A Final Warning and Admonition

"Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. 

But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."

II Peter 3:17, 18

To these words all that needs to be added is, "To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen." and the apostle's second epistle is ended. The words of our text really constitute the final word of the apostle Peter to the beloved pilgrims. Final they are also when you consider that most probably the apostle sealed his faith with a martyr's death soon after the last word of this epistle was written. 

It is evident, too, especially from the first part of the text, that the apostle is reflecting on what he had written in this epistle and in the preceding context, from which he concludes that it is necessary to give this final word of warning and admonition. The word "therefore" always in, Scripture, and so also here, indicates that a conclusion is drawn in the text from the preceding context. This is indicated also from the words "seeing ye know these things." What these things are which the readers of this epistle know must be determined from what the apostle had written. Not only do they know that the day of the Lord is coming and what will take place when He comes, but they also know that prior to His coming there will be scoffers and false prophets who will deny His coming, and who will privily bring in damnable heresies, by reason of whom the truth will be evil spoken of and many will follow their pernicious ways. The temptation will be there to be led away with the error of the wicked. 

So, in a negative sense, the warning is in place, not to give heed to the error and thus fall from their own steadfastness. And, positively, the beloved pilgrims must be exhorted and admonished to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It should be noted that if the apostle considered it necessary to express this warning and admonition nearly two millennia ago, it certainly behooves us, upon whom the end of the ages is come, to give attention to what the Word of God says in this text. 

The heart of the warning in the text must be found in the words, "beware lest ye also . . . fall from your own steadfastness." 

Now certainly these words imply that, for the moment at least, they to whom this is addressed were standing fast. To stand fast implies, first of all, that you have a place to stand. It implies that your feet are firmly planted on solid ground. It implies, too, that while you are firmly fixed, there are external forces bent on moving you from your place, against which you must take a stand to be able to endure. This whole idea is beautifully illustrated in the figure of the rock on the coast of Maine projecting into the Atlantic where the billows smash themselves against the rock but never succeed in moving it from its place. 

That solid ground on which the believers in Christ remain steadfast can only be the truth of, God's Word. All other ground is sinking sand. The church of Christ is built upon the solid ground of the doctrine of the apostles and prophets as it is the revelation of Christ. Of that foundation Christ is said to be the chief cornerstone. To this idea we will return presently, but it is important to see at this juncture that the only solid ground on which the Christian church and the believers in Christ can remain steadfast is the Word of God. 

To fall from your steadfastness implies therefore that you depart from the truth, from the Word of God. Now, of course, in the strict sense of the word it is impossible for the believers in Christ to fall away from the truth. This would certainly imply a falling away of saints, which is quite impossible. The church, viewed from the aspect of her election in Christ, cannot fall away. However, when the church is viewed organically, that is, as she develops historically, and is thus composed of a two-fold seed, righteous and wicked, elect and reprobate, it is not only possible but expected. When the apostle for example in chapter 2 writes of the coming of false prophets, and that many shall follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of, this could happen only in the church, as she comes historically to manifestation in the world, not outside of her. And always the reality is that some, and even many, will depart from the faith. This is what we must expect. Also here it becomes evident that they are not all Israel that are called Israel. 

But why then must the church be warned if it is the corrupt seed that always falls away? The answer is two-fold: in the first place the ungodly in the church must know that when they turn away from the truth, they incur great condemnation. Always the Scriptures stress the truth that they who have known the truth and have departed from it shall be beaten with many stripes; but, in the second place, this warning is necessary also for the true children of God. We must not forget that they live in the flesh and in an old nature which will never be subjected to the truth. That old nature is always prone to the error of the wicked. Consequently it is necessary that the apostle sound the warning.

Beware lest ye also. . . ! 

That word "beware" comes from a word that is .used in the military, where the soldier is placed on guard as a sentry. If that sentry is not alert, watching, ready to fight the enemy, he may be destroyed, and those over whom he is set to guard may perish with him. 

The apostle means to say that the power of the error of the wicked is so strong that if the child of God is not on guard he may be enticed to the error, and so he would fall away from the truth. This is true of error in any form. And especially is this true with respect to the error which denies the coming of Christ. One who falls for that error will suffer the effects on the whole of life. He will not live in hope. He will become worldly-minded, and spiritually indifferent. Against this error of the wicked we are to stand guard. And that means that we expect the enemy, and are prepared to withstand him. It means that we stand fast in the truth. 

How important is this word of warning today! In the world about us there is naturally no concern relative to the coming of Christ. There is concern about mundane things. Right now there is considerable disturbance over the energy crisis, and the government is projecting plans to cope with it for years to come. All seem to be concerned about the possibility of war in the Middle East, and they are shuttling back and forth to establish peace. You hear an awful lot about our national debt which steadily increases, and we are warned that for years and years to come we, our children, and our grand-children will be still struggling with it. Then there is frightful concern about inflation, and nobody, Democrats or Republicans, knows what to do about it. But no one in the government or, so it seems also in the church, mentions the coming of Christ. 

This worldlimindedness rubs off on the church where too the concern is about social and economic problems, and the cry is for world betterment—as though we are all going to stay here forever. And in our affluent society things are really pretty nice down here. Who wants Christ to return and spoil it all? If Christ is mentioned at all, it seems as if it is in the question of the scoffers of Peter's day: Where is the promise of His coming? All things continue as they were. Yes, even the children of God get carried away with this philosophy. 

Indeed, we need this word of warning! Not only must we be alerted at our post, having on the full armor of God to stand, but we need to be reminded that we know our Lord is coming quickly. And this glorious truth must so pervade our heart and mind that we constantly live in hope, and are quickened spiritually so that we are able to remain steadfast to the end, and are not moved from that Word of God by the temptation to error. 

But grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! 

That is the positive admonition and exhortation in the text. To grow in grace is to increase in all the virtues of grace which by the grace of God are bestowed upon us. All these virtues of grace are in principle bestowed in the grace of regeneration. In seed form, as it were, the graces of faith, love, hope, righteousness, holiness, etc., are ours in the wonder of the new birth in Christ. Through the rain and sunshine of the Word and Spirit of Christ these graces are fertilized and blossom out in our Christian experience. So we increase in all Christian virtues. Our faith expands, our love grows, our hope is quickened, our righteousness becomes plain, and our holiness comes to manifestation in our lives. Our assurance of justification is more perfectly established, and our walk in sanctification develops and comes more and more in evidence. 

It must be clearly understood that we do not have these graces of ourselves. They are all in Christ as the grace of Christ, and by Him are given unto us. 

It must also be understood that to be steadfast in the truth is not a static experience, as a pillar or post is fixed in the ground, but the children of God are alive and they grow as the tree that is planted in the soil. Standing in the grace of Christ they grow and increase in grace. 

To this the apostle adds: "And in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." To grow in the knowledge of Christ our Saviour does not mean merely to increase in intellectual knowledge of Him. Intellectual growth is indeed important and necessary. It is extremely important that we increase in the knowledge of Him as He is revealed in the Scriptures. This we can do by faithfully studying the Word of God, and by faithfully coming under its proclamation. Only through the Word and its faithful proclamation can we come to know Christ. The purer the preaching of the Word is, the purer will also be our conception of Him. But the apostle is not merely interested in the fact that our heads are filled with the knowledge of Him. We must not only know about Him, but we must know Him. We must not only know that He is a perfect Redeemer, but we must know Him as our Saviour. The knowledge is therefore one of spiritual experience. 

And we must notice that this is an admonition, an exhortation, which is directed to us. We are exhorted and admonished to grow in the grace and in the knowledge of Christ our Saviour and perfect Mediator. 

The apostle, therefore, does not consider his readers and us to be dead pots into which the grace and knowledge of Christ is deposited. Nor are the grace and knowledge dead objects that we carry around with us. But they are living, spiritual realities, capable of increasing in the use we make of them, as we come regularly and faithfully under the Means of Grace. So also we grow spiritually, while also the grace and knowledge grow in us as we develop in the grace and knowledge of Christ our Lord. 

And the relation of these two, grace and knowledge, is not such that we first grow in grace, and then in knowledge; but we grow in grace as we increase in knowledge. The latter is basic for the former. 

Both the warning and the admonition in the text are very urgently to be heeded. "Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware. . . ." So the apostle stresses the urgency. 

As beloved of the apostle, but especially of Christ, you know from all that the Word of God declares that there will be heresies in the last times. Heresy is not something peculiar to the day in which the epistle was written. As long as the truth of God is maintained and faithfully proclaimed in the world there will be opposition to and denial of the truth. It is imperative, that we be prepared for this. Nor is apostasy something peculiar to the day of the apostle. Fact of the matter is that Scripture predicts that in the last days the apostasy will be great. This also we know. And it is urgent that we remain steadfast. 

What is our positive calling then? As we already suggested, we cannot remain static, inactive, stationary. You either grow in spiritual stature, or you go backward and grow weak and wobbly. Urgent it is that we increase in the knowledge of God's Word, for only so will we grow in the grace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 

So we will be steadfast, immovable, when the error of the wicked assails us. And so will we be prepared for the coming of Christ our Lord.

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