2 Peter 3:1-7 open_in_new
THE UNFULFILLED PROMISE OF THE COMING
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
THE apostle now deals with those who made the delay of the Lord’s coming, and the disappointment consequently felt by many Christians, an occasion for mockery. The sense in which the Early Church expected an early personal return of the Saviour, and based their expectation on the words of our Lord, and the teachings of St. Paul and St. Peter, needs to be carefully considered. Probably both the apostles and the Christian people gave a materialistic setting to what was intended to be spiritually realised. It has recently been confidently argued that our Lord’s supposed eschatological teachings should be limited to the destruction of the Jewish religious system in the Roman overthrow of Jerusalem, save when those teachings must have a spiritual application.
2 Peter 3:1. Second epistle.—Assuming not only a first, but that first sent but a little while before. “This epistle, already a second one.” Pure.—That is, separated, so unsullied, sincere (Philippians 1:10). “Its primary application is to that which will bear the full test of being examined by sunlight, and so it carries with it the idea of transparent sincerity.
2 Peter 3:2. Of the apostles.—“Through your apostles.”
2 Peter 3:3. Scoffers.—“Scoffers shall come in their scoffing.” Own lusts.—“The habit of self-indulgence is at all times the parent of the cynical and scoffing sneer.” Scoffers revelling in scoffing, a cumulative expression to denote shameless scoffers.
2 Peter 3:4 Fathers.—Here probably the first believers in Christ, who are represented as having proved the hope of Christ’s coming to be an illusion, as they died before it was realised.
2 Peter 3:5. Willingly.—Wilfully forget, because it does not suit their purpose to remember. Ignore. Standing, etc.—More precisely, “formed out of water, and by means of water”; implying possibility of the Flood. See the account of Creation in Genesis 1,
2. Plumptre says, “The apostle speaks naturally from the standpoint of the physical science of his time and country, and we need not care to reconcile either his words, or those of Genesis 1, with the conclusions of modern meteorological science.”
2 Peter 3:6. Whereby.—By the two outlets of water. Genesis 7:11. World.—This term distinctly assumes the universality of the Deluge. Perished.—A term strictly applicable only to living creatures.
2 Peter 3:7. Reserved unto fire.—This is part of the teaching of the book of Enoch. Scriptural allusions are thought to be found in Daniel 7:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:8, “stored up for fire.” “By analogy with 2 Peter 3:5 we understand that the fire for which the present heavens and earth are reserved, exists now as a constituent in their original constitution, but prepared and designed as the agent of their dissolution. Science corroborates this.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.— 2 Peter 3:1-7
Doubts Concerning Christ’s Coming.—It is important to notice that the apostolic letters assume previous apostolic teachings. In the progress of the years the apostles found various intellectual and moral evils were seriously affecting the religious thought and life of the disciples. Their epistles are mainly designed to be corrections of these evils, and special effort is made to recover the neglected features of apostolic teaching which ought to have made such errors and evils impossible. So St. Peter here speaks of “stirring up their pure” (sincere and reverent) “minds by way of remembrance.” A certain measure of authority was, from the first, felt to attach to apostolic utterances, because they were persons who had immediate and direct experiences, instructions, and revelations concerning the matters of which they spoke and wrote. We can fully recognise this reasonable authority without presenting in any exaggerated way their absolute freedom from error. It is manifested by the facts of history that they did not adequately apprehend the spiritual character of Christ’s coming, or the period that must elapse before He would come in any sensible manifestation.
I. Christ’s coming as apostles taught it.—Their standpoint is indicated by the question which they asked of their Lord just before His ascension: “Wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” Christ, in reply, only told them that He could give no account of the precise time, but left them to understand that the kingdom would be restored; and they had an immediate and pressing duty to perform, and keep on performing, until the time for setting up the kingdom came. With this in their minds they put their own meanings into the message of the angels who appeared when their Lord had passed out of sight: “This Jesus, which was received up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye beheld Him going into heaven.” On this basis an apostolic doctrine of Christ’s coming grew. At first they expected Him to appear when the cloven tongues appeared. Then they shifted their expectations to an immediate future, and, when they began to suffer persecutions, comforted themselves with the assurance that He was coming to vindicate them, and to judge their persecutors. Time passed on, and He did not come just as they anticipated; and some of their number died, unvindicated and unavenged, and deprived of whatever privileges were to attend the coming. But still they persisted that the “day of the Lord is at hand.” It does not appear that the spiritual sense in which believers have always felt that Jesus has fulfilled His promise was ever apprehended by the apostles. They had the promise and the hope, but they could only realise it when placed before them in a carnal and earthly setting. And that setting put it in limitations which started criticism and encouraged unbelief.
II. On what grounds could doubts of Christ’s coming again be cherished?—There do not appear to have been any special forms of doubt in those days. The objections urged are precisely those which have been heard in every Christian age, and are heard to-day. They may go under two heads, and be put in relation to the two conditions of human thinking—time and space; but they always assume, what we are by no means prepared to admit, that the coming is altogether and only sensible, material, and earthly. It is said
(1) He is always coming now, but the now never comes. It is said
(2) If He came in a material form He must put Himself in space-limitations, and could not possibly be the help and blessing that He is as an unlocalised, everywhere present, spiritual Saviour.
III. What facts of Divine dealing make all such doubts unreasonable?—The scoffers put their scoffing in this form: “You have told us of a coming affliction such as there has not been from the beginning of the creation, and lo! we find the world still goes on as of old, and no great catastrophe happens.” St. Peter’s answer is that men spoke in just the same way concerning certain other great historical catastrophes and calamities. There is always human confusion when time-measures are applied to the Divine Being and His dealings with men. The threatened catastrophes always have come, and what men called “delay” had a Divine mission of warning and opportunity. Divine time-delay is never a basis on which doubts can reasonably rest. The only doubts in relation to the coming of the Lord permissible to Christians are those which lead them to question whether as yet they have quite sounded the fulness and depth of their Lord’s meaning, when He promised to “come again.” We ought to be advancing in spiritual power and insight, and so better able to read our Lord’s spiritual meanings. And he who can enter fully into the blissful reality of our Lord’s spiritual presence is relieved of all undue anxiety concerning a possible bodily manifestation. “That is not first which is spiritual; but that which is natural, and afterwards that which is spiritual.” Judgment of mankind is spiritual work. The reward of the righteous is spiritual reward. Christ is king of souls, and, here or yonder, then or now, He is the spiritual Christ who comes in spiritual ways. Still, for so many the spiritual truth has yet to keep its material shapings and dress, and they can only realise His coming at all when they can picture to themselves a majestic, sensible manifestation, wrapped about with clouds.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
2 Peter 3:4. Christ’s Coming.—Notice—
I. How St. Peter answers five questions relating to the last day.—
1. Whether we are yet to wait confidently for the last day.
2. When, and at what time, it will come.
3. Why Jesus has not come for so long a time.
4. How, and in what manner, the last day will come.
5. What Christ will perform on that day.
II. How thoroughly he instructs us as to the manner of our preparing for it.—
1. In holy conversation and godliness.
2. To wait patiently for, and hasten to it.
3. To give all diligence, that we may be found blameless by Christ.—V. Herberger.
2 Peter 3:4. Death as Sleep.—In the use of the verb to “fall asleep” for dying we are reminded of our Lord’s words, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth” (John 11:11); of St. Paul’s, “many sleep” (1 Corinthians 11:30). So in Greek sculpture Death and Sleep appear as twin genii, and in Greek and Roman epitaphs nothing is more common than the record that the deceased “sleeps” below. Too often there is the addition, as of those who are without hope, “sleeps an eternal sleep.” In Christian language the idea of sleep is perpetuated in the term “cemetery” (κοιμητήριον= sleeping place), as applied to the burial-place of the dead, but it is blended with that of an “awakening out of sleep” at the last day, and even with the thought, at first seemingly incompatible with it, that the soul is quickened into higher energies of life on its entrance into the unseen world.—Dean Plumptre.
2 Peter 3:8-13 open_in_new
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
2 Peter 3:8. One day, etc.—The time-element gave opportunity to the scoffers. The time-measures of God must not be thought of as like those of men. It is to misrepresent this verse, to regard it as fixing God’s measure for a day as being a thousand years. To do so would make God’s judgment-day a thousand years long, and the day of Christ’s coming also a thousand years long. The Millennium is a day, if the last sentence of this verse be taken literally.
2 Peter 3:9. Not slack.—The apparent delay is arranged in Divine wisdom, and with due consideration of the saints. “God is long-suffering, because He is eternal” (Augustine). To us-ward.—“Toward you.”
2 Peter 3:10. Great noise.—Rushing noise. Elements.—Or “heavenly bodies.” Macknight says, “The electrical matter, the sulphurous vapours, the clouds, and whatsoever floats in the air, with the air itself.”
2 Peter 3:11. Shall be dissolved.—Lit. “are being dissolved.” All holy conversation, and godliness.—Both words are in the plural. All forms of holy living.
2 Peter 3:12. Hasting.—(Omit “unto”). Hasting the coming by holy lives. Wherein.—Or “on account of which.”
2 Peter 3:13. New heavens, etc.—See Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22; Revelation 21:1. The idea is fully expanded in the book of Enoch.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.— 2 Peter 3:8-13
Long-suffering is not Indifference.
I. The Divine time-measures.— 2 Peter 3:8 contains the “second answer to the sceptical argument. Time is the condition of man’s thought and action, but not of God’s. His thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways as our ways; what seems delay to us is none to Him.” The figurative expression of this text has been much misrepresented and misused. It is when it is treated as a precise statement, and made the basis of minute calculations. The whole conception of a Millennium rests on a figurative expression. When it is said that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,” it is simply meant to assert that God’s prophecies and promises must never be tested by human time-measures. If He says a thing will happen to-day we must always keep in mind that it is His “to-day,” not ours; and that His to-day may cover even what we should call a “thousand years.” As an argument against the scoffer this is effective enough. The force of his scoff is broken when he is compelled to reckon the fulfilment of promises by God’s time-measures.
II. The patience of Divine delay.—It needs to be clearly seen that, since God must always keep moral ends in view, He can never make an unconditional promise. The promise is a moral force. If that promise fulfils its end the promise can be made good at once. If that force is in any way hindered, the fulfilment must be left over until the moral force has duly affected its mission. And the Divine patience is seen in being willing even to be misunderstood and misrepresented, rather than to cease exerting the graciously redeeming moral force. There is no sublimer revelation of God than that which comes to us in the Divine delayings. He can wait and bear, in view of the ends of His infinite love for man. He is “not slack concerning His promise.” We never may think that He is indifferent—that “He has forgotten to be gracious.” That never can explain the Divine action. We may always find long-suffering patience. He is not willing that any should perish. He stretches opportunity of repentance to its utmost limit. He gives warning after warning, until the utter hopelessness of any further warning is made quite plain, and the cup of self-willedness and iniquity is quite full.
III. The certain ending of times of Divine delay.—“But the day of the Lord will come.” If judgment be threatened as a flood, the flood will come, unless men repent. A hundred and twenty years may pass, and men may grow bold in their impious self-security; they may laugh away all fears as they enjoy their sunny days; but the flood will come. The Flood came. God’s “word never returns to Him void.” It will certainly be the same in regard to the promise of Christ’s coming, whether that be viewed as the vindication of the saints, or as judgment on their persecutors. Divine delay in no sense indicates that the Divine purpose is abandoned. Let nobody for one moment think that. Christ will come. “The day of the Lord will come.” And if the scoffer persists in scoffing, let him remember that the sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered Zoar; there was every prospect of another splendid summer day; but that day the fire of God fell. Certain as death is judgment—is Christ’s coming to judgment.
IV. The certainty of Divine judgment is present blessing.—It is a constant and a gracious persuasion to virtue. This is its proper influence upon us. It makes us say, “What manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness.” By the earnestness of our endeavours in cultivating the godly life, and growing in grace, we should be “looking for, and hasting unto the coming of the day of God.” Not “looking for” in any sense of idly watching at a window; but looking for, as Christ taught us the good servant looks for the return of his Master, by all devoted obediences, all earnest activities, all careful preparations. Christ is coming; then let us “be diligent, that we may be found of Him in peace.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
2 Peter 3:8. A Thousand Years as a Day.—The latter half of this saying is quite original, and has no equivalent in Psalms 90:4. The second half is only partially parallel to “a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday, when it is past.” Consequently we cannot be sure that the apostle had this passage from the psalms in his mind, though it is probable enough that he had. That God can punish in one day the sins of a thousand years is a thought which is neither in the text nor in the context. What is insisted on is simply this: that distinctions of long and short time are nothing in the sight of God; delay is a purely human conception. Justin Martyr (about A. D. 145) gives “the day of the Lord is as a thousand years” as a quotation, and in this form it is closer to this verse than to Psalms 90:4. As another possible reference to our epistle follows in the next chapter, it may be regarded as not improbable that Justin knew the epistle. But the saying may have been a favourite one, especially with those who held Millenarian views. In the epistle of Barnabas (15:4) we read, “For a day means with Him a thousand years, and He Himself witnesseth, saying, Behold, to-day shall be as a thousand years,” where for “to-day” the Codex Sinaiticus reads the day of the Lord.” Irenseus has, “The day of the Lord is as a thousand years” twice. Hippolytus has it once, Methodius once. In no case, however, is the context at all similar to the verses before us.—A. Plummer, M.A.
The Brevity of God’s Delays.—No delay which occurs is long to God; as to a man of countless riches, a thousand guineas are as a single penny. God’s œnologe (eternal-ages measurer) differs wholly from man’s horologe (hour-glass). His gnomon (dial-pointer) shows all the hours at once in the greatest activity and in perfect repose. To Him the hours pass away, neither more slowly, nor more quickly, than befits His economy. There is nothing to make Him need either to hasten or delay the end.—Fausset.
2 Peter 3:11. What is a Holy Conversation?—The Revised Version reads “holy living,” but the word “conversation” may be taken as altogether more suggestive. It is a very searching thing to require a holy tone and character upon all the turning about, in and out, here and there, to and fro, with this man and that, in all the everyday and commonplace associations of life. And that is what is meant by the “holy conversation” of the text. It may seem at first sight as if “godliness” were very much the same thing as “holy conversation,” but we may distinguish between the actual conduct of life and the inspiring motive of it. The inspiring motive should be “godliness.” “Godliness” is the realisation of God’s abiding presence, the fruits of which are reverence and trust. But the argument by which a “holy conversation” is urged upon us by the apostle is certainly somewhat peculiar. Because all present material things are to be dissolved; because the heavens shall pass away with a great noise; because the elements shall melt with fervent heat; because the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up;—therefore, we ought to be supremely concerned about our “holy conversation and godliness.” If this stood alone it would be perplexing; but when St. Peter adds Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness,” we begin to understand him. A great testing time awaits God’s people; what it was to be could only be conceived under the forms of an overwhelming commotion of material things. In that time of testing nothing could possibly stand but steadfast goodness, an established “holy conversation and godliness.” Out of that time of testing will come a condition of confirmed holiness; there will be a “new heaven and a new earth,” whose supreme characteristic should be that in it “dwelleth,” “abideth,” “righteousness.” Only they who maintain the “holy conversation and godliness” can have any place in that “new earth”; but he who has persistently kept righteous during the testing time shall then be “righteous still.” That, then, is our work as the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to earnestly maintain our “holy conversation and godliness,” as our true preparation for every time of strain that may be coming, and as providing the only sure defence from the evil influences which that time may bring. And we are to maintain it because only those who are holding it fast can have any “entrance ministered unto them into the everlasting kingdom” of righteousness. It is very significant that the apostles, while anxious about right opinion, are so much more anxious about right conduct and right character. The two may go together, and always should, but conduct and character must come first, and be esteemed as of supreme importance. “Only let your conversation be such as becometh the gospel of Christ.” We do well, then, to try and understand what a “holy conversation” is; or, to put the same thing in other words, what actual and practical ordering and shaping of our human life and relationships is involved in our making a Christian profession. “What manner of persons ought we to be?”
I. A holy conversation is a daily life ordered by principle.—One Scripture writer earnestly counsels us not to let our life drift. But it is precisely that we are tempted to do. To let things go. To live on, day by day, simply responsive to the accidents of the day, and fitting our wisdom and skill, as well as we can, to the duties and emergencies of the day. It is but a butterfly kind of life, flitting lazily from flower to flower, and sipping what nectar we can. A “holy conversation” was never attained in that way. It is easy enough to drift into a low, careless kind of life, but no man ever yet put a stamp of character upon his conduct until he gained a clear meaning and purpose for his life. It is the greatest work of education to inspire the boy with a great resolve. He is not educated unless he has come to see a meaning in his life, to set before himself a noble purpose, and to recognise the law or principle by which all his efforts to attain are to be ruled. To start in life without a fixed principle is like starting a voyage on the unknown and wind-driven seas, without a guiding and controlling helm. Sometimes the principle chosen for the ordering of a life is not a good principle, but even then it has its power as a principle, and in the sway of it the man reaches altogether grander things than the man possibly can who drifts through life, anyhow and anywhere, without any guiding principle at all. But there is no reason against our choosing such a principle as will secure for us a “holy conversation.” We can resolve that life shall be ordered on the principle of always and simply doing what we know to be the will of God. For us that will is in part declared in the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in part witnessed every day afresh, in adaptation to the circumstances of life, by the indwelling Holy Spirit. And what we call “conversion” is precisely this: the dethroning of the old principle of seeking the interests of Self, and enthroning the principle of service to the holy will of God. Just in the measure in which a man’s life is ordered and toned by that principle will his daily life and association be described as a “holy conversation.” That is the first thing, and there is nothing more absolutely essential to right living. We can attain nothing unless we are purposed to attain it. We can attain no high thing unless our purpose be based on a principle, and that principle be the noblest that can give character to a life. It is but putting this in figurative form for the apostle to say, “I beseech you, therefore, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice … which is your reasonable service.”
II. A “holy conversation” is a daily life shaped to a pattern.—We want help in finding befitting expression for our principle in the actual details of our daily association and duty and influence. We see this want very clearly in the case of the Christians connected with the early Gentile Churches. It was most difficult and perplexing work to get the new Christian principle, altering, re-moulding, and re-toning all the common, every-day thoughts, feelings, and relations of life; and we know how, in all the epistles, practical counsels for guidance were given, and how, in the epistles to the Corinthians, the more special cases of perplexity were carefully dealt with. Was this principle, which we have commended as the right, the highest, the most sanctifying principle that can order a human life, ever so worked out into the details of any one human career that such a man’s life-story can be taken as an absolutely satisfactory pattern? We can take any and every good man as an example of something; but then each ordinary good man is almost as much a warning as an example. Was there ever a case in which the pattern of the life-principle, worked into all details, was perfect? A case in which the life contains nothing whatever which we must be warned not to copy? That supremely important question has never yet received more than one answer. It never will receive more than one. That one is entirely satisfactory. The “Man, Christ Jesus” is the model life of details, in which the power of the controlling principle is seen; and whosoever takes that human life for his pattern increasingly finds himself satisfied with it, and inspired by it so as to attain a “holy conversation.” But we shall misuse that pattern if we merely slavishly imitate it; if we inconsiderately say, Jesus did and said such and such things, and we must say and do exactly the same. That is childish imitation, not intelligently using our pattern. What we require is to see that Christ’s pattern is simply but precisely this: the varying suggestion of ways in which the great life-principle finds befitting expression in the details of human conduct. What we have to ask, if we would follow the example of Christ aright, is this: How would Christ have expressed the great principle if He had been placed in just these particular circumstances in which I am placed? And we can get practical help from observing how Christ did act in circumstances that were similar. To “follow His steps” is to express principle as He did. Is it not quite plain that shaping life after the pattern which Christ has set will ensure a “holy conversation”? It did. No other terms are befitting as the description of the life of the Lord Jesus. Take what meanings you may please to attach to the term “holy,” they are all satisfied in the blessed life of Him who “did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth”; “who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” And a “holy conversation” is possible to us in the measure in which we answer to the pattern, have the “mind that was in Christ Jesus,” and are made “like unto Him in all things”—changed into His image.
III. A “holy conversation” is a life sustained by consecrated energy.—It is necessary to dwell upon this, because Christ’s holy life may seem to us a far easier thing than we shall ever find a holy life to be; and we may readily get disheartened when we are impressed with the contrast between our Lord’s easy attainment and our ever difficult and doubtful struggle. It really should not be felt a surprising thing that we can but, at the best, come a long way behind Christ—a very long way indeed it will be unless we put consecrated energy into our endeavour. Such energy is demanded because the life-principle we have chosen is never so established and confirmed in us as to be beyond peril; and even more than that, it has a way of fading down in us and becoming ineffective if we do not perseveringly and persistently keep it well to the front, and make it have its say about everything. A true life-principle in a man must be everything or nothing, everywhere or nowhere. There is therefore constant demand for the consecrated energy which will keep power and vigour in the principle which makes a “holy conversation.” The holy life is a life in earnest, and it can be nothing else. The hair and fur of animals reveals at once lowered vitality. Keep up the energy of the soul’s life, and all the signs will be right; there will surely be the “holy conversation.” And the consecrated energy is further needed because the practical outworking of our life-principle in the details of conduct is never easy for us, if it was always easy for Christ. Our Lord expressed a truth which was applicable to more than the entrance into the kingdom when He said, “Strive” (agonise) “to enter in.” It is quite true that the effort for us will grow easier as years unfold, and will become easier in particular things, but it will never cease to make demands upon watchfulness, self-mastery, and consecrated energy. If we would attain the “holy conversation,” we must be prepared to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ,” and we must be constantly lifting ourselves afresh up to the holy enduring. What is wanted, always wanted, is earnestness put into the endeavour to live the holy life. We must mean it, and strive for it.
IV. A “holy conversation” is life toned by righteousness.—There are so many things in life that would be beautiful if they were polished. Things never do become lovely until they get their bloom. What marvellous improvements have been made in the paper of our books and magazines! Now it has its polish on and shines. It may be of first importance that a Christian’s conversation should be right—that it should be of sterling worth; the ring of it must be sound and true. But it does not answer to the description “holy conversation” until it gets its polish, until upon it lies the bloom. It must be beautiful and gracious. The fruits of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness,” make up the bloom, and no man has gained the “holy conversation” until he is strong, true, and beautiful in Christ. Yes, in Christ. For there is a marvel about our Pattern. The Pattern proves to be a Person, a living Person, with whom we can have so real a fellowship that the glow of Him shall be reflected from us. Like Moses, when he saw God, the shine will be on our faces, the Christ-tone will be on all our intercourse. The Christ-bloom creeps all over us if we really come into soul-nearness to Him. Surely the question with which we started has been fully answered. What is a “holy conversation”? It is a human life ordered by the principle that ruled the human life of Christ. It is a human life in all its details shaped after the pattern of the “Man, Christ Jesus.” It is a human life into which is put the energy of a vigorous life and a consecrated purpose. It is a human life that is kept within the radiance of Christ, and shines out His light upon men. Seeing that the great strain-time, taking one form or another, must come to us all; and seeing that through the strain-time we may hope to come to the world where all is righteous;—“what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness?”
2 Peter 3:13. Heaven: its Nature and Character.—There is great confusion, both in the language and the opinions of men, in regard to the final dwelling-place which is promised in Scripture to the righteous. We speak of heaven continually, yet have but a vague and unconnected notion of what it positively is. There is no perspicuous and definite idea impressed upon the mind: we are wandering in the regions of generality, or probability. It may be this, or it may be that. It is a speculation rather than an article of faith. With our very limited faculty of intelligence, and with our many imperfections and impurities clinging on all sides around us, we shall never be able entirely to penetrate those sacred mysteries of futurity which God has but partially disclosed. To be wise beyond the Scriptures would be the height of impiety; but, nevertheless, there is no reason why we should not strive to be wise up to the Scriptures.
I. Heaven is a place, a tangible, material locality.—Heaven, as a word, is used with various significations.
1. The region of air or atmosphere immediately surrounding the earth.
2. The firmament, or vast expanse of space which is beyond or above the atmosphere, wherein the stars appear.
3. As the place of God’s residence, and the dwelling of angels. Many persons have taken up the idea that heaven is nothing more than a sort of indefinite ethereal abode; that the grossness of materialism cannot enter there; that it is filled with nothing but certain mental and spiritual essences of glory and love, unallied to anything that savours of body or of matter; and so they attenuate and dwindle away all notion of it, till it disappears in nothing; and when pressed home, they find that their minds have been dwelling upon that which is purely imaginative, and has no foundation. The source of this is not difficult to detect. By our present connection with the world in which we dwell, our notion of materialism is inseparably connected with a notion of imperfection and sin; and by the exalted pictures which Scripture gives us of the joys of heaven, we are loth to admit, as within its comprehension, anything that appertains to our present state. The contemplative mind cannot think of heaven as constituted of any such material elements as here he sees around him. But there is a fallacy in such reasoning, and the fallacy is this: we look upon the material things of nature as they are now, and not as God made them originally; we look upon the human body as it is now, in sin, and not as the Almighty originally constituted it—in glory and holiness. Man was a sinless creature; there was naught for him but loveliness and beauty; there was no such thing as sorrow, no such thing as pain. The paradise in which Adam and Eve dwelt, we must consider to have been a perfect and blissful abode; and yet it was a local abode. It was not till Adam fell that materialism ceased to be holy. It was not till sin entered into the world that there was any drawback in the works of nature, as now looked upon by us. Then, indeed, the whole of the works of God were changed from their original destination. But who would say that, because this material state, in which we now are, cannot form such a place as heaven, that no material state shall? Then Scripture asserts the resurrection of the body, and the reunion of the body and soul, before entering the future abode of eternity. Christ, in His human nature, as a body, is in heaven, at God’s right hand. We cannot conceive this at all, unless we conceive of God’s right hand as a place. In all the descriptions of the blessedness of the righteous, that which describes their happiness infers that happiness as depending on organs of sensation, as seeing, conversing with, and listening to, other beings who shall there be associated with us. If there is material vision, material hearing, material recognition, there must be a material abode, and material objects on which they are to be exercised. The promised abode of righteous men, we may confidently say, is of a local and material character. It is materialism, purged indeed from sin, and cleansed of all those imperfections which attach to it here—but still materialism.
II. There is a certain character attached to the place without which character no man can attain unto its glories.—“Wherein dwelleth righteousness.” As some have theorised away the notion of heaven, by lifting it up beyond the cognisance of our senses altogether, so others, men of sensual and earthly affections, have so debased their notion of it as to represent it as a mere place of such corporeal pleasures as prevail in this world. But such an absurdity—let alone its profaneness—as that picture of Paradise which the Koran describes, can never for a moment be entertained by one who reads the Bible. The most perfect and hallowed goodness must of necessity belong to the saints in light. Harmony of views, identity of interests, unison of affections—in short, universal good—shall fill every bosom, and stimulate every heart. What must the character of the soul of man be, before he can become the fit inhabitant of such a heaven? Clearly, we human beings must be changed; we must be spiritualised; we must be lifted up to God, for God cannot be brought down to us. And when may this change be effected? Certainly not after death. If we attain not to holiness and spirituality of character while on this earth, we shall not attain unto the spirituality of the character which belongs to the new earth. What you are here, you will be hereafter. Heaven cannot but be a place of holiness. He therefore that is unholy can have no place therein. It appears, then, that as one part of heaven, the material part, cannot be commenced here, but must wait for the final restitution of all things, so, in proportion, the other part of heaven, the spiritual part, must be commenced here, otherwise the fruition of eternal joy never can be ours. The spiritual heaven, the temper of mind, the patience, the meekness, the purity, the love of heaven—that, unless we have a foretaste of it now, we shall not be in a capacity for enjoying hereafter.—William J. E. Bennett, M.A.
New Heavens and New Earth.—What is our conception of the new heaven and the new earth that we desire? Is it a mere absence of annoyances? Is it an egotism, expanded to infinitude? Is it a sensual Mohammedan paradise? Is it a selfish palace of art? Is it a city paved with gold, or a pagoda of jewels, like the Jerusalem of St. John, in its merely external aspect? Childish must we be indeed if we have not get beyond these symbols, if we do not know that man is, in his essence, a spiritual being, and that for a spiritual being there can be no felicity save in spiritual conditions—in communion with God, in serenity of mind, in purity of heart. We, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Shall we ever enjoy that heaven hereafter? Yea, if we truly seek it now.—Dean Farrar.
Attainableness of Righteousness.—Is righteousness attainable by man? If it be, then the essence of God’s kingdom is not beyond man’s reach. If righteousness be attainable here and now, then here and now we may at least enter into the kingdom of heaven. Is our conception of happiness identified with righteousness? Is that the thing which we desire? Is that our ideal? Is that the one goal to which we are stretching forward in the heavenly race? If so, then for us, even here and now, “the path to heaven lies through heaven, and all the way to heaven is heaven.” What sort of a condition answers to the heaven of which you dream, for which you sigh? Is it a state of things which you vaguely call glory? Is it a starry crown—the symbol of supreme self-aggrandisement? Is it a golden throne, the summit of individual exaltation? Is it the rest of an untroubled indolence? If so, our heaven may prove to be indeed a chimera, both now and hereafter. Such notions of heaven betray the unsuspected fact that, after all, our high spiritual hopes resolve themselves into mere earthliness, into an ill-concealed amalgam of vanity and selfishness. The true conception of heaven is holiness.—Dean Farrar.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
2 Peter 3:12. Ready for the Voyage.—The Christian, at his death, should not be like the child, who is forced by the rod to quit his play; but like one who is wearied of it, and willing to go to bed. Neither ought he to be like the mariner whose vessel is drifted by the violence of the tempest from the shore, tossed to and fro upon the ocean, and at last suffers wreck and destruction; but like one who is ready for the voyage, and, the moment the wind is favourable, cheerfully weighs anchor, and, full of hope and, joy, launches forth into the deep.—Gotthold’s “Emblems.”
Influence of Fire upon the Earth.—“What has fire done upon the earth? Fire has only re-constructed and destroyed. Nothing has found an origin in fire. Fire itself is an effect, and not a cause it is in the atmosphere, it is in the flint in the earth, it is in the water; in each it is a thing by itself, unseen or unfelt; certain conditions bring it into active existence, but it cannot be traced in either element as a matter of course; yet it is here, there, and everywhere: it has built up Cotopaxi to the height of 18,000 feet; Teneriffe has been shot up by its labours from an unknown depth beneath the sea to 12,000 feet above it; Etna is heaped up with lava, ashes, and scoriæ some 11,000 feet; Iceland has grown into a great island under its influence; and Vesuvius has grown to a height of 3,751 feet, from a reconstruction of earthy matter by force.”—Malet.
2 Peter 3:14-18 open_in_new
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.— 2 Peter 3:14-18
The Common Teaching of the Apostles.—St. Peter’s reference to St. Paul brings the relations of these two men to mind. At one time they were very strained, and from the human point of view the strain can be very simply explained. To St. Peter was entrusted the work of opening the privilege of the gospel to the Gentiles; but he could not see more than their being allowed to become Jewish Christians, holding the Christian faith, but ordered in religious conduct by Jewish regulations. St. Paul was called to extend and to liberalise his work. When the gospel was preached to men who had no Jewish associations, it was found practically impossible to put them under formal Jewish regulations, and the question immediately arose, “Are we justified in making this particular demand upon our Gentile converts?” Judaism was right enough for Jews, but was it a yoke to be put on everybody? St. Paul took a bold line. So far as Judaism represented great human principles, and broad universal expression of those principles, so far as it concerned man as man, it must be imposed on Gentiles. But so far as it was exclusive, adapted to the education, religious well-being, and ministry, of a particular race, it need have no permanence and no general applications. This was clear to St. Paul, and to his school of thought; and it must always be borne in mind that St. Paul was, throughout his life, a faithful adherent of the Jewish faith and practice. For himself he maintained a loyal allegiance to the customs of his fathers; but since he apprehended Christianity as a Divine life in the soul, rather than as a religion, he saw clearly that a particular dress in which the life must clothe itself, could not be forced upon everybody. But St. Peter never could quite grow out of his Jewish thought-bondages, and consequently the time came when St. Paul had openly to reprove him for what looked very much like a piece of time-serving (Galatians 2:14). The passage now before us shows plainly that the estrangement had been removed, though its remarkable sentence, “in which are some things hard to be understood,” etc. (2 Peter 3:16) indicates that there were still some things of St. Paul’s teaching which he had to leave. His confidence in him, as a loyal and faithful fellow-servant of Jesus Christ, had been fully restored, if it had been temporarily destroyed, but concerning his teachings be had still to say, “Many men, many minds.” Here St. Peter’s point is, that St. Paul and he were absolutely agreed in their teachings concerning Christ’s second coming, and the attitude which the Christian Church should take in relation to it.
I. St. Paul’s references to the coming of Christ.—These are chiefly to be found in the epistles to the Corinthians and Thessalonians, and they are in some respects more minute than those of St. Peter. It might, however, be shown that St. Paul conceived the coming and the issues of the coming, from such a spiritual point of view as at least prepares for the spiritual apprehension of it which is more and more being revealed to Christ’s Church.
II. St. Paul’s teaching concerning Divine delay.—That is one great point present to St. Peter’s mind; on it the doubting of the scoffers rested. He could safely plead that all the apostles had taught, that any seeming delay in the fulfilment of God’s promise was but incitement to persistency and trust.
III. St. Paul’s perplexing things.—See the hints given in the introductory portion of this Homiletic Note.
IV. The apostolic persuasion to maintain faith, and keep on in Christian growing (2 Peter 3:18).—See outline on “The double Christian growth.” The “grace of our Lord” must mean the grace of which He is the Giver; while the “knowledge of our Lord” must mean the knowledge of which He is the object.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
2 Peter 3:18. Never Satisfied.—The artist who is satisfied with his transcript of his ideal will not grow any more. There is a touching story told of a modern sculptor, who was found standing in front of his masterpiece, sunk in sad reverie; and when they asked him why he was so sad, “Because,” he answered, “I am satisfied with it.” “I have embodied,” he would say, “all that I think and feel. There it is. And because there is no discord between what I dream, and what I can do, I feel that the limit of my growth is reached.”—A Maclaren, D.D.
Possibilities of Goodness.—No man knows how much of goodness, nobleness, and wisdom, are possible for any man, or for himself. No bounds can be set to that progress of growth. There is no point on that happy voyage, beyond which icy cliffs and a frozen ocean forbid a passage; but before us, to the verge of our horizon of to-day, stretch the open waters. And when that farthest point of vision lies as far astern as it now gleams ahead, the same boundless, sapphire sea will draw our yearning desires, and bear onwards our advancing powers.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Growing in Grace.—Standing in the portico of the church of S. Pietro in Vincoli, at Rome, and looking across into a convent of Maronite monks, one sees lifted against the beautiful blue of the Italian sky a magnificent palm-tree. It is very tall. It is straight as any arrow. Its stem is thick, but tapering and exquisitely graceful. And upon its summit there rests, with a real solidity, and yet at the same time with a quite external lightness, a vast and swaying coronal of leaves. As we look at it the images of the Scripture come thronging through the mind—“the righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree.” And if we analyse a little the method of the flourishing of the palm, we shall find it full of analogies of what ought to be the method of advance for a righteous life. It is a tree singularly independent of external circumstances. When, in winter, there fall the copious rains, it is not greatly stimulated; when, in the summer, the fiercest heats beat down, it does not droop and wither. It maintains its uprightness. You cannot shove it much out of a straight line of growth from the earth upwards toward the heavens. The strongest tempests cannot keep it bent out of this straight line, and sometimes men have tried to hinder it from its straightness by hanging heavy weights upon it; but this has failed. It is perfect in its uprightness. Then, too, the palm is a fruitful tree. Always, in its season, does it hang out the rich clusters of its dates. Constantly does it scatter down its benefactions. Also, the palm is a tree which keeps on growing. It grows on from century even into century. It may be slow in growth, but it is sure and steady. And thus constantly, as the years pass, it is more in height and heavenwardness. It is more in bulk. It is firmer fixed in straightness. It is more affluent of shade and fruit. It is more in beauty, more in strength, more in blessing. Thus, full of growth in all directions, it is full of flourishing. Says the Scripture, “The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree.” Grow thus in grace—that is the Divine injunction. How much have you grown during the past year? How may we flourish in grace, as the palm flourishes?
I. If we would grow thus in grace, it must be the supreme idea of our lives to do it.—As a man thinks, etc., in his heart, so is he. There are such people in the Churches as minimum Christians. Here is the main secret of much of our puny and miserable spiritual growth. We are not, and hardly want to be, maximum Christians. Unless it be our idea to be such, we can never be such.
II. We must grow in grace by prayer.—Prayer in its results is subjective; it brings us into harmony and relation with God. But prayer is more than this, what Dr. Bushnell calls “dumb-bell” notion of it. Prayer is a real grasping of objective benefits. We get by Divine gift what we pray for—chiefly grace.
III. We must grow in grace by knowledge.—The Bible is the sustenance and nutriment of spiritual growth. There are too many spiritual fasters from this Divine nutriment.
IV. We must grow in grace by actual resolving to grow, and by pressing resolution into action.—We dream too much toward nobler grace; we do not enough strenuously do toward nobler grace.—Anon.
The Christian’s Double Growth.—At the starting of the religious life of a new year what word may fittingly recall to our minds the responsibilities of our Christian profession? Will this one be helpful which I would suggest as our motto? We want one that at once suggests an estimate of our past, and inspires us to more watchful and earnest endeavour in the days to come. We want one that, during the year, will recall to us our solemn obligations. This text says to each one of us, Have you been growing in the spiritual life this year? And it says to each one of us, Remember, you must grow in the spiritual life, or that life will surely shrivel, and fade, and die. The Revised Version reads the sentence, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But the Greek is not quite clear, and the idea suggested by the Authorised Version, on which we now dwell, is fully in accord with the teachings of both Peter and Paul. The growth should be in character, which is the soul’s health, and in knowledge, which is one side of the nourishment of the soul’s health. Grow like your Divine Master, grow in graciousness and grow in wisdom. So growing, grow in favour with God and man. In the Christian life growth is essential, and healthy growth will take two directions, the line of character, and the line of knowledge. Like the trees, there will be growth in the branchings of character, and growth in the rootings of knowledge, and there never can be healthy growing of the one apart from the harmonious, healthy growing of the other. “That we may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head.” Peter, in this epistle, gives the details of character-growth: “Adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply virtue; and in your virtue knowledge; and in your knowledge temperance; and in your temperance patience; and in your patience godliness; and in your godliness love of the brethren; and in your love of the brethren, love. For if these things are yours and abound, they make you to be not idle nor unfruitful”. Paul, in the epistle to the Colossians, gives suggestions concerning growth in spiritual knowledge: “And to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
I. In the Christian life growth is essential.—It is in all life. We are troubled about our garden plants if they do not grow. There must be something wrong with them. The child that does not grow in body cannot be in health. We call the poor creature an idiot that does not grow in mind. All around us everything is growing, and we share a life whose sign of activity is growth. That must be true of spiritual life which is true of the physical. As a man in Christ, I may say, “While I live I grow, and while I grow I know that I live.” It may be that soul-growth cannot be watched, and sometimes cannot even be discerned. It may even be better for us that it should be impossible for us to trace it, and that we can only get an idea of our progress at long and distant intervals. Something may happen to surprise us by revealing what growth and progress we have made in the spiritual life, just as moments of surprise come to us when we realise that the girl we so long have watched is no longer a child.
“The child is a woman.
The book may close over; now all the lessons are said.”
It is but reminding of familiar things to say that growth depends on nourishment and exercise. And that must be as true of soul-growth as it certainly is of body-growth. There is appropriate soul-food, and suitable soul-exercise; and there cannot be spiritual health and development where these are neglected or misused. And we have been reminded that growth depends upon healthy surroundings, sanitary atmospheres, and inspiriting daily conditions. Growth depends on cherished cheerfulness of spirit, pleasant toil, kept within wise limitations, and the brightening influence of daily friendships. Pure homes, judicious and well-ordered measures, help to secure both physical and moral growth; and spiritual atmospheres, surroundings, and associations are in every way as essential for securing soul-growth. This is very familiar truth, but we may set it before us once again. It is not so familiar to say that moral and spiritual growth depend on will and effort. We grow if we want to grow. The athlete who wants to grow muscle for the strain of the coming contest, puts his will into the matter, makes the necessary effort, and grows by force of will. You remember how one of our greatest novel writers makes one of his characters die simply because “she would not make an effort.” It would help us if we clearly realised that the soul-growth which is essential to soul-life is no happy accident, no unconscious process, going on in a natural way, whether we will it or not. It is a growth under conditions, just as truly as is the growth of the vines you are training in the glass houses, and the arrangement of those conditions is a matter of our will and effort. A man who means to ensure the growth of his soul must use the means, and he has no right to complain of flaccid spiritual muscles, and the terrible feeling of soul-weakness, if he makes little or no effort to ensure the conditions of spiritual growth. “If we be living Christians—true men—we are growing.” What happens when living things cease to grow? You can see what happens in the trees. Deadly fungus comes upon the branch that will not grow. There is no possible halting place for us. To stop is to go back. Fail to use power and you must lose the power; and losing our power is but death in its beginnings. Sometimes one inclines to ask, Do old people cease to grow bodily? I think not. They grow right on to the end, only there are forces of decay at work which mate and master the forces of growth. Certainly it is true spiritually that growth never ceases, but while “the outward man perisheth, the inward man is renewed day by day.” Never, while we tarry amid these mortal scenes, do we cease soul-growth. Never do we cease to need the means of soul-growth. Shall we look seriously at this matter? We are alive unto God. The sign of life is growth. Growth depends on conditions. Those conditions are largely within our control. And therefore the word of the apostle comes close home to us, and should be an inspiration. “Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
II. In the Christian life growth takes two directions.—
1. In grace. It is said of the Divine Youth of Nazareth, that he “grew in grace,” and that sums up the development of amiable, high-principled, beautiful, and gracious character. In something of that sense we may venture to take the word “grace” in our text. Bodily life has a tone, a character. Spiritual life has a tone, a character. Sometimes the Christian virtues and graces are spoken of as if they were the garments which the soul was required to put on. Thus the apostle Paul says, “Put on, therefore, as God’s elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another. And above all these things, put on love, which is the bond of perfectness.” And Peter would have us “be clothed with humility.” But here character is rather thought of as something which we are to grow into. We know how our boys and girls, under the varied influences of their childhood and youth, grow into their characters; get this and that corrected or removed, and this and that settled in, and made their own. We watch the process with the intensest interest, ready with all wise training and gracious help. In the little child we note the possibilities; in the growing boy we see them unfolding; in the young man stepping forth into life we expect to see principles established, and virtue and grace confirmed. And if we get a deeper view of mature life, we find it is still a growing into character, up into the ideal character set before us in the Lord Jesus Christ. What are we with the weight of years upon us but the Lord’s—the Eternal Father’s—boys and girls, who are growing up into our heavenly character? But the word “grace” seems to suggest the characteristic feature of Christian character. It is dominated by the passive virtues. The character-fruits wrought by the Spirit are quiet, modest, patient, gentle things, such as these: “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” If natural character develops well, we have all the characteristics of the high-souled gentleman. If the spiritual character develops well, we have all the characteristics of the Christ-toned Christian. And there is no more beautiful thing upon this sin-stained earth of ours than the sanctified, amiable man, unless it be the sanctified, amiable woman. I have known such, and never have lost, and never shall lose, their holy power upon me; women who grew into such lovely, saintly characters that they seemed to have caught the fragrance of Christ, and you breathed it whenever you came near to these lovely flowers. If we could only grow in grace like that! But what a business this character-growth is! Some of us have got very weary of trying to keep it up. It has seemed to be no use trying, so we have let the thing go, become careless about the means of grace which would have helped it, and half said to ourselves, “Never mind if we are no better Christians to end the year than we were to begin it.” I can sympathise with you. More than once I have been almost giving up the struggle, and contentedly letting things go. So we may say to one another, “Forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those that are before, let us press toward the mark, for the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus.” Let us begin again, fully resolved that we will grow in grace, grow into the Christly character, and so win, for Christ’s service, the highest power, the sanctified power that we are—that we have become. Good growth is always slow. So we will not be disheartened if the goal of our hope keeps far away. The very growing is healthy.
2. In knowledge. And the sphere of the knowledge is very clearly defined. “In the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Ward Beecher says, “While sense is the source of physical or scientific knowledge, disposition is the source of the knowledge of moral truth: it depends upon the exercise of moral feelings.” The apostles constantly urge this growth in the knowledge of God. And their doing so indicated keen observation of some of the most serious perils of Christian life. Growth in knowledge is the great antidote and medicine for some of the gravest Christian diseases. Religion is feeling, and can never be dissociated from feeling; but feeling is a good slave that is always trying to become master, and then works well-nigh irrecoverable mischiefs. Separate growth in knowledge from your Christian life, and you will become sentimental or superstitious. You will take up with a routine of religious observances, or you will pine for crowded and excited religious meetings, and popular preachers, and foolishly imagine that you have gained a real blessing because you have been made to feel. One of the most universally working natural laws is this: overstrain any emotion, and you inevitably weaken, and you may destroy, the capacity of that emotion. Remember this: excited feeling never strengthens the will, never confirms principle. You may enjoy it, but the after-lassitude is the moment for which our soul-tempter keenly watches. Our Lord knew the perils of excited meetings, and studiously avoided them. The apostles never unduly arouse feeling, and they persistently urge growth in Christian knowledge as the necessary accompaniment of growth in grace. But let us see carefully what knowledge it is that the apostle commends. It is precisely this: the knowledge of Christ the Centre; “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Paul wants to know Him; and our Lord Himself said, “This is life eternal, to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” In our days peculiar attention is being given to the person and mission of the Lord Jesus, and there is no sign of the times more important and more hopeful. But we Christians must throw ourselves fully into the study, and persist in it that the Christ can only be known by the quickened, sanctified, and Divinely guided intellect. This way and that men are trying to shake down our primary beliefs. Our security against criticism, on the one hand, and against religious sentimentality, on the other—the two supreme perils of our age—lies in giving ourselves fully and freely to the understanding of the beautiful and blessed earth-life of our Divine Lord. And it is the knowledge of all that circle of truth of which Christ is the centre. Everything in which Christ was interested interests us. And the circle is broader and larger than we think. Have we not something to regret in the past in relation to this growth in Christian knowledge? Have we really cared about it? Have we longed rather for something emotional, something sensational? Have we enjoyed the services, when we were only told what we knew? Then look at this text. “Grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” But it is well to face this fact: growth in Christian knowledge is a very trying thing; and so many shrink from it, or are afraid of it. It involves leaving past forms of knowledge behind, just as the boys leave behind their little school jackets when they step up into manhood; but nobody says anything evil about the forms of knowledge or the jackets; they belonged to their time, and did very well then. I know a minister who has been thirty years in the ministry, and boasts that he thinks to-day about the great religious verities exactly the same as he thought when he left college. I don’t think I could say that I would express any one of those verities as I did thirty years ago. We must grow. Let us accept the disabilities of our growth, and look kindly upon those thought-forms which properly belonged to our spiritual childhood, but were the steps up which we have passed to gain the higher apprehensions of to-day. Grow—but keep Christ the centre. The twofold growth—in character and knowledge—is essential. Both must go together. Try to conceive the case of a Christian in whom there has been growth of character without growth of knowledge. Keep that plant in the hothouse. It will not do for the workaday world. Try to conceive the case of a Christian in whom there has been growth of knowledge without growth of character. Keep that man in a study. He has no sweet brotherliness and Christly charity for the fellowships of life. Both are imperfect types. There is no fruitage to the glory of God from any tree that does not grow—and keep on growing—two ways—up and down. Let us set all our hearts upon securing the double growth? Then we shall have to mend our ways of private culture. Then we shall have to mend our ways of mutual help. How do we make things grow? Not by any direct action upon them. We do this: we try to give them the right environments, the surroundings and atmosphere which will inspire and help growth. Finding the environment in which our souls can grow is our life-work.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
2 Peter 3:16. Bible Difficulties.—An old man once said, “For a long period I puzzled myself about the difficulties of Scripture, until at last I came to the resolution that reading the Bible was like eating fish. When I find a difficulty, I lay it aside and call it a bone. Why should I choke over the bone when there is so much nutritious meat for me? Some day, perhaps, I may find that even the bone may afford me nourishment.” I remember reading that, in cutting down an oak, that must have been two hundred years old at the very least, there was found, in the very heart of the oak, a musket bullet. When it was stated to the peasants and villagers that it was so, they said it must be a trick—that the woodmen must have stuck it in, and pretended that it was found in the oak. But when men of science and practical knowledge investigated it, they found it was beyond all doubt that the bullet was in the very heart of the oak, and there was no opening by which it could be inserted, and no symptoms of a rent by which it could have been admitted. But a country gentleman in the place turned over the leaves of his history, and he discovered that in that very forest, when that tree must have been a mere sapling, a great battle was fought; that the presumption, nay, the certainty, was, that a bullet had fastened in the sapling; that, as it grew and broadened in bulk, in size, in form, for two hundred years, it had grown over the bullet, and the bullet had come to be imbedded and inserted in the very heart of it, without any opening by which it could have entered in past times; and thus the difficulty, that perplexed at first, became solved and easily explained by further and more extensive research. In the same manner, when we meet with difficulties in Scripture, when we cannot explain them today, lay them up for investigation to-morrow; and you will find that, as we grow in light, in practical experience, in research, in study, the things which seemed impossible a few years ago, will only seem difficult and hard to be understood to-day, and that, in the course of a year or two, all will be so plain that a wayfaring man can understand it, and need not err therein.—Dr. Cumming.