2 Peter 3:11-18 - Homiletics
I. THE DUTY OF PREPARATION .
1 . Christians should look for the city that hath foundations. The cities of this world have no sure foundation, for the earth on which they are built must pass away; it has within itself the element which is to cause its dissolution; the germs of that dissolution are working even now. Then wise men must not lay up for themselves treasures upon earth; they must not live as if this changeful, dying world was to be their home for ever; they must set their affections on things above; they must remember that Christian men are citizens of the heavenly country, fellow-citizens with the saints. Therefore they must adopt the modes of life which are characteristic of that heavenly country; their conduct as they move about among men must be holy in all the relations of life; they must live in the habitual pursuit of godliness in all its aspects. These things are of true, lasting moment. The prizes of this world, even those which seem to us the greatest and most to be desired, are but vanity, vanity of vanities, compared with the great realities of the spiritual life.
2 . They must live in the expectation of the Lord's coming. They must daily look for the presence of the great day, and by thus looking for it, and making ready for it, they must (St. Peter says, in the condescending language which Holy Scripture sometimes uses) hasten its coming. For that day cometh not till the chosen of God are safe. "Haste thee, escape thither," said the destroying angel to Lot; "for I cannot do anything till thou be come thither." So now "the lightnings of the judgment-day pause yet a while," stored in the armoury of God ('Christian Year: All Saints' Day'), till God's elect are numbered, till they are ready, not one of them lost, for their eternal home. Then there is a sense in which, very strange and awful though it may seem, Christians may hasten the coming of the day of God. When the bride hath made herself ready, when the work of repentance is wrought out in the hearts of God's people, when they have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,—then the day of God shall come. Now the long-suffering of God waiteth, as it waited in the days of Noah. It is a holy and a blessed truth—he waits for us in his tender mercy; he is long-suffering, not willing that any should perish; his wrath does not strike at once the sinner in his sin. He is waiting now, giving us time; but that gracious waiting cannot be protracted for ever; the day of the Lord will come. It is our duty to do what lieth in us to hasten its coming, by the preparation of our own hearts, by stirring up others to repentance, and by our prayers. "Thy kingdom come," is our daily prayer, the prayer which the Lord himself puts into our mouths. "The kingdom of God" has more senses than one in Holy Scripture; but certainly one thing to which the Lord directs our prayers in those words is the coming of the day of God, when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. This is to be our daily prayer; if we use it in thoughtful faith, it will fix our hearts upon our eternal home. The Church on earth prays, "Thy kingdom come;" in Paradise the souls under the altar cry with a loud voice, "How long, O Lord, holy and true?" ( Revelation 6:9 , Revelation 6:10 ). He will hear the prayer that goeth up to him day and night; he will avenge his own elect; the great day must come.
3 . That day will be a day of terrors. Because of its presence the visible heavens will be on fire; they shall be dissolved. The earth and the heaven, in the vision of judgment that was revealed to St. John, fled away from the face of him who sat on the great white throne, and there was found no place for them. St. Peter, too, saw the awful scene presented to the eye of his mind—he uses the prophetic present—the elements are melting, wasting away, with fervent heat. Those startling words suggest thoughts of exceeding awe and terror: "Take ye heed; watch and pray."
4 . But there will be a new home for the righteous. St. John heard the voice of him that sat on the throne saying, "Behold, I make all things new." God had promised this long ago by the mouth of his prophet Isaiah. He will surely fulfill his word. He will not leave his people desolate and homeless. He provided a city of refuge for Lot, when his old abode was destroyed by the fire of the wrath of God. So, out of the appalling conflagration of the dreadful day there will arise a new and blessed home for his elect. We look for new heavens and a new earth; and they shall abide for ever. As once the promise came to Noah that there should not be any more a flood to destroy the earth, so God hath promised that "the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord." Heaven and earth shall then be very near, the one to the other; for the holy city, new Jerusalem, shall come down from God out of heaven; and the tabernacle of God shall be with men, and he will dwell with them. The commonwealth that is in heaven shall be established (so Holy Scripture seems to teach us) upon the new earth. It shall come down from heaven, having the glory of God; the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; there his servants shall serve him. Heaven will come down to earth; and so the new earth will become a part of heaven, very closely joined with heaven. God will dwell there with men, and they shall see him face to face, and live in that new earth the life of heaven; for it is the unveiled presence of God which makes heaven what it is, the abode of joy, and love, and holiness, and entranced contemplation of the Divine beauty. Into that city entereth nothing that defileth; righteousness dwelleth there. The earth that now is hath been defiled with many sins; it has been stained with blood, devastated by war and cruelty, polluted with sensuality and uncleanness. But the new earth shall be all holy. The refining fires of judgment will work a complete and everlasting change. The Deluge cleansed the old world, but only for a time; sin soon began to reassert itself. The fires of the great day will purely purge away all the dross, and leave only the refined gold. Righteousness shall dwell for ever in that new earth. The people of the holy city shall be all righteous; for they shall abide in the presence of him who is the Sun of Righteousness, and shall be made like unto him, for they shall see him as he is.
5 . The need of earnest diligence. St. Peter has been warning us of the solemn future which lies before us—the most tremendous judgment, the destruction of the present order of things in the fires of the last day, the new heavens and the new earth which will be the eternal home of the blessed. These thoughts, he says, enforce upon us the necessity of diligence in the religious life. Men who really believe that after death cometh the judgment cannot live listlessly and idly. Many professing Christians, alas! live careless lives; but that carelessness evinces a practical unbelief. The momentous issues of the great day must stir the believer to earnest effort. St. Peter had urged the necessity of diligence in the first chapter; he urges it again in the last. Then he appealed to the grace of God, his gifts, his promises; the love of God, the blessed hope set before us, ought to arouse us to love and zeal. Now he appeals to the awful future, the judgment that is coming. Carelessness in the prospect of the judgment is nothing short of madness. Those whose faith is real must be diligent. "That day cometh as a thief:" how will it find us? What will be the state of those who are surprised in sin? Our hearts sicken in shuddering dread at the fearful thought. Then let us give diligence to make our calling and election sure. God's elect must be conformed to the image of his Son. His Son, the holy Lamb of God, was without blemish and without spot; so must his servants be. They must wash their robes, and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin;" but it cleanseth only those who "walk in the light." Therefore let us be diligent to walk always in the consciousness of God's presence, in the light that streams from the cross. That light will show each spot and blemish that rests upon the soul; it will bring us to repentance and confession; and then God "is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Those who "follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth" are without fault before the throne of God ( Revelation 14:5 ), for every fault has been washed away in the precious blood. Their sins once were like crimson, but now they are whiter than snow; they are clothed with the wedding garment, the white robe of righteousness; therefore they are found in peace. Christ is their Peace; he bath made peace through the blood of his cross. Those who abide in Christ have peace with God now, in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment. Such men account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation. They know that life is a sacred trust, that the time of probation is precious; and they will strive by God's gracious help to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that the night cometh, in which no man can work.
II. THE DUTY OF LISTENING TO THE WARNINGS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE ,
1 . St. Paul had warned them. St. Paul had, by himself or by his companions, founded most of the Churches of Asia Minor. He had written Epistles to the Galatians, Colossians, and Ephesians, the last being probably a circular letter intended to be read in several Churches. At the date of St. Peter's Second Epistle many of St. Paul's writings must have become the common property of the whole Church, and thus the Christians of Asia Minor probably knew and read some of the Epistles which had been addressed to European Churches. St. Peter calls St. Paul his beloved brother; he recognizes the wisdom which had been given unto him. The two holy apostles had once differed from one another; now they were united in one faith and one love. St. Peter had overcome his old impetuosity, his old desire to be first; he had learned that precious grace of humility, which in his First Epistle he so earnestly inculcates. He does not remember that he had once been reproved by St. Paul; he thinks only of St. Paul's holiness and inspired wisdom; he is wholly above petty jealousies and resentments. Christians ought never to take offence, especially at well-intentioned rebukes; they ought to be thankful for them. Christians ought to rejoice at the graces vouchsafed to others—at their zeal, energy, love, at the success of their religious efforts. Envy, especially among Christians, is a hateful vice, a deadly sin. St. Peter, the first of the apostles, appeals to St. Paul, who was called last of all; he is an example of Christian humility. The two holy apostles taught the same great truths. St. Paul and St. Peter both press earnestly upon us the great danger of spiritual sloth; both warn us that the day of the Lord cometh suddenly, like a thief; both urge us to be watchful. Let us listen to those two holy men as they echo the solemn teaching of the great Master.
2 . There are difficulties in St. Paul's writings. Men misrepresented the great apostle even from the beginning; they represented him as teaching, "Let us do evil, that good may come" ( Romans 3:8 ). They distorted his doctrine of justification, and perverted it into antinomianism; though he himself had taught that the faith by which we are saved is "faith which worketh by love," and that faith which could remove mountains is nothing if it be alone, without charity. The false teachers, against whom St. Peter has been warning his readers, were probably among these perverters of the apostle's meaning. It is no wonder: "The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life." There will always be in the visible Church men unlearned and unstable, untaught by the Holy Spirit of God who alone can guide us to the truth, and therefore without steadfastness, carried away with every blast of vain doctrine. Such men wrest to their own destruction, not only the "things hard to be understood" in St. Paul's Epistles, but Holy Scripture generally. For it is not the written Word that in the fullest sense saves the soul, but the Word of life, the Word that is living and powerful, the Lord Jesus Christ himself manifested to the believer. We may find him in the thoughtful, devout study of God's holy Word; but to find Christ, to win Christ, we must count all else as loss; we must forsake selfish aims, self-exaltation, self-indulgence, and follow in humility and earnest prayer the leading of the blessed Spirit. The written Word is a most precious gift; but no outward privilege can save us. Nay, awful as it seems, men may wrest it, and do wrest it, to their own destruction. Receive it in simplicity and faith, and it will save the soul. God reveals its deep holy meaning to babes in Christ. But if men with perverse ingenuity will use it as the weapon of party strife, and twist its sacred words to suit their selfish purposes, then it may—alas! that it should be so—increase their condemnation. "The letter killeth." Corruptio optimi pessima.
3 . There is need of thoughtful watchfulness. False teachers distort the meaning of Holy Scripture; they wander far from the truth; they are self-willed, lawless, disobedient to the Law of God written in the heart, revealed in his Word. Therefore Christians must be on their guard; they must "not believe every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." This conflict of opinions sometimes produces painful doubts and uncertainties; it is one of the trials of the Christian life.
4 . And of growth in grace. God will reveal the truth to the babes in Christ. He will not leave the humble, faithful soul in darkness and perplexity. Only let a man earnestly pray for the grace of God; only let him strive daily to draw nearer to Christ, and to gain that inner knowledge of Christ Jesus the Lord, in comparison with which all things else are dross; and the light of the presence of Christ will surely dawn upon him, and in that light he will find a Guide to bring him to eternal life. For his is the glory now and to the day of eternity, and he is "able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by him."
1 . "The fashion of this world passeth away." What country shall we belong to?—this dying world, or the eternal city?
2 . The great day is at hand; we must look forward to it. We must prepare the way of the Lord; we must pray, "Thy kingdom come."
3 . In the new earth righteousness dwelleth. Let us follow after righteousness; let us be diligent, "that we may be found in peace, blameless in his sight."
4 . Let us study the Scriptures in faith and prayer, that we may grow in grace.
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