The apostle, having instructed them in the doctrine of Christ’s second coming,
I. Takes occasion thence to exhort them to purity and godliness in their whole conversation: all the truths which are revealed in scripture should be improved for our advancement in practical godliness: this is the effect that knowledge must produce, or we are never the better for it. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them. Seeing all these things must be dissolved, how holy should we be, that are assured of it, departing from and dying to sin, that has so corrupted and defiled all the visible creation that there is an absolute need of its dissolution! All that was made for man’s use is subject to vanity by man’s sin: and if the sin of man has brought the visible heavens, and the elements and earth, under a curse, from which they cannot be freed without being dissolved, what an abominable evil is sin, and how much to be hated by us! And, inasmuch as this dissolution is in order to their being restored to their primitive beauty and excellency, how pure and holy should we be, in order to our being fit for the new heaven and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness! It is a very exact and universal holiness that he exhorts to, not resting in any lower measure or degree, but labouring to be eminent beyond what is commonly attained—holy in God’s house and in our own, holy in our worshipping of God and in our conversing with men. All our conversation, whether with high or low, rich or poor, good or bad, friends or enemies, must be holy. We must keep ourselves unspotted from the world in all our converses with it. We must be perfecting holiness in the fear of God, and in the love of God too. We must exercise ourselves unto godliness of all sorts, in all its parts, trusting in God and delighting in God only, who continues the same when the whole visible creation shall be dissolved, devoting ourselves to the service of God, and designing the glorifying and enjoyment of God, who endures for ever; whereas what worldly men delight in and follow after must all be dissolved. Those things which we now see must in a little while pass away, and be no more as they now are: let us look therefore at what shall abide and continue, which, though it be not present, is certain and not far off. This looking for the day of God is one of the directions the apostle gives us, in order to our being eminently holy and godly in all manner of conversation. “Look for the day of God as what you firmly believe shall come, and what you earnestly long for.” The coming of the day of God is what every Christian must hope for and earnestly expect; for it is a day when Christ shall appear in the glory of the Father, and evidence his divinity and Godhead even to those who counted him a mere man. The first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he appeared in the form of a servant, was what the people of God earnestly waited and looked for: that coming was for the consolation of Israel, Luke 2:25. How much more should they wait with expectation and earnestness for his second coming, which will be the day of their complete redemption, and of his most glorious manifestation! Then he shall come to be admired in his saints, and glorified in all those that believe. For though it cannot but terrify and affright the ungodly to see the visible heavens all in a flame, and the elements melting, yet the believer, whose faith is the evidence of things not seen, can rejoice in hope of more glorious heavens after these have been melted and refined by that dreadful fire which shall burn up all the dross of this visible creation. Here we must take notice, 1. What true Christians look for: new heavens and a new earth, in which a great deal more of the wisdom, power and goodness of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ will be clearly discerned than we are able to discover in what we now see; for in these new heavens and earth, freed from the vanity the former were subject to, and the sin they were polluted with, only righteousness shall dwell; this is to be the habitation of such righteous persons as do righteousness, and are free from the power and pollution of sin; all the wicked shall be turned into hell; those only who are clothed with a righteousness of Christ, and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, shall be admitted to dwell in this holy place. 2. What is the ground and foundation of this expectation and hope—the promise of God. To look for any thing which God has not promised is presumption; but if our expectations are according to the promise, both as to the things we look for and the time and way of their being brought about, we cannot meet with a disappointment; for he is faithful who has promised. “See therefore that you raise and regulate your expectations of all the great things that are to come according to the word of God; and, as to the new heaven and new earth, look for them as God has allowed and directed by the passages we have in this portion of scripture how before you, and in Isa. 65:17; 66:22; to which the apostle may be thought to allude.”
II. As in 2 Pet. 3:11 he exhorts to holiness from the consideration that the heavens and the earth shall be dissolved, so in 2 Pet. 3:14 he resumes his exhortation from the consideration that they shall be again renewed. “Seeing you expect the day of God, when our Lord Jesus Christ will appear in his glorious majesty, and these heavens and earth shall be dissolved and melted down, and, being purified and refined, shall be erected and rebuilt, prepare to meet him. It nearly concerns you to see in what state you will be when the Judge of all the world shall come to pass sentence upon men, and to determine how it shall be with them to all eternity. This is the court of judicature whence there lies no appeal; whatever sentence is here passed by this great Judge is irreversible; therefore get ready to appear before the judgment-seat of Christ: and see to it,”
1. “That you be found of him in peace, in a state of peace and reconciliation with God through Christ, in whom alone God is reconciling the world to himself. All that are out of Christ are in a state of enmity, and reject and oppose the Lord and his anointed, and shall therefore be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power. Those whose sins are pardoned and their peace made with God are the only safe and happy people; therefore follow after peace, and that with all.” (1.) Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (2.) Peace in our own consciences, through the Spirit of grace witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God. (3.) Peace with men, by having a calm and peaceable disposition wrought in us, resembling that of our blessed Lord.
2. That you be found of Christ without spot, and blameless. Follow after holiness as well as peace: and even spotless and perfect; we must not only take heed of all spots which are not the spots of God’s children (this only prevents our being found of men without spot), we must be pressing towards spotless purity, absolute perfection. Christians must be perfecting holiness, that they may be not only blameless before men, but also in the sight of God; and all this deserves and needs the greatest diligence; he who does this work negligently can never do it successfully. “Never expect to be found at that day of God in peace, if you are lazy and idle in this your day, in which we must finish the work that is given us to do. It is only the diligent Christian who will be the happy Christian in the day of the Lord. Our Lord will suddenly come to us, or shortly call us to him; and would you have him find you idle?” Remember there is a curse denounced against him who does the work of the Lord negligently, Marg. Jer. 48:10. Heaven will be a sufficient recompence for all our diligence and industry; therefore let us labour and take pains in the work of the Lord; he will certainly reward us if we be diligent in the work he has allotted us; now, that you may be diligent, account the long-suffering of our Lord to be salvation. “Does your Lord delay his coming? Do not think this is to give more time to make provision for your lusts, to gratify them; it is so much space to repent and work out your salvation. It proceeds not from a want of concern or compassion for his suffering servants, nor is it designed to give countenance and encouragement to the world of the ungodly, but that men may have time to prepare for eternity. Learn then to make a right use of the patience of our Lord, who does as yet delay his coming. Follow after peace and holiness, or else his coming will be dreadful to you.” And inasmuch as it is difficult to prevent men’s abuse of God’s patience, and engage them in the right improvement thereof, our apostle quotes St. Paul as directing men to make the same good use of the divine forbearance, that in the mouth, or from the pen, of two apostles the truth might be confirmed. And we may here observe with what esteem and affection he speaks of him who had formerly publicly withstood and sharply reproved Peter. If a righteous man smite one who is truly religious, it shall be received as a kindness; and let him reprove, it shall be as an excellent oil, which shall soften and sweeten the good man that is reproved when he does amiss. What an honourable mention does this apostle of the circumcision make of that very man who had openly, before all, reproved him, as not walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospel! (1.) He calls him brother, whereby he means not only that he is a fellow-christian (in which sense the word brethren is used 1 Thess. 5:27), or a fellow-preacher (in which sense Paul calls Timothy the evangelist a brother, Col. 1:1), but a fellow-apostle, one who had the same extraordinary commission, immediately from Christ himself, to preach the gospel in every place, and to disciple all nations. Though many seducing teachers denied Paul’s apostleship, yet Peter owns him to be an apostle. (2.) He calls him beloved; and they being both alike commissioned, and both united in the same service of the same Lord, it would have been very unseemly if they had not been united in affection to one another, for the strengthening of one another’s hands, mutually desirous of, and rejoicing in, one another’s success. (3.) He mentions Paul as one who had an uncommon measure of wisdom given unto him. He was a person of eminent knowledge in the mysteries of the gospel, and did neither in that nor any other qualification come behind any of all the other apostles. How desirable is it that those who preach the same gospel should treat one another according to the pattern Peter here sets them! It is surely their duty to endeavour, by proper methods, to prevent or remove all prejudices that hinder ministers’ usefulness, and to beget and improve the esteem and respect in the minds of people towards their ministers that may promote the success of their labours. And let us also here observe, [1.] The excellent wisdom that was in Paul is said to be given him. The understanding and knowledge that qualify men to preach the gospel are the gift of God. We must seek for knowledge, and labour to get understanding, in hopes that it shall be given us from above, while we are diligent in using proper means to attain it. [2.] The apostle imparts to men according as he had received from God. He endeavours to lead others as far as he himself was led into the knowledge of the mysteries of the gospel. He is not an intruder into the things he had not seen or been fully assured of, and yet he does not fail to declare the whole counsel of God, Acts 20:27. [3.] The epistles which were written by the apostle of the Gentiles, and directed to those Gentiles who believed in Christ, are designed for the instruction and edification of those who from among the Jews were brought to believe in Christ; for it is generally thought that what is here alluded to is contained in the epistle to the Romans (2 Pet. 2:4), though in all his epistles there are some things that refer to one or other of the subjects treated of in this and the foregoing chapter; and it cannot seem strange that those who were pursuing the same general design should in their epistles insist upon the same things. But the apostle Peter proceeds to tell us that in those things which are to be met with in Paul’s epistles there are some things hard to be understood. Among the variety of subjects treated of in scripture, some are not easy to be understood because of their own obscurity, such are prophecies; others cannot be so easily understood because of their excellency and sublimity, as the mysterious doctrines; and others are with difficulty taken in because of the weakness of men’s minds, such are the things of the Spirit of God, mentioned 1 Cor. 2:14. And here the unlearned and unstable make wretched work; for they wrest and torture the scriptures, to make them speak what the Holy Ghost did not intend. Those who are not well instructed and well established in the truth are in great danger of perverting the word of God. Those who have heard and learned of the Father are best secured from misunderstanding and misapplying any part of the word of God; and, where there is a divine power to establish as well as to instruct men in divine truth, persons are effectually secured from falling into errors. How great a blessing this is we learn by observing what is the pernicious consequence of the errors that ignorant and unstable men fall into—even their own destruction. Errors in particular concerning the holiness and justice of God are the utter ruin of multitudes of men. Let us therefore earnestly pray for the Spirit of God to instruct us in the truth, that we may know it as it is in Jesus, and have our hearts established with grace, that we may stand firm and unshaken, even in the most stormy times, when others are tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine.
III. The apostle gives them a word of caution, 2 Pet. 3:17, 18, where,
1. He intimates that the knowledge we have of these things should make us very wary and watchful, inasmuch as there is a twofold danger, 2 Pet. 3:17. (1.) We are in great danger of being seduced, and turned away from the truth. The unlearned and unstable, and they are very numerous, do generally wrest the scripture. Many who have the scriptures and read them do not understand what they read; and too many of those who have a right understanding of the sense and meaning of the word are not established in the belief of the truth, and all these are liable to fall into error. Few attain to the knowledge and acknowledgment of doctrinal Christianity; and fewer find, so as to keep in the way of practical godliness, which is the narrow way, which only leadeth unto life. There must be a great deal of self-denial and suspicion of ourselves, and submitting to the authority of Christ Jesus our great prophet, before we can heartily receive all the truths of the gospel, and therefore we are in great danger of rejecting the truth. (2.) We are in great danger by being seduced; for, [1.] So far as we are turned from the truth so far are we turned out of the way to true blessedness, into the path which leads to destruction. If men corrupt the word of God, it tends to their own utter ruin. [2.] When men wrest the word of God, they fall into the error of the wicked, men without law, who keep to no rules, set no bounds to themselves, a sort of free-thinkers, which the psalmist detests. Ps. 119:113; I hate vain thoughts, but thy law do I love. Whatever opinions and thoughts of men are not conformable to the law of God, and warranted by it, the good man disclaims and abhors; they are the conceits and counsels of the ungodly, who have forsaken God’s law, and, if we imbibe their opinions, we shall too soon imitate their practices. [3.] Those who are led away by error fall from their own stedfastness. They are wholly unhinged and unsettled, and know not where to rest, but are at the greatest uncertainty, like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed. It nearly concerns us therefore to be upon our guard, seeing the danger is so great.
2. That we may the better avoid being led away, the apostle directs us what to do, 2 Pet. 3:18. And, (1.) We must grow in grace. He had in the beginning of the epistle exhorted us to add one grace to another, and here he advises us to grow in all grace, in faith, and virtue, and knowledge. By how much the stronger grace is in us, by so much the more stedfast shall we be in the truth. (2.) We must grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Follow on to know the Lord. Labour to know him more clearly and more fully, to know more of Christ and to know him to better purpose, so as to be more like him and to love him better.” This is the knowledge of Christ the apostle Paul reached after and desired to attain, Phil. 3:10. Such a knowledge of Christ as conforms us more to him, and endears him more to us, must needs be of great use to us, to preserve us from falling off in times of general apostasy; and those who experience this effect of the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ will, upon receiving such grace from him, give thanks and praise to him, and join with our apostle in saying, To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
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