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LIKE PRECIOUS FAITH
Peter seems to have had a liking for that word ‘precious.’ It is not a very descriptive one; it does not give much light as to the quality of the things to which it is applied; but it is a suggestion of one-idea value. It is interesting to notice the objects to which, in his two letters--for I take this to be his letter--he applies it. He speaks of the trial of faith as being ‘precious.’ He speaks with a slight modification of the word employed of Jesus Christ as being ‘to them that believe, precious.’ He speaks of the ‘precious’ blood of Christ. These instances are in the first epistle. In this second epistle we have the words of my text, and a moment after, ‘exceeding great and precious promises.’ Now look at Peter’s list of valuables; ‘Christ, Christ’s blood, God’s promises, our Faith, and the discipline to which that faith is subjected.’ These are things that the old man had found out to be of worth.
But then there is another word in my text that must be noted, ‘like precious.’ It brings into view two classes, to one of which Peter himself belongs--’us’ and ‘they.’ Who are these two classes? It may be that he is thinking of the immense difference between the intelligent and developed faith of himself and the other Apostles, and the rudimentary and infantile faith of the recent believers to whom he may be speaking. And, if so, that would be beautiful, but I rather take it that he is tacitly contrasting in his own mind the difference between the Gentile converts as a whole, and the members of the Jewish community who had become believers in Jesus Christ, and that he is repeating the lesson that he had learned on the housetop at Joppa, and had had further confirmed to him by the experience of Cזsarea, and that he is really saying exactly what he said when he defended himself before the Council in Jerusalem: ‘Seeing that God had given unto them the like gift that he did unto us, who was I, that I should withstand God?’ And so he looks out over all the Christian community, and ignores ‘the middle wall of partition,’ and says, ‘Them that have obtained like precious faith with us.’ I wish very simply to try to draw out the thoughts that lie in these words, and cluster round that well-worn and threadbare theological expression and Christian verity of ‘faith’ or ‘trust.’
I. And the first thing that I would desire to point you to is, what we learn here as to the object of faith.
Now those of you who are using the Revised Version will notice that there is a very slight, but important, alteration there, from the rendering in the old translation. We read in the latter: ‘Like precious faith with us through the righteousness, ...’ and that is a meaning that might be defended. But the Revised Version says, and says more accurately as far as the words go, and more truly as far as Christian thought goes, ‘them that have obtained like precious faith with us in the righteousness.’ Now, I daresay, it will occur to us all that that is a departure from the usual form in which faith is presented to us in the New Testament, because there, thank God! we are clearly taught that the one thing which faith grapples is not a thing but a Person. Christian faith is only human trust turned in a definite direction. Just as our trust lays hold on one another, so the object of faith is, in the deepest analysis, no doctrine, no proposition, not even a Divine fact, not even a Divine promise, but the Doer of the fact, and the Promiser of the promise, and the Person, Jesus Christ. When you say, ‘I trust so-and-so’s word!’ what you mean is, ‘I trust him, and so I put credence in his word.’ And Christianity would have been delivered from mountains of misconception, and many a poor soul would have felt that a blaze of light had come in upon it, if this had been clearly proclaimed, and firmly apprehended by preachers and by hearers, that the object of trust is the living Person, Jesus Christ, and that the trust which grapples us to Him is essentially a personal relation entered into by our wills and hearts far more than by our heads.
All that is being apprehended by the Christian Church to-day a great deal more clearly than it used to be when some of us were young. But we have the defects of our qualities. And this generation is accustomed far too lightly and superficially to say ‘Oh! I do not care about doctrines. I cleave to the living Christ!’ Amen! say I. But there is another question--What Christ is it that you are cleaving to? For our only way of knowing a person with whom we have no external acquaintance is by what we are told about him, and believe about him. And so, while we cannot assert too strongly that faith or trust in the living Christ, and not in a dogma, is the basis of real Christian life, we have need to be very definite and sure as to what Christ--which Christ--it is that we are trusting to? And there my text comes in, and tells us that faith is to grasp Christ as our righteousness; and another saying of the Apostle Paul’s comes in, who for once speaks of faith as being faith not only in the Christ, but in ‘His blood’:--
‘Jesus! Thy blood and righteousness,
My beauty are, my glorious dress.’
Brethren! you will not get beyond that. The Christ, trusting in whom we have life and salvation, is the Christ whose blood cleanses, whose righteousness clothes us poor, sinful men. So, while proclaiming with all emphasis, and rejoicing to press it upon all my brethren, that salvation comes by personal trust in the Person, I supplement and fill out, not contradict, that proclamation, when I further say that the Person by trusting in whom we are saved, is the Jesus whose blood cleanses and whose righteousness becomes ours. That righteousness is, in our text, contemplated as God’s, as being embodied in Christ’s, that from Him it may be imparted to us, if we will fulfil the condition on which alone it can be ours, viz., faith. It becomes ours, by no mere imputation which has not a reality at the back of it, but because faith brings us into such a vital union with Jesus Christ as that His righteousness, or at least a spark from the central flame, becomes ours, not only in reference to our exemption from the burden of our guilt, but in reference to our becoming conformed to the image of His dear Son, and created anew in righteousness and holiness. The object of faith is Christ, the Christ whose blood and righteousness cleanses and clothes sinful souls.
II. Let me ask you to look, in the next place, to what this text suggests to us about the worth of Christian faith.
Peter calls it precious. Consider its worth as a channel. There is a very remarkable expression used in the Acts of the Apostles, ‘The door of faith.’ A door is of little value in itself, worth a few shillings at the most, but if it opens the way into a palace then it is worth something. And all the preciousness that there is in faith comes, not from its intrinsic value, but from the really precious things which it gives into our hands. Just as the dyer’s hand may be tinged with royal purple, if he has been working in it, or a woman’s hand may be scented and made fragrant if she has been handling perfumes, so the hand of faith takes tint and fragrance from that with which it is conversant. It is precious because it is the channel by which all precious things flow into our hearts and lives. If Ladysmith is, as I suppose it is, dependent for its water supply on one lead pipe, the preciousness of that pipe is not measured by what it would fetch if it were put up to auction for its lead, but by that which flows through it, and without which Death would come. And my faith is the pipe by which all the water of life comes sparkling and rejoicing into my thirsty soul. It is the opening of the door ‘that the King of Glory may come in’; it is the taking down of the shutters that the sunshine may blaze into the darkened chamber; it is the grasping of the electric wire that the circuit may be completed. God puts out His hand, and we lay hold of it. It is not the outstretched hand from earth, but the down-stretched hand from heaven that makes the tottering man stand. So, dear friends, let us understand that salvation does not come as the reward of faith, but that the salvation is in the faith, because faith is the channel by which all God’s salvation pours into us. So there is nothing arbitrary in the way of salvation, as some shallow thinkers seem to propose, and there is no reason in the question, ‘Why does God make salvation depend upon faith?’ God could not but make salvation depend upon faith, because there is no other possible way by which the blessings which are gathered together into that one great pregnant word ‘salvation’ could find their way into a man’s heart but through the channel of his trust. Have you opened that channel? If you have not, you need not wonder it cannot be otherwise--that salvation does not come unto you.
Consider its worth as a defence. The Apostle in one place speaks about ‘the shield of faith.’ But there is nothing in the belief that I am safe to make me safe. It is very often a fatal blunder. All depends upon that or Him, to which or whom I am trusting for my safety. Put yourself beneath the true Shield--’The Lord God is a sun and shield’--and then you will be safe. Your way of running into the strong tower which alone, with its massive walls, protects us from all danger and from all sin, is by trusting Him.
Just as light things on a ship’s deck have to be lashed in order to be secured and lie still, you and I have to lash ourselves to Jesus Christ; then, not by reason of the lashings, but by reason of Him, we are fastened and secured.
Consider the worth of faith as a means of purifying. This very Apostle, in his great speech in Jerusalem, when vindicating the reception of the Gentiles into the Church, spoke of God as having ‘purified their hearts by faith.’ And here again, I say, there is no cleansing power in the act of trust. Cleansing power is in that which, by the act of trust, comes into my heart. Faith is not simple receptivity, not mere passive absorbing of what is given, but it is the active taking by desire as well as by confidence. And when we trust in Jesus Christ, His blood and righteousness, there flows into our hearts that Divine life which, like a river turned into a dung-heap, will sweep all the filth before it. You have to get the purifying power by faith. Ay! and you have to utilise the purifying power by effort and by work. ‘What God hath joined together, let not men put asunder.’
III. Now, lastly, note the identity of faith.
‘Like precious,’ says Peter, and, as I said, there may be defended a double application of the word, and two sets of pairs of classes may be supposed to have been in his mind. I do not discuss which of these may be the case, only I would suggest to you that from this beautiful gathering together of all the diversities of the Christian character, conception, and development into one great whole, we are taught that the one thing that makes a Christian is this trust. That is the universal characteristic; that is uniform, whatever may differ. Ah! how much and how little it takes to make a Christian. ‘Only faith?’ you say. Yes, thank God! not this, or that, not rites, not anything that a priest can do to you. Not orthodoxy; not morality; these will come, but trust in Christ and His blood and righteousness. England is a Christian country; is it? This is a Christian congregation; is it? You are a Christian; are you? Are you trusting in that Christ? If you are not; no! though you be orthodox up to the eyebrows, and though seven or seven hundred sacraments may have been given to you, and though you be a clean living man--all that does not make a Christian, but this does--’Like precious faith with us in the righteousness of God and our Saviour.’
Again, this great thought of the identity or uniformity of the one characteristic may suggest to us how Christian faith is one, under all varieties of form. There never has been in the Christian Church again, notwithstanding all our deplorable divisions and schisms, such a tremendous cleft as there was in the primitive Church between the Jewish and Gentile components thereof. But Peter flings this flying bridge across that abyss, and knits the two sides together, because he knows that away out yonder, amongst the Gentiles, and here in the little circle of the Jewish believers, there was the one faith that unifies all.
So, dear friends, there should be the widest charity, but no vagueness; for the Christian faith in Him which unifies and bridges over all differences, mental and theological, is the Christ by whose blood we are cleansed, with whose righteousness we are made righteous.
Again, from the same thought flows the other, of the identity of the uniform characteristic, at all stages of development or maturity. The mustard-seed and the tree, ‘which is greater than all herbs,’ have the same life in them. And the feeblest, tremulous little spark in some heart, just kindled, and scarcely capable of sustaining itself, is one with the flame leaping heaven-high, which lights up and cleanses the whole soul. So for those in advance, humility, and for those in the rear, hope. And something more than hope, for if you have the feeblest beginning of tremulous trust, you have that which only needs to be fostered to make you like Jesus Christ. Look at what follows our text: ‘Add to your faith, virtue, and to virtue, knowledge,’ and so on, through the whole linked series of Christian graces. They all come out of that trust which knits us to Him who is the source of them all. So you and I are responsible for bringing our faith to the highest development of which it is capable.
Alas! alas! are we not all like this very Apostle, who, in an ecstasy of trust and longing, ventured himself on the wave, and as soon as he felt the cold water creeping above his knees lost his trust, and so lost his buoyancy, and was ready to go down like a stone? He had so little faith, that he was beginning to sink; he had so much that he put out his hand--a desperate hand it was--and cried, ‘Lord, save me!’ And the hand came, and that steadied him, and bore him up till the water was beneath the soles of his feet again. ‘Lord! I believe; help Thou my unbelief!’
MAN SUMMONED BY GOD’S GLORY AND ENERGY
‘I knew thee,’ said the idle servant in our Lord’s parable, ‘that thou wert an austere man, reaping where thou didst not sow, and gathering where thou hadst not strewed. I was afraid, and went and hid my talent in the earth.’ Our Lord would teach us all with that pregnant word the great truth that if once a man gets it into his head that God’s principal relation to him is to demand, and to command, you will get no work out of that man; that such a notion will paralyse all activity and cut the nerve of all service. And the converse is as true, namely, that the one thought about God, which is fruitful of all blessing, joy, spontaneous, glad activity, is the thought of Him as giving, and not of demanding, of bestowing, and not of commanding. Teach a man that he is, as the book of James has it,’the giving God,’ and let that thought soak into the man’s heart and mind, and you will get any work out of him. And only when that thought is deep in the spirit will there be true service.
Now that is the connection in which the words of my text come; for they are laid as the broad foundation of the great commandment that follows: ‘Beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to your virtue knowledge,’ and so on, all the round of the ladder by which the Apostle represents us as climbing up to God. The foundation of this injunction is--God has given you everything. You have got it to begin with, and so do you set yourselves to work, and see that you make the thing that is yours your own, and incorporate into your being and into the very substance of your soul, and work out in all the blessed activities of a Christian life, the gifts that His royal and kingly hand has bestowed upon you. Take for granted that God loves you and gives you His whole self, and work on in the fulness of His possessed gift.
That is the connection of the words before us. I take them just as they lie in our passage, dealing first of all with this question--God’s call to you and me; how it is done. Now I do not know if I can venture to indulge any remarks about Biblical criticism, but you will perhaps bear with me just for a moment whilst I say that the people who know a great deal more about such subjects than either you or I, agree with one consent that the proper way of reading this verse of my text is not as our Bible has it; ‘Him that has called us to glory and virtue,’ but ‘Him that hath called us by--by his own glory and virtue.’ Do you see the difference? In one case the language expresses the things in imitation of the Divine nature to which God summons you and me when He calls us. That is how our Bible has taken it; but the deeper thought still is the things in that Divine nature and activity itself which constitute His great summons and invitation of men to His side; and these are the two, whatever they might be, which the Apostle here describes in that rather peculiar and unusual language for Scripture, ‘Who has called us by His own glory and His own virtue.’ I venture to dwell on these two points for a moment or two.
Now, first of all, God’s glory. Threadbare and consequently vague as the expression is in the minds of a great many people who have heard it with their ears ever since they were little children, God’s glory has a very distinct and definite meaning in Scripture, and all starts, as I think, from the Old Testament use of the expression, which was the distinct specific name for the supernatural light that lay between the cherubim, and brooded over the ark on the mercy-seat. The word signifies specifically and originally the glory of God, and irradiation of a material, though supernatural, symbol of His Divine and spiritual presence. Very well, lay hold of that material picture, for God teaches us as we do our children, with pictures. Take the symbol and lift it up into the spiritual region, and it is just this: the glory of God in its deepest meaning is the irradiation and the perpetual pouring out and out and out from Himself, as the rays of the sun stream out from its great orb, pouring out from Himself the light and the perfectness and the beauty of His own self revelation. And I think we may fairly translate and paraphrase the first words of my text into this: God’s great way of summoning men to Himself is by laying out His love upon them and letting the fulness of that ineffable and uncreated light, in which is no darkness at all, stream into the else blinded and hopeless lives and hearts of men. Then the other side of the Apostle’s thought seems to me--if we will only strip it of the threadbare technicalities associated with it--as great and wonderful, God’s glory and God’s virtue. A heathenish kind of smack lingers about that word, both as applied to men and as applied to God, and so seldom found in the New Testament; but meaning here, as I venture to say, without stopping to show it--meaning here substantially the same thing that we mean by that word energy or power. You know old women in country places talk about the virtues of plants. They do not mean by this the goodness of plants, but they mean the occult powers which they suppose them able to put forth. We read in one of the gospels that our Lord Himself said at one singular period of His life that virtue had gone out of Him, meaning thereby not goodness but energy. So I think we get a sufficient equivalent to the Apostle’s meaning if for the second two words of my text we read, ‘He hath called us by the glory, the raying out of his love, and He hath called us by the activity and the energy, the power in action of His great and illustrious Spirit.’ So you see these two things, the light that streams out of an energy which is born of the streaming light. These two things are really at bottom but one, various aspects of one idea. Modern physicists tell us that all the activity in the system comes from the sun, and in the higher region all the activity comes from the sun, and there is no mightier force in the physical universe than the sunlight. Lightnings are vulgar, noisy, and limited in contrast. The all-conquering force is the light that streams out, and so says Peter in his vivid picturesque way--not meaning the mere talk of philosophy or theology--the manifestation of the glory of God is the mightiest force in the whole universe. It is not like the play of the moonbeam upon an iceberg, ineffectual, cold, merely touching the death without melting or warming it, but it rays out like the sun in the heavens, and the work done by the light is mightier than all our work. By His glory, and by the transcendent energies which reside in that illustrious manifestation of the uncreated light, God summons men to Himself. Well, if that is anything like fair exposition of the words before us, let me just ask you before I go further to stop on them for one moment. If I may venture to say so, put off your theological spectacles for a minute, and do not let us harden this thought down with any mere dogma that can be selected in the language of the creeds. Let us try and put it into words a little less hackneyed. Suppose, instead of talking about calling, you were to talk about inviting, summoning, beckoning; or I might use tenderer words still--beseeching, wooing, entreating; for all that lies in the thought. God summoning and calling, in that sense, men to Himself, by the raying out of His own perfect beauty, and the might with which the beams go forth into the darkness. Ah! is not that beautiful, dear brethren; that there is nothing more, indeed, for God to do to draw us to Himself than to let us see what He is? So perfectly fair, so sweet, so tender, so strong, so absolutely corresponding to all the necessities of our beings and the hunger of our hearts, that when we see Him we cannot choose but love Him, and that He can do nothing more to call wandering hearts back to the light and sweetness of His own heart than to show them Himself. And so from all corners of His universe, and in every activity of His hand and heart and spirit, we can hear a voice saying, ‘Son, give me thine heart.’ ‘Oh! taste and see that God is good.’ ‘Acquaint now thyself with Him and be at peace; thereby good shall come unto thee.’
But great and wonderful as such a thought seems to be when we look at it in the freshness which belongs to it, do you suppose that that was all that Peter was thinking about? Do you think that a wide, general, and if you leave it by itself, vague utterance like that which I have been indulging in, would give all the specific precision and fulness of the meaning of the word before us? I think not. I fancy that when this Apostle wrote these words he remembered a time long, long ago, when somebody stood by the little fishing-cobble there, and as the men were up to their knees in slush and dirt, washing their nets, said to them, ‘Follow Me.’ I think that was in Peter’s estimate God’s call to him by God’s glory and by God’s virtue. And so I pause there for a moment to say that all the lustrous pouring out of light, all that transcendent energy of active love, is not diffused nebulous through a universe; it is not even spread in that sense over all the deeds of His hand; but whilst it is everywhere, it has a focus and a centre and a fire. The fire is gathered into the Son, Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ in His manhood and in His Deity; Jesus Christ in His life, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and kingly reign. The whole creation, as this New Testament proclaims Him to us, is God’s glory and God’s virtue, whereby He draws men to Himself. I cannot stay to dwell on that thought as I should be glad to do. Let me just remind you of the two parts into which it splits itself up; and I commend it, dogmatically as I have to state it in such an audience as this--I commend it to the multitudes of young men here present. The highest form of the Divine glory is Jesus Christ, not the attributes with which men clothe the Divinity, not those abstractions which you find in books of theology. All that is but the fringe of the glory. And I tell you, dear friends, the living white light at the centre and heart of all the radiance of the flame is the light of life which is conveyed into the gentle Christ. As the Apostle John has it, ‘We beheld His glory.’ Yes, and taking and binding together the two words which people have so often treated against each other, ‘We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,’ the highest light in Him that says, ‘I am the light of the world’--very light of very light. As a much maligned document has it,’very light of very light,’ the brightness of His glory, the irradiation of His splendour, and the express image of His person. And as the light so the power. Christ the power; power in its highest, noblest form, the power of patient gentleness and Divine suffering; power in its widest sweep, ‘unto every one that believeth’; power in its most wondrous operation, ‘the power of God unto salvation.’ So I come to you, I hope, with one message on my lips and in my heart. If you want light, look to Christ. If you want to behold that unveiled face, the glory of the Lord, turn to Him, and let His sunshine smite you on the face as the light smote Stephen, and then you can say, ‘He that hath seen Him hath seen the Father.’ My brother, the highest, noblest, perfect, and, as I believe, final form in which all God’s glory, all God’s energy, are gathered together, and make their appeal to you and me, was when a Galilean peasant stood up in a little knot of forgotten Jews and said to them, and through them to you and me, ‘Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ He calls by His glory and by His virtue.
Now still further. Confining myself as before to the words as they lie here in this text, let me ask you to think, and that for a moment or two only, on the great and wondrous purpose which this Divine energy and light had in view in summoning us to itself. His Divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and all things that pertain to godliness. Look at that! One of the old Psalms says: ‘Gather my saints together unto me, those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice; assemble them all before my throne, and I will judge my people.’ Is that the last and final revelation of God’s purpose of drawing men to Him? Is that why He sends out His heralds and summons through the whole intelligent creation? Nay, something better. Not to judge, not to scourge, not to chastise, not to avenge. To give. This is the meaning of that summons that comes out through the whole earth, ‘Come up hither,’ that when we get there we may be flooded with the richness of His mercy, and that He may pour His whole soul out over us in the greatness of His gifts. This is God, and the perpetual activity summoning men to Himself that there He may bless them. He makes our hearts empty that He may fill them. He shapes us as we are that we may need Him and may recreate ourselves in Him. He says, ‘Bring all your vessels and I will fill them full.’ Now look in this part of my subject at what I may venture to call the magnificent confidence that this Peter has in the--what shall I say?--the encyclopזdical--if I may use a long word--and universal character of God. All things that pertain to life, all things that pertain to godliness. And somebody says, ‘Yes, that is tautology, that is saying the same thing twice over in different language.’ Never mind, says Peter, so much the better, it will help to express the exuberant abundance and fulness. He takes a leaf out of his brother Paul’s book. He is often guilty when he speaks of God’s gifts of that same sin of tautology, as for instance, ‘Now unto Him who is able to do exceeding, abundantly, above all’--there are four of them--’all that we can ask or think.’ Yes, in all forms language is but faint and feeble, weak and poor in the presence of that great miracle of a love that passeth knowledge and that we may know the heights and depths. And so says our Apostle, ‘All things that pertain to life, all things that pertain to godliness.’ The whole circle all round, all the 360 degrees of it, God’s love will come down and lie on the top of it as it were, superimposed, so that there should not be a single gift where there is a flaw or a defect. Everything you want of life, everything you want for godliness. Yes, of course, the gift must bear some kind of proportion to the giver. You do not expect a millionaire to put down half a crown to a subscription list if he gives anything at all. And God says to you and me, ‘Come and look at My storehouses, count if you can those golden vases filled with treasure, look at those massive ingots of bullion, gaze into the vanishing distances of the infiniteness of My nature and of My possessions, and then listen to Me. I give thee Myself--Myself, that ye may be filled with all the fulness of God. All things that pertain to life, all things that pertain to godliness. But I cannot pass on from this part of my subject without venturing one more remark. It is this: I do not suppose it is too minute, verbal criticism. This great encyclopזdiacal gift is represented in my text, not as a thing that you are going to get, Christian men and women, but as a thing that you have gotten. And any of you that are able to test the correctness of my assertion will see I have thought the form of language used in the original is such as to point still more specifically than in our translation, to some one definite act in the past in which all that fulness of glory and virtue of life and godliness was given to us men. Is there any doubt as to what that is? We talk sometimes as if we had to ask God to give us more. God cannot give you any more than He gave you nineteen hundred years ago. It was all in Christ. Get a very vulgar illustration which is altogether inadequate for a great many purposes, but may serve for one. Suppose some man told you that there was a thousand pounds paid to your credit at a London bank, and that you were to get the use of it as you drew cheques against it. Well, the money is there, is it not? The gift is given, and yet for all that you may be dying, and half-dead, a pauper. I was reading a book only the other day which contained a story that comes in here. An Arctic expedition, some years ago, found an ammunition chest that Commander Parry had left fifty years ago, safe under a pile of stones. The wood of the chest had not rotted yet; the provisions inside of it were perfectly sweet, and good, and eatable. There it had lain all those years. Men had died of starvation within arm’s length of it. It was there all the same. And so, if I might venture to vulgarise the great theme that I try to speak about, God has given us His Son, and in Him, all that pertains to life and all that pertains to godliness. My brother, take the things that are freely given to you of God.
And so that leads me to one last word, and it shall only be a word, in regard to what our text tells us of the way by which on our side we can yield to this Divine call, and receive this Divine fulness of gifts, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory. Through the knowledge! Yes, well there are two kinds of knowledge, are there not? There is the knowledge by which you know a book, for instance, on the subject of study, and there is the knowledge by which you know one another; and the kind of thing I mean when I say, ‘I know mathematics,’ is entirely different to what I mean when I say, ‘I know John, Thomas,’ or whoever he may be. And I venture to say that the knowledge, which is the condition of receiving the whole fulness of the glory and the whole fulness of the light, is a great deal more like the thing we mean when we talk of knowing one another than when we talk of knowing a book. That is to say, a man may have all the creeds and confessions of faith clear in his head, and yet none of the life, none of the light, none of the power, and none of the godliness. But if we know Him as our brother, know Him as our friend, our sacrifice, our Redeemer, Lord, all in all; know Him as our heaven, our righteousness, and our strength; if we know Him with the knowledge which is possession; if we know Him with the knowledge which, as the profoundest of the Apostles says, ‘hath the truth in life’; if we know Him, see then, ‘This is life eternal, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.’
Now, friends, my words are done. God is calling you. No, let us put it a little more definitely than that--God is calling thee. There is no speech nor language where His voice is not heard. His words are gone out to the end of the world, and have reached even thyself. He calls thee, oh! brother, sister, friend, that you and I may turn round to Him and say, ‘When Thou saidst, Seek ye my face, my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.’ Amen.
PARTAKERS OF THE DIVINE NATURE
‘Partakers of the Divine nature.’ These are bold words, and may be so understood as to excite the wildest and most presumptuous dreams. But bold as they are, and startling as they may sound to some of us, they are only putting into other language the teaching of which the whole New Testament is full, that men may, and do, by their faith, receive into their spirits a real communication of the life of God. What else does the language about being ‘the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty’ mean? What else does the teaching of regeneration mean? What else mean Christ’s frequent declarations that He dwells in us and we in Him, as the branch in the vine, as the members in the body? What else does ‘he that is joined to the Lord in one spirit’ mean? Do not all teach that in some most real sense the very purpose of Christianity, for which God has sent His Son, and His Son has come, is that we, poor, sinful, weak, limited, ignorant creatures as we are, may be lifted up into that solemn and awful elevation, and receive in our trembling and yet strengthened souls a spark of God? ‘That ye may be partakers of the Divine nature’ means more than ‘that you may share in the blessings which that nature bestows.’ It means that into us may come the very God Himself.
I. So I want you to look with me, first, at this lofty purpose which is here presented as being the very aim and end of God’s gift in the gospel.
The human nature and the Divine are both kindred and contrary. And the whole Bible is remarkable for the emphasis with which it insists upon both these elements of the comparison, declaring, on the one hand, as no other religion has ever declared, the supreme sovereign, unapproachable elevation of the infinite Being above all creatures, and on the other hand, holding forth the hope, as no other religion has ever ventured to do, of the possible union of the loftiest and the lowest, and the lifting of the creature into union with God Himself. There are no gods of the heathen so far away from their worshippers, and there are none so near them, as our God. There is no god that men have bowed before, so unlike the devotee; and there is no system which recognises that, as is the Maker so are the made, in such thorough-going fashion as the Bible does. The arched heaven, though high above us, it is not inaccessible in its serene and cloudless beauty, but it touches earth all round the horizon, and man is made in the image of God.
True, that divine nature of which the ideal man is the possessor has faded away from humanity. But still the human is kindred with the divine. The drop of water is of one nature with the boundless ocean that rolls shoreless beyond the horizon, and stretches plumbless into the abysses. The tiniest spark of flame is of the same nature as those leaping, hydrogen spears of illuminated gas that spring hundreds of thousands of miles high in a second or two in the great central sun.
And though on the one hand there be finiteness and on the other infinitude: though we have to talk, in big words, of which we have very little grasp, about ‘Omniscience,’ and ‘Omnipresence,’ and ‘Eternity,’ and such like, these things may be deducted and yet the Divine nature may be retained; and the poor, ignorant, finite, dying creature, that perishes before the moth, may say, ‘I am kindred with Him whose years know no end; whose wisdom knows no uncertainty nor growth; whose power is Omnipotence; and whose presence is everywhere.’ He that can say, ‘I am,’ is of the same nature as His whose mighty proclamation of Himself is ‘I AM THAT I AM.’ He who can say ‘I will’ is of the same nature as He who willeth and it is done.
But that kindred, belonging to every soul of man, abject as well as loftiest, is not the ‘partaking’ of which my text speaks; though it is the basis and possibility of it; for my text speaks of men as ‘becoming partakers,’ and of that participation as the result, not of humanity, but of God’s gift of ‘exceeding great and precious promises.’ That creation in the image and likeness of God, which is represented as crowned by the very breath of God breathed into man’s nostrils implies not only kindred with God in personality and self-conscious will, but also in purity and holiness. The moral kindred has darkened into unlikeness, but the other remains. It is not the gift here spoken of, but it supplies the basis which makes that gift possible. A dog could not become possessor of the Divine nature, in the sense in which my text speaks of it. Any man, however bad, however foolish, however degraded, abject and savage, can become a partaker of it, and yet no man has it without something else than the fact of his humanity.
What, then, is it? No mere absorption, as extravagant mystics have dreamed, into that Divine nature, as a drop goes back into the ocean and is lost. There will always be ‘I’ and ‘thou,’ or else there were no blessedness, nor worship, nor joy. We must so partake of the Divine nature as that the bounds between the bestowing God and the partaking man shall never be broken down. But that being presupposed, union as close as is possible, the individuality of the giver and the receiver being untampered with is the great hope that all Christian men and women ought consciously to cherish.
Only mark, the beginning of the whole is the communication of a Divine life which is manifested mainly in what we call moral likeness. Or to put it into plain words, the teaching of my text is no dreamy teaching, such as an eastern mystic might proclaim, of absorption into an impersonal Divine. There is no notion here of any partaking of these great though secondary attributes of the Divine mind which to many men are the most Godlike parts of His nature. But what my text mainly means is, you may, if you like, become ‘holy as God is holy.’ You may become loving as God is loving, and with a breath of His own life breathed into your hearts. The central Divinity in the Divine, if I may so say, is the amalgam of holiness and love. That is God; the rest is what belongs to God. God has power; God is love. That is the regnant attribute, the spring that sets everything agoing. And so, when my text talks about making us all, if we will, partakers of a Divine nature, what it means, mainly, is this--that into every human spirit there may pass a seed of Divine life which will unfold itself there in all purity of holiness, in all tenderness and gentleness of love. ‘God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.’ Partakers we shall be in the measure in which by our faith we have drawn from Him the pure and the hearty love of whatever things are fair and noble; the measure in which we love righteousness and hate iniquity.
And then remember also that this lofty purpose which is here set forth is a purpose growingly realised in man. The Apostle puts great stress upon that word in my text, which, unfortunately, is not rendered adequately in our Bible, ‘that by these ye might become partakers of the Divine nature.’ He is not talking about a being, but about a becoming. That is to say, God must ever be passing, moment by moment, into our hearts if there is to be anything godly there. No more certainly must this building, if we are to see, be continually filled with light-beams that are urged from the central sun by its impelling force than the spirit must be receiving, by momentary communication, the gift of life from God if it is to live. Cut off the sunbeam from the sun and it dies, and the house is dark; cut off the life from the root and it withers, and the creature shrivels. The Christian man lives only by continual derivation of life from God; and for ever and ever the secret of his being and of his blessedness is not that he has become a possessor, but that he has become a partaker, of the Divine nature.
And that participation ought to, and will, be a growing thing. By daily increase we shall be made capable of daily increase. Life is growth; the Divine life in Him is not growth, but in us it does grow, and our infancy will be turned into youth; and our youth into maturity; and, blessed be His name, the maturity will be a growing one, to which grey hairs and feebleness will never come, nor a term ever be set. More and more of God we may receive every day we live, and through the endless ages of eternity; and if we have Him in our hearts, we shall live as long as there is anything more to pass from God to us. Until the fountain has poured its whole fulness into the cistern, the cistern will never be broken. He who becomes partaker of the Divine nature can never die. So as Christ taught us the great argument for immortality is the present relation between God and us, and the fact that He is the God of Abraham points to the resurrection life.
II. Look, in the second place, at the costly and sufficient means employed for the realisation of this great purpose. ‘He hath given to us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these ye might become partakers,’ etc.
Of course the mere words of a promise will not communicate this Divine life to men’s souls. ‘Promises’ here must necessarily, I think, be employed in the sense of fulfilment of the promises. And so we might think of all the great and wondrous words which God has spoken in the past, promises of deliverance, of forgiveness, and the like; but I am rather disposed to believe that the extreme emphasis of the epithets which the Apostle selects to describe these promised things now fulfilled suggests another interpretation.
I believe that by these ‘exceeding great and precious promises’ is meant the unspeakable gift of God’s own Son, and the gift therein and thereafter of God’s life-giving Spirit. For is not this the meaning of the central fact of Christianity, the incarnation--that the Divine becomes partaker of the human in order that the human may partake of the Divine? Is not Christ’s coming the great proof that however high the heavens may stretch above the flat, sad earth, still the Divine nature and the human are so kindred that God can enter into humanity and be manifest in the flesh? Contrariety vanishes; the difference between the creature and the Creator disappears. These mere distinctions of power and weakness, of infinitude and finiteness, of wisdom and of ignorance, of undying being and decaying life, vanish, as of secondary consequence, when we can say, ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.’ There can be no insuperable obstacle to man’s being lifted up into a union with the Divine, since the Divine found no insuperable obstacle in descending to enter into union with the human.
So then, because God has given us His Son it is clear that we may become partakers of the Divine nature; inasmuch as He, the Divine, has become partaker of the children’s flesh and blood, and in that coming of the Divine into the human there was brought the seed and the germ of a life which can be granted to us all. Brethren! there is one way, and one way only, by which any of us can partake of this great and wondrous gift of a share in God, and it is through Jesus Christ. ‘No man hath ascended up into Heaven,’ nor ever will either climb or fly there, ‘save He that came down from Heaven; even the Son of man which is in Heaven.’ And in Him we may ascend, and in Him we may receive God.
Christ is the true Prometheus, if I may so speak, who brings to earth in the fragile reed of his humanity the sacred and immortal fire which may be kindled in every heart. Open your hearts to Him by faith and He will come in, and with Him the rejoicing life which will triumph over the death of self and sin, and give to you a share in the nature of God.
III. Let me say, lastly, that this great text adds a human accompaniment of that Divine gift: ‘Having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.’
The only condition of receiving this Divine nature is the opening of the heart by faith to Him, the Divine human Christ, who is the bond between men and God, and gives it to us. But that condition being presupposed, this important clause supplies the conduct which attends and attests the possession of the Divine nature.
Notice, here is human nature without God, described as ‘the corruption that is in the world in lust.’ It is like a fungus, foul-smelling, slimy, poisonous; whose growth looks rather the working of decay than of vitality. And, says my text, that is the kind of thing that human nature is if God is not in it. There is an ‘either’ and ‘or’ here. On the one hand we must have a share in the Divine nature, or, on the other, we have a share in the putrescence ‘that is in the world through lust.’
Corruption is initial destruction, though of course other forms of life may come from it; destruction is complete corruption. The word means both. A man either escapes from lust and evil, or he is destroyed by it.
And the root of this rotting fungus is ‘in lust,’ which word, of course, is used in a much wider meaning than the fleshly sense in which we employ it in modern times. It means ‘desire’ of all sorts. The root of the world’s corruption is my own and my brothers’ unbridled and godless desires.
So there are two states--a life plunged in putridity, or a heart touched with the Divine nature. Which is it to be? It cannot be both. It must be one or the other. Which?
A man that has got the life of God, in however feeble measure, in him, will flee away from this corruption like Lot out of Sodom. And how will he flee out of it? By subduing his own desires; not by changing position, not by shirking duty, not by withdrawing himself into unwholesome isolation from men and men’s ways. The corruption is not only ‘in the world,’ so that you could get rid of it by getting out of the world, but it is ‘in the world in lust,’ so that you carry the fountain of it within yourself. The only way to escape is by no outward flight, but by casting out the unclean thing from our own souls.
Depend upon it, the measure in which a man has the love of God in him can be very fairly estimated by the extent to which he is doing this. There is a test for you Christian people. There have been plenty of men and women in all ages of the Church, and they abound in this generation, who will make no scruple of declaring that they possess a portion of this Divine Spirit and a spark of God in their souls. Well then, I say, here is the test, bring it all to this--does that life within you cast out your own evil desires? If it does, well; if it does not, the less you say about Christ in your hearts the less likely you will be to become either a hypocrite, or a self-deceiver.
And so, brethren, remember, one last word, viz., that whilst on the one hand whoever has the life of God in his heart will be fleeing from this corruption, on the other hand you can weaken--ay! and you can kill the Divine life by not so fleeing. You have got it, if you have it, to nourish, to cherish, and to do that most of all by obeying it. If you do not obey, and if habitually you keep the plant with all its buds picked off one after another as they begin to form, you will kill it sooner or later. You Christian men and women take warning. God has given you Jesus Christ. It was worth while for Christ to live; it was worth while for Christ to die, in order that into the souls of all sinful, God-forgetting, devil-following men there might pass this Promethean spark of the true fire.
You get it, if you will, by simple faith. You will not keep it unless you obey it. Mind you do not quench the Holy Spirit, and extinguish the very life of God in your souls.
THE POWER OF DILIGENCE
It seems to me very like Peter that there should be so much in this letter about the very commonplace and familiar excellence of diligence. He over and over again exhorts to it as the one means to the attainment of all Christian graces, and of all the blessedness of the Christian life. We do not expect fine-spun counsels from a teacher whose natural bent is, like his, but plain, sturdy, common sense, directed to the highest matter, and set aglow by fervent love to his Lord. The Apostle paints himself, and his own way of Christian living, when he thus frequently exhorts his brethren to ‘give all diligence.’ He says in this same chapter that he himself will ‘give diligence [endeavour, in Authorised Version] that they may be able after his decease to have these things always in remembrance.’ We seem to see Peter, not much accustomed to wield a pen, sitting down to what he felt a somewhat difficult task, and pointing the readers to his own example as an instance of the temper which they must cherish if they are to make anything of their Christian life. ‘Just as I labour for your sakes at this unfamiliar work of writing, so do you toil at perfecting your Christian graces.’
Now it strikes me that we may gain some instruction if we throw together the various objects to which in Scripture, and especially in this letter, we are exhorted to direct this virtue of diligence, and mark how comprehensive its range, and how, for all beauty of character and progress in the Divine life, it is regarded as an indispensable condition. Let us then look, first, at the homely excellence that is the master-key to all Christian maturity and grace, and then at the various fields in which we are to apply it.
I. Now as to the homely virtue itself, ‘giving all diligence.’
We all know what ‘diligence’ means, but it is worth while to point out that the original meaning of the word is not so much diligence as haste. It is employed, for instance, to describe the eager swiftness with which the Virgin went to Elizabeth after the angel’s salutation and annunciation. It is the word employed to describe the murderous hurry with which Herodias came rushing in to the king to demand John the Baptist’s head. It is the word with which the Apostle, left solitary in his prison, besought his sole trusty companion Timothy to ‘make haste so as to come to him before winter.’ Thus, the first notion in the word is haste, which crowds every moment with continuous effort, and lets no hindrances entangle the feet of the runner. Wise haste has sometimes to be content to go slowly. ‘Raw haste’ is ‘half sister to delay.’ When haste degenerates into hurry, and becomes agitation, it is weakness, not strength; it turns out superficial work, which has usually to be pulled to pieces and done over again, and it is sure to be followed by reaction of languid idleness. But the less we hurry the more should we hasten in running the race set before us.
But with this caution against spurious haste, we cannot too seriously lay to heart the solemn motives to wise and well-directed haste. The moments granted to any of us are too few and precious to let slip unused. The field to be cultivated is too wide and the possible harvest for the toiler too abundant, and the certain crop of weeds in the sluggard’s garden too poisonous, to allow dawdling to be considered a venial fault. Little progress will be made if we do not work as feeling that ‘the night is far spent, the day is at hand,’ or as feeling the apparently opposite but really identical conviction, ‘I must work the works of Him that sent me while it is day. The night cometh when no man can work.’ The day of full salvation, repose, and blessedness is near dawning. The night of weeping, the night of toil, is nearly past. By both aspects of this brief life we should be spurred to haste.
The first element, then, in Christian diligence is economy of time as of most precious treasure, and the avoidance, as of a pestilence, of all procrastination. ‘To-morrow and to-morrow’ is the opiate with which sluggards and cowards set conscience asleep, and as each to-morrow becomes to-day it proves as empty of effort as its predecessors, and, when it has become yesterday, it adds one more to the solemn company of wasted opportunities which wait for a man at the bar of God. ‘All their yesterdays have lighted’ such idlers ‘to dusty death,’ because in each they were saying, ‘to-morrow we will begin the better course,’ instead of beginning it to-day. ‘Now is the accepted time.’ ‘Wherefore, giving all haste, add to your faith.’
Another of the phases of the virtue, which Peter here regards as sovereign, is represented in our translation of the word by ‘earnestness,’ which is the parent of diligence. Earnestness is the sentiment, of which diligence is the expression. So the word is frequently translated. Hence we gather that no Christian growth is possible unless a man gives his mind to it. Dawdlers will do nothing. There must be fervour if there is to be growth. The heated bar of iron will go through the obstacle which the cold one will never penetrate. We must gather ourselves together under the impulse of an all-pervading and noble earnestness, too deep to be demonstrative, and which does not waste itself in noise, but settles down steadily to work. The engine that is giving off its steam in white puffs is not working at its full power. When we are most intent we are most silent. Earnestness is dumb, and therefore it is terrible.
Again we come to the more familiar translation of the word as in the text. ‘Diligence’ is the panacea for all diseases of the Christian life. It is the homely virtue that leads to all success. It is a great thing to be convinced of this, that there are no mysteries about the conditions of healthy Christian living, but that precisely the same qualities which lead to victory in any career to which a man sets himself do so in this; that, on the one hand, we shall never fail if in earnest and saving the crumbs of moments, we give ourselves to the work of Christian growth; and that on the other hand, no fine emotions, no select moments of rapture and communion will ever avail to take the place of the dogged perseverance and prosaic hard work which wins in all other fields; and wins, and is the only thing that does win, in this one too. If you want to be a strong Christian--that is to say, a happy man--you must bend your back to the work and ‘give all diligence.’ Nobody goes to heaven in his sleep. No man becomes a vigorous Christian by any other course than ‘giving all diligence.’ It is a very lowly virtue. It is like some of the old wives’ recipes for curing diseases with some familiar herb that grows at every cottage door. People will not have that, but if you bring them some medicine from far away, very rare and costly, and suggest to them some course out of the beaten rut of ordinary, honest living, they will jump at that. Quackery always deals in mysteries and rare things. The great physician cures diseases with simples that grow everywhere. A pennyworth of some familiar root will cure an illness that nothing else will touch. It is a homely virtue, but if in its homeliness we practised it, this Church and our own souls would wear a different face from what it and they do to-day.
II. Note the wide field of action for this homely grace.
I can do nothing more--nor is it necessary that I should--than put before your mind, in a sentence or two, the various applications of it which our letter gives.
First, note that in our text, ‘giving all diligence, add to your faith.’ That is to say, unless you work with haste, with earnestness, and therefore with much putting forth of strength, your faith will not evolve the graces of character which is in it to bring forth. If, on the other hand, we set ourselves to our tasks, then out of faith will come, as the blossoms mysteriously and miraculously do out of an apparently dead stump, virtue, manliness, and knowledge, and temperance, and patience, and godliness, and brotherly mindedness, and charity. All that galaxy of light and beauty will shine forth on the one condition of diligence, and it will not appear without that. Without it, the faith, though it may be genuine, which lies in a man who is idle in cultivating Christian character, will bear but few and shrivelled fruits. The Apostle uses a very remarkable expression here, which is rendered in our Bible imperfectly ‘giving all diligence.’ He has just been saying that God has ‘given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, and exceeding great and precious promises.’ The Divine gift, then, is everything that will help a man to live a high and godly life. And, says Peter, on this very account, because you have all these requisites for such a life already given you, see that you ‘bring besides into’ the heap of gifts, as it were, that which you and only you can bring, namely, ‘all diligence.’ The phrase implies that diligence is our contribution. And the very reason for exercising it is the completeness of God’s gift. ‘On this very account’--because He has given so much--we are to lay ‘all diligence’ by the side of His gifts, which are useless to the sluggard.
On the one hand there are all great gifts and boundless possibilities as to life and godliness, and on the other diligence as the condition on which all these shall actually become ours, and, passing into our lives, will there produce all these graces which the Apostle goes on to enumerate. The condition is nothing recondite, nothing hard either to understand or to practise, but it is simply that commonplace, humdrum virtue of diligence. If we will put it forth, then the gifts that God has given, and which are not really ours unless we put it forth, will pass into the very substance of our being, and unfold themselves according to the life that is in them; even the life that is in Jesus Christ Himself, in all forms of beauty and sweetness and power and blessedness. ‘Diligence’ makes faith fruitful. Diligence makes God’s gifts ours.
Then, again, the Apostle gives an even more remarkable view of the possible field for this all-powerful diligence when he bids his readers exercise it in order to ‘make their calling and election sure.’ Peter’s first letter shows that he believed that Christians were ‘chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.’ But for all that he is not a bit afraid of putting the other side of the truth, and saying to us in effect. ‘We cannot read the eternal decrees of God nor know the names written in the Book of Life. These are mysteries above us. But if you want to be sure that you are one of the called and chosen, work and you will get the assurance.’ The confirmation of the ‘call,’ of the ‘election,’ both in fact and in my consciousness depends upon my action. The ‘diligence,’ of which the Apostle thinks such great things, reaches, as it were, a hand up into heaven and binds a man to that great unrevealed, electing purpose of God. If we desire that upon our Christian lives there shall shine the perpetual sunshine of an unclouded confidence that we have the love and the favour of God, and that for us there is no condemnation, but only ‘acceptance in the beloved,’ the short road to it is the well-known and trite path of toil in the Christian life.
Still further, one of the other writers of the New Testament gives us another field in which this virtue may expatiate, when the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews exhorts to diligence, in order to attain ‘the full assurance of hope.’ If we desire that our path should be brightened by the clear vision of our blessed future beyond the grave, and above the stars, and within the bosom of God, the road to that happy assurance and sunny, cloudless confidence in a future of rest and fellowship with God lies simply here--work! as Christian men should, whilst it is called to-day.
The last of the fields in which this virtue finds exercise is expressed by our letter, when Peter says, ‘Seeing that we look for such things, let us be diligent, that we may be found of Him in peace without spot, and blameless.’ If we are to be ‘found in peace,’ we must be ‘found spotless,’ and if we are to be ‘found spotless’ we must be ‘diligent.’ ‘If that servant begin to say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and to be slothful, and to eat and drink with the drunken, the lord of that servant will come in an hour when he is not aware.’ On the other hand, ‘who is that faithful servant whom his lord hath set ruler over his household? Blessed is that servant whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing?’ Doing so, and diligently doing it, ‘he shall be found in peace.’
What a beautiful ideal of Christian life results from putting together all these items. A fruitful faith, a sure calling, a cloudless hope, a peaceful welcome at last! The Old Testament says, ‘The hand of the diligent maketh rich’; the New Testament promises unchangeable riches to the same hand. The Old Testament says, ‘Seest thou a man diligent in his business, he shall stand before kings.’ The New Testament assures us that the noblest form of that promise shall be fulfilled in the Christian man’s communion with his Lord here, and perfected when the diligent disciple shall ‘be found of Him in peace,’ and stand before the King in that day, accepted and himself a king.
GOING OUT AND GOING IN
I do not like, and do not often indulge in, the practice of taking fragments of Scripture for a text, but I venture to isolate these two words, because they correspond to one another, and when thus isolated and connected, bring out very prominently two aspects of one thing. In the original the correspondence is even closer, for the words, literally rendered, are ‘a going in’ and ‘a going out.’ The same event is looked at from two sides. On the one it is a departure; on the other it is an arrival. That event, I need not say, is Death.
I note, further, that the expression rendered, ‘my decease,’ employs the word which is always used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to express the departure of the Children of Israel from bondage, and which gives its name, in our language, to the Second Book of the Pentateuch. ‘My exodus’--associations suggested by the word can scarcely fail to have been in the writer’s mind.
Further, I note that this expression for Death is only employed once again in the New Testament--viz., in St. Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, where Moses and Elias spake with Jesus ‘concerning His decease--the exodus--which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.’ If you look on to the verses which follow the second of my texts, you will see that the Apostle immediately passes on to speak about that Transfiguration, and about the voice which He heard then in the holy mount. So that I think we must suppose that in the words of our second text he was already beginning to think about the Transfiguration, and was feeling that, somehow or other, his ‘exodus’ was to be conformed to his Master’s.
Now bearing all these points in mind, let us just turn to these words and try to gather the lessons which they suggest.
I. The first of them is this, the double Christian aspect of death.
It is well worth noting that the New Testament very seldom condescends to use that name for the mere physical fact of dissolution. It reserves it for the most part for something a great deal more dreadful than the separation of body and soul, and uses all manner of periphrases, or what rhetoricians call euphemising, that is, gentle expressions which put the best face upon a thing instead of the ugly word itself. It speaks, for instance, as you may remember, in the context here about the ‘putting off’ of a tent or ‘a tabernacle,’ blending the notions of stripping off a garment and pulling down a transitory abode. It speaks about death as a sleep, and in that and other ways sets it forth in gracious and gentle aspects, and veils the deformity, and loves and hopes away the dreadfulness of it.
Now other languages and other religions besides Christianity have done the same things, and Roman and Greek poets and monuments have in like manner avoided the grim, plain word--death, but they have done it for exactly the opposite reason from that for which the Christian does it. They did it because the thing was so dark and dismal, and because they knew so little and feared so much about it. And Christianity does it for exactly the opposite reason, because it fears it not at all, and knows it quite enough. So it toys with leviathan, and ‘lays its hand on the cockatrice den,’ and my text is an instance of this.
‘My decease ... an entrance.’ So the terribleness and mystery dwindled down into this--a change of position; or if locality is scarcely the right class of ideas to apply to spirits detached from the body--a change of condition. That is all.
We do not need to insist upon the notion of change of place. For, as I say, we get into a fog when we try to associate place with pure spiritual existence. But the root of the conviction which is expressed in both these phrases, and most vividly by their juxtaposition, is this, that what happens at death is not the extinction, but the withdrawal, of a person, and that the man is, as fully, as truly as he was, though all the relations in which he stands may be altered.
Now no materialistic teaching has any right to come in and bar that clear faith and firm conclusion. For by its very saying that it knows nothing about life except in connection with organisation, it acknowledges that there is a difference between them. And until science can tell me how it is that the throb of a brain or the quiver of a nerve, becomes transformed into morality, into emotion, I maintain that it knows far too little of personality and of life to be a valid authority when it asserts that the destruction of the organisation is the end of the man. I feel myself perfectly free--in the darkness in which, after all investigation, that mysterious transformation of the physical into the moral and the spiritual lies--I feel perfectly free to listen to another voice, the voice which tells me that life can subsist, and that personal being can be as full--ay, fuller--apart altogether from the material frame which here, and by our present experience, is its necessary instrument. And though accepting all that physical investigation can teach us, we can still maintain that its light does not illumine the central obscurity; and that, after all, it still remains true that round about the being of each man, as round about the being of God, clouds and darkness roll,
‘Life and thought have gone away,
Side by side,
Leaving door and window wide.’
That, and nothing more, is death--’My decease ... an entrance.’
Then, again, the combination of these two words suggests to us that the one act, in the same moment, is both departure and arrival. There is not a pin-point of space, not the millionth part of a second of time, intervening between the two. There is no long journey to be taken. A man in straits, and all but desperation, is recorded in the old Book to have said: ‘There is but a step between me and death.’ Ah, there is but a step between death and the Kingdom; and he that passes out at the same moment passes in.
I need not say a word about theories which seem to me to have no basis at all in our only source of information, which is Revelation; theories which would interpose a long period of unconsciousness--though to the man unconscious it be no period at all--between the act of departure and that of entrance. Not so do I read the teaching of Scripture: ‘This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.’ We pass out, and as those in the vestibule of a presence-chamber have but to lift the curtain and find themselves face to face with the king, so we, at one and the same moment, depart and arrive.
Friends stand round the bed, and before they can tell by the undimmed mirror that the last breath has been drawn, the saint is ‘with Christ, which is far better.’ To depart is to be with Him. There is a moment in the life of every believing soul in which there strangely mingle the lights of earth and the lights of heaven. As you see in dissolving views, the one fades and the other consolidates. Like the mighty angel in the Apocalypse, the dying man stands for a moment with one foot on the earth and the other already laved and cleansed by the waters of that ‘sea of glass mingled with fire which is before the Throne,’ ‘Absent from the body; present with the Lord.’
Further, these two words suggest that the same act is emancipation from bondage and entrance into royalty.
‘My exodus.’ Israel came out of Egyptian servitude and dropped chains from wrists and left taskmasters cracking their useless whips behind them, and the brick kilns and the weary work were all done when they went forth. Ah, brethren, whatever beauty and good and power and blessedness there may be in this mortal life, there are deep and sad senses in which, for all of us, it is a prison-house and a state of captivity. There is a bondage of flesh; there is a dominion of the animal nature; there are limitations, like high walls, cribbing, cabining, confining us--the limitations of circumstance. There is the slavery of dependence upon this poor, external, and material world. There are the tyranny of sin and the subjugation of the nobler nature to base and low and transient needs. All these fetters, and the scars of them, drop away. Joseph comes out of prison to a throne. The kingdom is not merely one in which the redeemed man is a subject, but one in which he himself is a prince. ‘Have thou authority over ten cities.’ These are the Christian aspects of death.
II. Now note, secondly, the great fact on which this view of death builds itself.
I have already remarked that in one of my texts the Apostle seems to be thinking about Jesus Christ and His decease. The context also refers to another incident in his own life, when our Lord foretold to him that the putting off his tabernacle was to be ‘sudden,’ and added: ‘Follow thou Me.’
Taking these allusions into account, they suggest that it is the death of Jesus Christ--and that which is inseparable from it, His Resurrection--that changes for a soul believing on Him the whole aspect of that last experience that awaits us all. It is His exodus that makes ‘my exodus’ a deliverance from captivity and an entrance upon royalty.
I need not remind you, how, after all is said and done, we are sure of life eternal, because Jesus Christ died and rose again. I do not need to depreciate other imperfect arguments which seem to point in that direction, such as the instincts of men’s natures, the craving for some retribution beyond, the impossibility of believing that life is extinguished by the fact of physical death. But whilst I admit that a good deal may be said, and strong probabilities may be alleged, it seems to me that however much you may argue, no words, no considerations, moral or intellectual, can suffice to establish more than that it would be a very good thing if there were a future life and that it is probable that there is. But Jesus Christ comes to us and says, ‘Touch Me, handle Me; a spirit hath not flesh and bones as I have. Here I am. I was dead; I am alive for evermore.’ So then one life, that we know about, has persisted undiminished, apart from the physical frame, and that one Man has gone down into the dark abyss, and has come up the same as when He descended. So it is His exodus--and, as I believe, His death and Resurrection alone--on which the faith in immortality impregnably rests.
But that is not the main point which the text suggests. Let me remind you how utterly the whole aspect of any difficulty, trial, or sorrow, and especially of that culmination of all men’s fears--death itself--is altered when we think that in the darkest bend of the dark road we may trace footsteps, not without marks of blood in them, of Him that has trodden it all before us. ‘Follow thou Me,’ He said to Peter; and it should be no hard thing for us, if we love Him, to tread where He trod. It should be no lonely road for us to walk, however the closest clinging hands may be untwined from our grasp, and the most utter solitude of which a human soul is capable may be realised, when we remember that Jesus Christ has walked it before us.
The entrance, too, is made possible because He has preceded us. ‘I go to prepare a place for you.’ So we may be sure that when we go through those dark gates and across the wild, the other side of which no man knows, it is not to step out of ‘the warm precincts of the cheerful day’ into some dim, cold, sad land, but it is to enter into His presence.
Israel’s exodus was headed by a mummy case, in which the dead bones of their whilom leader were contained. Our exodus is headed by the Prince of Life, who was dead and is alive for evermore.
So, brethren, I beseech you, treasure these thoughts more than you do. Turn to Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead more than you do. I may be mistaken, but it seems to me that the Christianity of this day is largely losing the habitual contemplation of immortality which gave so much of its strength to the religion of past generations. We are all so busy in setting forth and enforcing the blessings of Christianity in its effects in the present life that, I fear me, we are largely forgetting what it does for us at the end, and beyond the end. And I would that we all thought more of our exodus and of our entrance in the light of Christ’s death and resurrection. Such contemplation will not unfit us for any duty or any enjoyment. It will lift us above the absorbed occupation with present trivialities, which is the bane of all that is good and noble. It will teach us ‘a solemn scorn of ills.’ It will set on the furthest horizon a great light instead of a doleful darkness, and it will deliver us from the dread of that ‘shadow feared of man,’ but not by those who, listening to Jesus Christ, have been taught that to depart is to be with Him.
III. Now I meant to have said a word, in the close of my sermon, about a third point--viz., the way of securing that this aspect of death shall be our experience, but your time will not allow of my dwelling upon that as I should have wished. I would only point out that, as I have already suggested, this context teaches us that it is His death that must make our deaths what they may become; and would ask you to notice, further, that the context carries us back to the preceding verses. ‘An entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly.’ We have just before read, ‘If these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ’; and just before is the exhortation, ‘giving all diligence, minister to your faith virtue.’
So the Apostle, by reiterating the two words which he had previously been using, teaches us that if death is to be to us that departure from bondage and entrance into the Kingdom, we must here and now bring forth the fruits of faith. There is no entrance hereafter, unless there has been a habitual entering into the Holy Place by the blood of Jesus Christ even whilst we are on earth. There is no entrance by reason of the fact of death, unless all through life there has been an entrance into rest by reason of the fact of faith.
And so, dear brethren, I beseech you to remember that it depends on yourself whether departing shall be arrival, and exodus shall be entrance. One thing or other that last moment must be to us all--either a dragging us reluctant away from what we would fain cleave to, or a glad departure from a foreign land and entrance to our home. It may be as when Peter was let out of prison, the angel touched him, and the chains fell from his hands, and the iron gate opened of its own accord, and he found himself in the city. It is for you to settle which of the two it shall be. And if you will take Him for your King, Companion, Saviour, Enlightener, Life here, ‘the Lord shall bless your going out and coming in from this time forth and even for evermore.’
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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on 2 Peter 1". MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany