2 Peter 1:5-7

2 Peter 1:5‑7  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 10
We have seen how carefully from the first the apostle was led to point out the distinctive character of Christianity in dealing with souls. It was not now the law, as they had known, demanding consistency with obligations to the God of Israel from a people in the flesh already formed and owned, as well as directed by a divinely appointed priesthood to maintain them according to the legal covenant for the trial if thus they could stand in His sight. The result was not only idolatry but the rejection of their own Messiah, the Righteous One, and, as He told them, in the consummation of the age the reception of the antichrist (John 5:4242But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. (John 5:42)), the man of sin, and the destruction of that generation with him. The gospel is founded on the wholly different principle of sovereign grace; another character of things follows with results in manifest contrast. It addresses Jew and Gentile as alike guilty and lost. It calls them by faith in Christ to the God that reconciled us to Himself by the sinless One whom He made sin for us, that we might become God's righteousness in Him. Therefore is the ministry of reconciliation to win sinful souls through the saving grace of God; and the ministry of the church to nourish and guide the saints into and by all the truth, Christ being the great Priest, Advocate, and Head, etc., and the saved made kings and priests now in title and enjoyment, manifestly so in the day of glory.
Hence the stress here laid on their having received like precious faith (ver. 2), and (vers. 3, 4) on the same knowledge of Him that called by His own glory and excellence, through which He hath granted to us the greatest and precious promises, far beyond those to Israel. . .that through these they might become partakers of a divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world through lust. For Peter ever insists on plain moral realities. For these no ordinances or institutions avail. In Christianity there is and must be the direct communication of God's grace and truth in Christ to the soul, and the consequent knowledge of God, with approach to Him in the confidence of His love and of our own nearness to Him in known favor, all sins being forgiven. For it is indeed no energy or desert on our part, but His divine power that has granted us all the things that pertain to life and godliness. Faith is the appropriating means.
Yet is much more needed on our part, which the apostle proceeds to enforce. A divine nature requires all care and diligence that it may grow; and as its spring and fullness are in Christ, and it is communicated and revealed to us by the word through the Spirit's agency, so is it formed in all that is suited to it by its requisite food and exercise, aims, and objects.
“But for this very thing also, bringing in besides all diligence, in your faith supply virtue, and in virtue knowledge, and in knowledge temperance, and in temperance endurance, and in endurance godliness, and in godliness brotherly affection, and in brotherly affection love” (vers. 5-7).
It is evident that the apostle is here enforcing experimental reality in the saints. But the Auth. Version hardly gives the force adequately. It is not “And besides this,” but an energetic call for what is due to the grace of God in communicating the signal blessing of being sharers in a divine nature through faith in His very great and precious promises. Even a fleshly mind might and does deduce from the power and certainty of divine grace that there is room for earnest and practical purpose of heart on the part of the believer. But scripture enlarges the argument, warns against sloth and easy-going, and summons to assiduous diligence on all sides. For this very reason also are they, along with what they had already, to apply diligence in every way.
Thus it may be seen that salvation, as Peter was given to view it, is not regarded (as in Eph. 2:88For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (Ephesians 2:8), 2 Tim. 1:99Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, (2 Timothy 1:9), and Titus 3:55Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; (Titus 3:5)) as complete in Christ, but rather a process going on to the end of the journey through the desert (as also in the Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, Philippians, Hebrews, etc.). They are distinct aspects of the truth, and one as true though not so elevated as the other, but both highly important to hold fast and discriminate. For it is our privilege as full-grown, or in that sense “perfect,” Christians to enjoy the unclouded certainty and comfort of a salvation so complete, that we are not only quickened together with Christ, but risen together, and seated down together in the heavenlies in Him. For this we must turn to the later Epistles of the apostle Paul. Yet none the less are we, as full grown too, to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God that works in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure, with the prize in view, and at the goal of His coming as Savior to conform our body of humiliation unto His body of glory (Phil. 2; 3).
We are already by grace partakers of a divine nature; but we are still in a body not yet redeemed, and passing through a world of corruption through lust. And we that are in the tabernacle do groan, being burdened, not as once when in bondage, but because we are only freed in the Spirit and have still to await sonship in full, the redemption of our body (2 Cor. 5, Rom. 8). Hence we need meanwhile to bring to bear all diligence in presence of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Nor is it only a question of our weakness and exposure, if unwatchful to prayer or in any measure heedless of the word; for we belong to the Father and the Son, and are bound to witness a good confession by the Holy Spirit in word and deed.
It is assumed that all those addressed have faith, and are therefore not told to furnish it. But that we might be formed spiritually, or grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as is said later, we are exhorted here, not exactly to “add to” our faith, but to “supply in it” virtue, or spiritual courage before a hostile world. Phil. 4:88Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8) has been cited vainly to oppose this: whether moral worth or spiritual vigor, it is just as clearly the sense there as here. A sense more vague would enfeeble both texts. It is the first out of seven requisites here laid down for practical need and power. The Christian has urgent occasion for them all, and it might be on any day and every day; so that we are not to conceive a progress from one to the other by successive stages, however wisely the order is here given by His power who inspired the writer. There is a perceptible rise in their character; but the principle of each and all more or less marks the believer from first to last, though here he is called very impressively to make them all his own.
Assuredly the youngest saint quickly finds the value of supplying in his faith virtue or moral power. This he needs to support faith, that he may not swerve from his new-born capacity of seeing things in God's light, instead of using the light of his own eyes or those of other men. As the Lord Himself, after He was divinely acknowledged the Son of God, was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, so it is with each son of God by faith in Christ Jesus. We too in our measure are put to the proof, and need courage to resist the adversary, steadfast in faith, and subject to scripture. The confession of faith makes one an immediate mark for Satan's attack. But we have to apply scripture in due season. It may be for the babe the guileless milk of the word; but this is just the food whereby he grows unto salvation. It may be rather the solid for those of full age. In any case it is not the mere bread of man's labor, but the revelation of God which is the means of growing up unto Christ in all things. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” His word quickens. It reveals Christ the life-giver, and thus associates the quickened soul with God Himself immediately.
But clearly spiritual vigor is not all. Knowledge is necessary as well as courage. Scripture supplies it reliably, and in the N. T. both amply and with special precision to Christian privilege for direction and instruction. How beautiful the scene which Luke 2 presents of our blessed Lord, at twelve years of age, sitting in the midst of the Jewish teachers, both hearing them and asking them questions, when all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers! He was true man as well as God, advancing in wisdom and stature, and favor with God and men. As partakers of a divine nature we have a new capacity from above; and yet more we received not the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is of God, that we might consciously know the things freely given us by God. There is thus the fullest provision made for these wants, and no excuse for a Christian's ignorance of divine things. The natural or foolish man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But the spiritual discerns all things, and himself is discerned by no one. For which knew Jehovah's mind, who shall instruct Him? But we have Christ's mind. How wondrous yet true is this abiding privilege of the Christian!
Again, “in knowledge” supply “temperance” or self-control. Knowledge, however precious, has its danger of puffing up, and begetting contentions; and in itself it is a poor safeguard against lust, feeling, or passion. There is therefore the utmost need of self-restraint. Against such a guard there is no law: rather is it a calm preservative against inflation, and so falling into the fault of the evil one, as well as reproach and his snare. At no time do we more need to watch than when our feelings are acutely wounded. For they only blind us to the character of any hasty impulse and hurry us to sacrifice every Christian consideration to self. But this we are bound to distrust. It was exactly what in no case or degree wrought in Christ, who ever bowed to His Father in accepting from Him the utmost slight, dishonor, and contempt which came from those among whom He went about doing good, especially from God's people in their unbelief.
No doubt, there is the deeper pain if our trial come from His children, and the keener if from such as we specially trusted and valued. But the point for the soul, and above all for God, is not what this one has done or that said (lest it should rankle and inflame), but am I above it all by grace? am I self-restrained through (not self, but) Christ working in me? This enables one not to brood on what provokes, but to think on the things lovely, and of good report, which heat on our own account makes us forget. If others stumble, am I manifesting Christ?
But there is suffering for righteousness, if not for Christ's name, that is never far or long from a Christian's path; and thus he has need of self-control supplying “endurance.” He is not to quail if called to suffer ever so wrongfully. How unworthy, natural as it is, to complain because of this! Would it be any satisfaction, or real alleviation, if one deserved it? “For it is better, if the will of God should will it, to suffer as well-doers than as evil-doers.” “But if as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but glorify God in this name.” Yes, believers have need of endurance. Let us then, in “self-control” that puts a quiet but needed check on ourselves and on every device of self-will, supply “endurance” under any wrong inflicted by others. This is quite compatible with, not reserve, but plain rebuke of a saint who so errs.
Yet another want of at least equal or greater weight is next urged: “in endurance godliness” or piety. What more momentous for the soul than preserving the links of reverence and affection, of dependence and obedience, in fresh and constant exercise with God and our Lord Jesus! Yet such is the pressure of work, to say nothing of the course of the age, the deceitfulness of riches, the disappointment at loss, or lusts of other things, that the peril from any earthly preoccupation is great. But here we are reminded to supply godliness in its constant place. To confide in Him, to bow implicitly to His will assured that it is the best, is all the more blessed in the pressure of the persecutions that try our endurance. For indeed He is good, and does good, overcame evil in our case with His good, and strengthens even us not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. If we do not know what we should pray for as befitting, we do know that all things work together for good to those that love God. And surely this our piety feels. To the same end he bade them in his First Epistle (3:14, 15) not to fear the world's fear, nor be troubled, “But sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord,” as He had Jehovah always before Him.
Then we are reminded that paying God His due takes nothing from “brotherly affection,” but on the contrary both cherishes and controls it; for in godliness, which is fitting and necessary to be supreme, we are told to supply this exercise of grace. As the apostle Paul wrote concerning it to the young and dear Thessalonian converts, “Ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. For also this ye do toward all the brethren in the whole of Macedonia. But we exhort you, brethren, to abound yet more.” Nevertheless brotherly affection has its limits because of its nature and its objects; for it is not God, and it may often let in what shuts Him out. Thus brethren too frequently slip into evil of one sort or another; and if brotherly affection be pressed (as commonly it is) as the acme of love, what mischief must arise for the saints! and what dishonor to the Lord and the truth!
Therefore mark the divine wisdom and the profit for us, in that the apostle here distinguishes, instead of confounding, “love”; for he closes with “in brotherly kindness love.” Higher than this last he could not rise; for not only is love of God, but God is love. It is of all moment that in brotherly kindness we should supply that love which is of God, and which God is. Nothing here evinces the wretchedly fallen state of Christendom more than the chorus of commentators who think of nothing beyond brotherly kindness save love to all mankind, even enemies, overlooking the source and power of all good. So Alford and Wordsworth, Bloomfield, Webster and Wilkinson, &c. among moderns speak for most shades of modern theology; and the ancients as far as one knows are no better.
Even John Calvin's remarks, which were consulted after writing thus, are singularly meager, passing by the beautiful circle of truth here given us. From virtue and knowledge he turns off with few words to brotherly affection, and has no more to say of love than “Charitas latius patet, quia totum humanum genus complectitur” (“Love extends more widely, because it embraces the whole human race”). This is enough to represent the mind of the Reformers, of whom Calvin was regarded as the chief expositor. It is wholly defective and erroneous; for such a view loses what one of them calls “the crown of Christian virtue.” Surely it would be, not a meet climax, but a descent from the deep and faithful character of special affection toward the holy brotherhood to universal and benevolent love for men as such. He speaks like the author of Saturday Evening, chap. 12, who was far too humanitarian.
On the contrary it is an immense and blessed elevation from that affection, high as it is, to “love” in its fullest nature. And so speaks the apostle Paul who communicated not a little to his brother apostle of the circumcision for both his Epistles, and wrote to the Galatian brethren, after pressing on them “bowels of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering,” with a forbearing and forgiving spirit. “And over (or, to) all these, love which is the bond of perfectness” (3:12, 14), as he wrote to the Colossians at a later day. Nor need we quote the Epistles of John, rich as is their contribution of proof to the same effect. The reason too is quite plain. God's nature in its active energy of love is the complement of all, the standard withal that strengthens us against every evil. Love, as known in Him, of which Christ is the full expression, while the most expansive of affections as it is necessarily, maintains all His character intact, refuses any sacrifice of His rights to indulge or palliate a brother's fault or error, and rises to its full height in God.
Yet how deep and wondrous this is in the God who gave His beloved Only-begotten Son that we, lost and dead, might live through Him, who was sent into the world with life eternal in Himself for every one that believed! yea, to be the propitiation for our sins, that the evil in us, intolerable to Him and grief and abhorrence to us, might be blotted out forever! Not that we then loved Him, but He us to the uttermost: wherefore we do love Him whose perfect love casts out fear. We love, because He first loved us. God is love; and he that abides in love abides in God, and God in Him. Thus love gives its best force but also its preservative guard to brotherly affection; whilst it has its own highest and deepest scope according to its divine spring, nature, and character. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another” (1 John 4:1111Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. (1 John 4:11)); but he never says that we “ought” to love God; for this we do, if indeed called according to purpose. It may be hard sometimes to love a brother when naughty; but we do love God always. What does it tell to leave this out?
It may be of interest for some to know that the too famous Bp. Warburton preached a sermon on these three verses, entitled, “The Edification of Gospel Righteousness” (Works, v. 123-143, 4to, 1788). But able as it is in his peculiar fashion, and not without his strong impression of its divine wisdom, it is vitiated by his ignorance of grace and truth, and so completely that he takes for granted (p. 127) that the N. T., here as elsewhere, refers us to what the Religion of Nature (!) taught concerning virtue for example.