In these words the apostle comes to the chief thing intended in this epistle—to excite and engage them to advance in grace and holiness, they having already obtained precious faith, and been made partakers of the divine nature. This is a very good beginning, but it is not to be rested in, as if we were already perfect. The apostle had prayed that grace and peace might be multiplied to them, and now he exhorts them to press forward for the obtaining of more grace. We should, as we have opportunity, exhort those we pray for, and excite them to the use of all proper means to obtain what we desire God to bestow upon them; and those who will make any progress in religion must be very diligent and industrious in their endeavours. Without giving all diligence, there is no gaining any ground in the work of holiness; those who are slothful in the business of religion will make nothing of it; we must strive if we will enter in at the strait gate, Luke 13:24.
I. Here we cannot but observe how the believer’s way is marked out step by step. 1. He must get virtue, by which some understand justice; and then the knowledge, temperance, and patience that follow, being joined with it, the apostle may be supposed to put them upon pressing after the four cardinal virtues, or the four elements that go to the making up of every virtue or virtuous action. But seeing it is a faithful saying, and constantly to be asserted, that those who have faith be careful to maintain good works (Titus 3:8), by virtue here we may understand strength and courage, without which the believer cannot stand up for good works, by abounding and excelling in them. The righteous must be bold as a lion (Prov. 28:1); a cowardly Christian, who is afraid to profess the doctrines or practise the duties of the gospel, must expect that Christ will be ashamed of him another day. “Let not your hearts fail you in the evil day, but show yourselves valiant in standing against all opposition, and resisting every enemy, world, flesh, devil, yea, and death too.” We have need of virtue while we live, and it will be of excellent use when we come to die. 2. The believer must add knowledge to his virtue, prudence to his courage; there is a knowledge of God’s name which must go before our faith (Ps. 9:10), and we cannot approve of the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God, till we know it; but there are proper circumstances for duty, which must be known and observed; we must use the appointed means, and observe the accepted time. Christian prudence regards the persons we have to do with and the place and company we are in. Every believer must labour after the knowledge and wisdom that are profitable to direct, both as to the proper method and order wherein all Christian duties are to be performed and as to the way and manner of performing them. 3. We must add temperance to our knowledge. We must be sober and moderate in our love to, and use of, the good things of this life; and, if we have a right understanding and knowledge of outward comforts, we shall see that their worth and usefulness are vastly inferior to those of spiritual mercies. Bodily exercises and bodily privileges profit but little, and therefore are to be esteemed and used accordingly; the gospel teaches sobriety as well as honesty, Titus 2:12. We must be moderate in desiring and using the good things of natural life, such as meat, drink, clothes, sleep, recreations, and credit; an inordinate desire after these is inconsistent with an earnest desire after God and Christ; and those who take more of these than is due can render to neither God nor man what is due to them. 4. Add to temperance patience, which must have its perfect work, or we cannot be perfect and entire, wanting nothing (Jas. 1:4), for we are born to trouble, and must through many tribulations enter into the kingdom of heaven; and it is this tribulation (Rom. 5:3) which worketh patience, that is, requires the exercise and occasions the increase of this grace, whereby we bear all calamities and crosses with silence and submission, without murmuring against God or complaining of him, but justifying him who lays all affliction upon us, owning that our sufferings are less than our sins deserve, and believing they are no more than we ourselves need. 5. To patience we must add godliness, and this is the very thing which is produced by patience, for that works experience, Rom. 5:4. When Christians bear afflictions patiently, they get an experimental knowledge of the loving-kindness of their heavenly Father, which he will not take from his children, even when he visits their iniquity with the rod and their transgression with stripes (Ps. 89:32, 33), and hereby they are brought to the child-like fear and reverential love wherein true godliness consists: to this, 6. We must add brotherly-kindness, a tender affection to all our fellow-christians, who are children of the same Father, servants of the same Master, members of the same family, travellers to the same country, and heirs of the same inheritance, and therefore are to be loved with a pure heart fervently, with a love of complacency, as those who are peculiarly near and dear to us, in whom we take particular delight, Ps. 16:3. 7. Charity, or a love of good-will to all mankind, must be added to the love of delight which we have for those who are the children of God. God has made of one blood all nations, and all the children of men are partakers of the same human nature, are all capable of the same mercies, and liable to the same afflictions, and therefore, though upon a spiritual account Christians are distinguished and dignified above those who are without Christ, yet are they to sympathize with others in their calamities, and relieve their necessities, and promote their welfare both in body and soul, as they have opportunity: thus must all believers in Christ evidence that they are the children of God, who is good to all, but is especially good to Israel.
II. All the forementioned graces must be had, or we shall not be thoroughly furnished for all good works—for the duties of the first and second table, for active and passive obedience, and for those services wherein we are to imitate God as well as for those wherein we only obey him—and therefore to engage us to an industrious and unwearied pursuit of them, the apostle sets forth the advantages that redound to all who successfully labour so as to get these things to be and abound in them, 2 Pet. 1:8-11. These are proposed,
1. More generally, 2 Pet. 1:8. The having these things make not barren (or slothful) nor unfruitful, where, according to the style of the Holy Ghost, we must understand a great deal more than is expressed; for when it is said concerning Ahaz, the vilest and most provoking of all the kings of Judah, that he did not right in the sight of the Lord (2 Kgs. 16:2), we are to understand as much as if it had been said, He did what was most offensive and abominable, as the following account of his life shows; so, when it is here said that the being and abounding of all Christian graces in us will make us neither inactive nor unfruitful, we are thereby to understand that it will make us very zealous and lively, vigorous and active, in all practical Christianity, and eminently fruitful in the works of righteousness. These will bring much glory to God, by bringing forth much fruit among men, being fruitful in knowledge, or the acknowledging of our Lord Jesus Christ, owning him to be their Lord, and evidencing themselves to be his servants by their abounding in the work that he has given them to do. This is the necessary consequence of adding one grace to another; for, where all Christian graces are in the heart, they improve and strengthen, encourage and cherish, one another; so they all thrive and grow (as the apostle intimates in the beginning of 2 Pet. 1:8), and wherever grace abounds there will be an abounding in good works. How desirable it is to be in such a case the apostle evidences, 2 Pet. 1:9. There he sets forth how miserable it is to be without those quickening fructifying graces; for he who has not the forementioned graces, or, though he pretends or seems to have them, does not exercise and improve them, is blind, that is, as to spiritual and heavenly things, as the next words explain it: He cannot see far off. This present evil world he can see, and dotes upon, but has no discerning at all of the world to come, so as to be affected with the spiritual privileges and heavenly blessings thereof. He who sees the excellences of Christianity must needs be diligent in endeavours after all those graces that are absolutely necessary for obtaining glory, honour, and immortality; but, where these graces are not obtained nor endeavoured after, men are not able to look forward to the things that are but a very little way off in reality, though in appearance, or in their apprehension, they are at a great distance, because they put them far away from them; and how wretched is their condition who are thus blind as to the awfully great things of the other world, who cannot see any thing of the reality and certainty, the greatness and nearness, of the glorious rewards God will bestow on the righteous, and the dreadful punishment he will inflict on the ungodly! But this is not all the misery of those who do not add to their faith virtue, knowledge, etc. They are as unable to look backward as forward, their memories are slippery and unable to retain what is past, as their sight is short and unable to discern what is future; they forget that they have been baptized, and had the means, and been laid under the obligations to holiness of heart and life. By baptism we are engaged in a holy war against sin, and are solemnly bound to fight against the flesh, the world, and the devil. Often call to mind, and seriously meditate on, your solemn engagement to be the Lord’s, and your peculiar advantages and encouragements to lay aside all filthiness of flesh and spirit.
2. The apostle proposes two particular advantages that will attend or follow upon diligence in the work of a Christian: stability in grace, and a triumphant entrance into glory. These he brings in by resuming his former exhortation, and laying it down in other words; for what in 2 Pet. 1:5 is expressed by giving diligence to add to faith virtue, etc., is expressed in 2 Pet. 1:10 by giving diligence to make our calling and election sure. Here we may observe, (1.) It is the duty of believers to make their election sure, to clear it up to themselves that they are the chosen of God. (2.) The way to make sure their eternal election is to make out their effectual calling: none can look into the book of God’s eternal counsels and decrees; but, inasmuch as whom God did predestinate those he also called, if we can find we are effectually called, we may conclude we are chosen to salvation. (3.) It requires a great deal of diligence and labour to make sure our calling and election; there must be a very close examination of ourselves, a very narrow search and strict enquiry, whether we are thoroughly converted, our minds enlightened, our wills renewed, and our whole souls changed as to the bent and inclination thereof; and to come to a fixed certainty in this requires the utmost diligence, and cannot be attained and kept without divine assistance, as we may learn from Ps. 139:23; Rom. 8:16. “But, how great soever the labour is, do not think much of it, for great is the advantage you gain by it; for,” [1.] “By this you will be kept from falling, and that at all times and seasons, even in those hours of temptation that shall be on the earth.” When others shall fall into heinous and scandalous sin, those who are thus diligent shall be enabled to walk circumspectly and keep on in the way of their duty; and, when many fall into errors, they shall be preserved sound in the faith, and stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. [2.] Those who are diligent in the work of religion shall have a triumphant entrance into glory; while of those few who get to heaven some are scarcely saved (1 Pet. 4:18), with a great deal of difficulty, even as by fire (1 Cor. 3:15), those who are growing in grace, and abounding in the work of the Lord, shall have an abundant entrance into the joy of their Lord, even that everlasting kingdom where Christ reigns, and they shall reign with him for ever and ever.