it not so, it would simply be of historical interest, with such moral warning as history can give. But we are told that the immediate historical fulfilment of prophecy by no means fulfils the scope of prophecy. The historical fulfilment often looks on to a larger fulfilment in the future. Further, any particular prophecy must be read in connection with other scriptures to learn its full meaning.

Moreover, we do well to take heed to prophecy because it came not by the will of man, but “holy men of God” spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. It is true that, on rare occasions, the Holy Spirit may use a wicked man to utter a prophecy, as in the case of Balaam in the Old Testament and Caiaphas in the New; but if so, He will make it plain that the prophet is a wicked man, who seeks to oppose, but is compelled to utter the truth. It is, however, the way of the Spirit to use “holy men”.

Summing up the great truths of this first chapter, we have set before us:-

First, the life of practical godliness with its different qualities:

Secondly, the practical effects that follow from living this life, as well as the serious consequences of failing to live the life of godliness:

Thirdly, the importance of having “the present truth” in remembrance:

Lastly, the coming power and kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious end of the practical life of godliness.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on 2 Peter 1". "Smith's Writings". 1832.