Therefore, beloved, since you already know these things, be on your guard so that you will not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure standing.
I. THE NATURE OF DIVINE LONG-SUFFERING. We know something of human patience and forbearance, and we have all been again and again indebted to these qualities for our opportunities of happiness and usefulness, But Divine long-suffering transcends all that has been displayed by men.
1. Long-suffering is different from mere goodness and bounty, 1.e. the disposition to bestow benefits upon the needy and dependent.
2. And from pity or compassion, which is a sentiment of commiseration towards the wretched and helpless.
3. And at the same time it is, on the other hand, different from indifference to the evil conduct which is observed in men.
4. It is a kind of mercy. It involves a holy Superior and an offending subject. It is an emotion of the heart which prompts to the restraint of indignation; a principle of action which averts and withholds wrath and penalty, although these be abundantly deserved. God, in the exercise of long-suffering, beat's with the sinners whom he might justly doom, gives further opportunity for repentance, and waits for its signs.
II. THE OCCASION FOR DIVINE LONG-SUFFERING.
1. The sins of mankind have given occasion for the exercise of this grace upon the vastest scale. Scripture history abounds with instances of God's forbearance; e.g., in the time of Noah; when Israel rebelled in the wilderness; and when Israel afterwards so largely apostatized, etc. So has it been in the history of every nation, and in the history of the human race.
2. The sins of individual unbelievers and transgressors call for the forbearance of a gracious God. The young who live viciously and irreligiously, those in afterlife who forget God and give themselves to the pursuit of worldly aims, continue to live and to enjoy privileges only through the forbearance of Heaven.
3. The unfaithfulness of Christians is only tolerated by a long-suffering Lord. How otherwise could the frailties and infirmities which disfigure the religious life of multitudes be endured? If our God had not again and again borne with our imperfections, should we be still in the possession of opportunities and advantages so many and valuable?
III. THE MANIFESTATIONS OF DIVINE LONG-SUFFERING.
1. God refrains from judgment and condemnation.
2. God addresses faithful warnings, and summons to repentance as the clouds gather before the thunderstorm breaks. Expostulations are repeated: "How shall I give thee up?"
3. Promises and invitations are renewed.
4. Probation is extended, in order that further opportunity may be given for repentance. The mandate goes forth concerning the barren tree, "Let it alone this year also!"
IV. THE GRACIOUS INTENTION OF DIVINE LONG-SUFFERING. When the apostle writes, "is salvation," he means, "is intended to work salvation." God does not prolong our proving with a view to the increase of our guilt and chastisement, but for a purpose exactly opposed to this - in order, that is, that hardness may be melted down, that rebellion may cease and be followed by loyalty, that neglect and disregard of religion may give place to interest and to prayer, that the sinner may repent, the wanderer return, the careless be revived. The gift of Christ to man is the most glorious evidence of Divine long-suffering. This is a dispensation of mercy. To forbearance we owe our privileges, and to forbearance we shall be indebted for our final and everlasting salvation. Great, indeed, is the guilt of those who despise and abuse the long-suffering of the Lord. Such there have ever been. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." But it is better that delay in judgment should be used as the opportunity of repentance, rather than that it should be abused as an excuse and an inducement for perseverance in sin. - J.R.T.
Beware lest ye also... fall1. Let us shun the society of idolatrous seducers, and hate the very air they breathe. We shall hardly win them to goodness; their familiarity will easily possess us of their wickedness.
2. The greater show of sanctity that error puts on, the more suspicious let us be of the intended mischief.
3. Let us consider that these seducers help to overthrow us, but what help is there in them to raise us up?
(Thos. Adams.)I. THE NATURE OF THAT DUTY WHICH IS HERE RECOMMENDED. The apostle does not address himself here to such as were unacquainted with the ways of godliness, but those who had been initiated in the Christian profession. It is not enough for us to begin well, and to set out hopefully in the exercises of religion, but we must run till we have reached the goal.
II. ARGUMENTS WHICH MAY REASONABLY INCLINE US TO THE PRACTICE OF THIS DUTY.
1. The easiness of proceeding in a virtuous course when once we are made familiar with it, should powerfully persuade us to persevere in goodness, and not to fall from our own stedfastness.
2. The great advantages which will redound to us from the performance of this duty should powerfully persuade us to persevere in godliness and not to fall from our own stedfastness.
3. The dangers and inconveniences of a contrary proceeding should powerfully persuade us to persevere in goodness and not to fall from our own stedfastness.
III. SUCH RULES AND INSTRUCTIONS AS MAY DULY QUALIFY US FOR THE PERFORMANCE OF THIS DUTY.
1. Let us endeavour to strengthen our good resolutions.
2. Let us be perpetually upon our guard, and keep a vigilant eye over all our actions.
3. Let us be frequent in the exercises of religious duties, especially in such as are more solemn and public.
4. Let us be fervent in private prayer to Almighty God; that He will assist us with His Holy Spirit, and give us grace to proceed without danger of falling.
I. HOLD BEFORE YOUR SOUL A VERY HIGH MODEL. Do not say, "I wish I could pray like that man, or speak or have the consecration of this one." Say, "Here is the Lord Jesus Christ a perfect pattern. By Him, with God's grace, I mean to shape all my life." You have a right to aspire to the very highest style of Christian character. I admit that a man cannot become a Christian like that without a struggle; but what do you get without fighting for it? In the strength of Christ go forward. God is for you, and if God be for you, who can be against you? Remember that God never puts you in battle but He gives you weapons with which to fight.
II. ABSTAIN FROM ALL PERNICIOUS ASSOCIATIONS, AND TAKE ONLY THOSE THAT ARE USEFUL AND BENEFICENT. I know young people who have meant well enough, but they have floated off into evil influences, and they have associated day by day with those who hated God and despised His commandments, and their characters are all depleted. I can see they are changed for the worse, but they are not aware of it. Oh, young man, come out of that bad association. Stand back from that furnace in which so many young Christians have been destroyed.
III. BE ACTIVELY EMPLOYED. Who are the happy people in the Church to-day? The busy people. The very first prescription that I give to a man when I find him full of doubts and fears about his eternal interest is to go to work for God. Here is a wood full of summer insects. An axeman goes into the wood to cut firewood. The insects do not bother him very much, and every stroke of the axe makes them fly about. But let a man go and lie down there and he is bitten, and thinks it is a horrible thing to stay in that wood. So there are thousands of Christians now in the Church who go out amid great annoyances in life — they are not perplexed, they are all the time busy; while there are others who do nothing, and they are stung, and covered from head to foot with the blotches of indolence, and inactivity, and spiritual death.
IV. BE FAITHFUL IN PRAYER. You might as well, business man, start out in the morning without food and expect to be strong all that day — you might as well abstain from food all the week and expect to be strong physically, as to be strong without prayer. And the only difference between this Christian who is getting along very fast in the holy life, and this one who is only getting along tolerably, is that the first prays more than the last.
V. BE FAITHFUL IN BIBLE RESEARCH. A great many good books are now coining out. Glorious books they are. But I have thought that perhaps the followers of Christ sometimes allow this religious literature to take their attention from God's Word, and that there may not be as much Bible reading as there ought to be. You go to the drug store and you get the mineral waters; but you have noticed that the waters are not so fresh or sparkling or healthful as when you get these very waters at Saratoga and Sharon — getting them right where they bubble from the rock. And I have noticed the same thing in regard to the truth of the gospel. While there is a good deal of the refreshment and health of the gospel of God as it comes through good books, I find it is better when I come to the eternal rock of God's Word, and drink from that fountain that bubbles up fresh and pure to the life, the refreshment, the health of the soul.
(T. de Witt Talmage.)I. A SPIRITUAL STEADFASTNESS MAY BE OBTAINED. The Prophet David commands it, prays for it, and confesseth that some did obtain it, possess it. And doth not the apostle also persuade to the same, crying, Be steadfast, immovable? Who, then, hath cause to question the truth of this doctrine? If any shall, reason may relieve him. For, is not a man a subject capable of it, may he not be fitted to receive it? Is not the faculty of his understanding, in respect of its essence, sound? His will of power, strongly, since his fall, bent to action? And hath he not affections, violent, passionate? Again, shall we think anything impossible with God? And if this were not thus, for what end was preaching appointed, sacraments ordained, and prayer commanded? Are these given in vain? Finally, let me ask thee a question, Shall not Christ be of ability to recover what Adam of imbecility lost? The Holy Ghost to build what the unclean spirit did destroy? Spiritual steadfastness is a firm retention of the degree of grace received. Observe further that this steadfastness is habitual, practical. Again, habitual steadfastness is in the understanding, will, and affections. As for practical steadfastness, that is external, internal.
II. THE CAUSE OF THESE DECLININGS. And they be within us, without us. First, melancholy, for it is a true axiom that the soul follows the disposition and temperature of the body. Secondly, some raging lust, unmortified affection. When such a passenger is in the ship of man's soul, like another Jonah it will unsettle all. If the reins hang under his feet, the strongest, readiest footed beast may stumble. Cut all the feet equal the table stands steadfast, else not. Thirdly, unbelief, what mists will this raise in our understandings. How subtly will this sophister argue, dispute, what? Where is the promise of Christ's coming? Fourthly, carnal confidence, that is, whatsoever we trust in except Christ Jesus. Fifthly, weakness of grace, to speak properly this is not a real or positive cause of declining, yet by occasion may have a finger in the business. Sixthly, want of knowledge experimental. Now the contrary of all these we have mentioned will be excellent helps for the firm retention of grace received. Wherefore keep thy body in good plight, feed on choice meats, walk in pure air, use moderate labour, recreation. Mortify also fleshly lusts, crucify the whole body of sin, for in so doing thou shalt remove rubs out of the way, curb the old man, and bind him to good behaviour. See in like sort thou increase thy faith, and that will expel infidelity — consume it as fire doth stubble. And shall not hope in Christ make the new man lusty, arm him against fear, foil despair, and in all assaults cheer up his spirits? Be sure to grow in grace, for is not a feeble person subject to trip, to stumble when able bodies hold out, march valiantly, win the field? And thus much of the inward causes of declining; the other, from without us, follow. First, wavering minded companions. He who walks with such will in time walk as such. Secondly, the fierce trial of affliction. Thirdly, personal wrongs, undeserved injuries. Fourthly, public scandal. Fifthly, example of supposed great ones. For some are like a strong poison that dispatcheth its patient quickly, others a lingering disease which killeth certainly though not suddenly. These things being inserted let us proceed. First, when we have not so clear an apprehension of the worth of grace, and the means to procure it, increase it, as in former time. If the glory thereof be darkened, and we account faith, love, hope, but as common favours, in some degree we are declined. Secondly, if we want an eager appetite after the doctrine of sound words, the bread and water of life, feed on them more for fear and fashion than love and affection, we have just cause to suspect ourselves. Thirdly, a neglect of our particular calling. For a diligent hand maketh rich, as well in spiritual as corporal things. Unthrifts and loiterers always die beggars. Fourthly, when we feebly perform holy actions, or fearfully omit them. Fifthly, a fifth symptom is a quiet concoction of what heretofore we have distasted, spued out, holding the same, as then, for loathsome meats. A soul in her best plight, as she abhors the greatest so hates the least known evil. Sixthly, finally, when men offend, and will not endure reproof. And may a spiritual steadfastness be fallen from? Then try thyself if thou be or not revolted. Tradesmen keep a register of all their proceedings, cast up their accounts yearly, take a strict view how they have decreased or increased their substance; and should not Christians be as wise in their generation? First, we must call to remembrance what truths in the understanding or in our conversation, we have fallen from, and so return unto them. Secondly, we are to consider what sin we have embraced, whether it be an error in judgment or practice, and if we clearly discern any, then to cease from it. First, cast in thy mind what an uncomfortable condition thou art fallen into, compare it often with the times of old. Do not slavish fears upon the least occasion arise in thy soul? Secondly, consider that greater evils than these may attend thee. This may suffice to have spoken of the last branch of our text, the other succeedeth. "Lest ye also being led away with the error of the wicked." Error leadeth from steadfastness. He who is led with error is always unsettled. For error leads from God. And is not He the best stay, and very centre whereupon all the creatures are settled, established. Again, whither leads error to any constant object? Is it to the world? Doth not the fashion of it pass away? Think it not strange, then, if they who err from the doctrine of godliness be unstable in all their ways. What marvel is it that men walking on craggy rocks, steep mountains, and unequal ways, trip, stumble, and catch a fall? Whereas the apostle calls it the error of the wicked, we may collect, that the way of error, by a peculiar prerogative, is the way of the wicked. True it is that error is called a way, but a crooked, wandering, and evil one. For as the commandments of God are styled ways, so are the doctrines of men. Thus far we are agreed; but what may be the reasons hereof?
1. Because the wicked invent them, are the prime authors of them. For what a man effecteth is properly said to be his own.
2. Again, in regard they conserve and support them.
3. This way is not from God; He disclaims it. For all His paths are holy, and good, and true. "Beware lest ye also," etc. The note which issueth out of this phrase is this, that by one error many may be seduced. As first, from the quality of error, for it is of a spreading nature. Besides, error is easy, pleasant; and what is agreeable to the flesh of multitudes is followed. The way of truth is straight, narrow. Moreover men are wonderfully prone to follow examples, the worst, not the best. And by one error may many be seduced; then get a good eye, a sound judgment; exercise thy wits, that thou mayest discern between truth and falsehood. Error being discovered is to be avoided.
(John Barlow, D. D.)
(J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Scientific Illustrations.There are evils which give warning of their coming. Drunkenness does not seize upon a man suddenly. It gives warnings often and many. Avarice, and a number of other vices, can be detected long before we are within their reach. There are infallible indications by which we may be warned. The approach of vice is like the approach of the rattlesnake. This horrible reptile, one of the most venomous of serpents, warns man involuntarily against its formidable presence. At the end of its tail there is placed a rattle, which consists of a string of hollow, dry, trod semi transparent bones, which constantly clatter against each other as the reptile moves, with a hoarse, dull, echoing sound. The bony rings increase in number with the reptile's age, and it gains an additional one, it is said, at each casting of the skin. The warning which it is thus compelled to give of its approach enables those who hear to escape an awful death. Happy are those men whose ears are open to the warnings which social monsters, far more horrid than even the rattlesnake, in like manner invariably give of their presence and movements, and, profiting thereby, manage to escape.
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