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XXVI

AS WERE THE DAYS OF NOAH

"This is now, beloved, the second epistle that I write unto you; and in both of them I stir up your sincere mind by putting you in remembrance; that ye should remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles; knowing this first, that in the last days mockers shall come with mockery, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for, from the day that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation."—2 Peter iii. 1-4.

In the previous chapter the Apostle showed how the renegade false teachers had published among the brethren their seductive doctrine, declaring that God's fatherly discipline was something which they need not undergo, that the trials which He sent them might be escaped, and the natural bent of man's heart indulged as fully as they pleased. The foul results of such lessons both to the flock and to the teachers he also depicted in such wise as to render them abhorrent. Now he tells of a further lesson which these guides on the downward road added to the former. Those who do not accept God's judgements here soon go on to deny the coming of judgement hereafter. It could hardly be otherwise. The wish is father to the thought as truly in matters of faith as of practice. Men whose lives are all centred on this world must try and convince themselves, if possible,326 that the day of the Lord, of which God's word speaks so often, is a delusion, and may be cast out of their thoughts. This these men did, and it is against this scoffing of theirs that St. Peter directs his exhortation in this chapter.

This is now, beloved, the second epistle that I write unto you. Judging from the adverb which he uses (ἤδη, now, already), we should conclude that no long time had elapsed between the Apostle's first letter and the second. And by calling this the second, he shows that it is intended for the same congregations as the former, though he has not named them in the salutation with which the letter opens. Aforetime they had been tried by inward questionings, and he sent them his exhortation and testimony that, spite of all their trials, this was the true grace of God which they had received, and therein they should stand fast (1 Peter v. 12). Now the danger is from without: false doctrine and evil living as its consequence. So, though he may have written but a little while ago, he will neither spare himself, nor neglect them. For the danger is of the utmost gravity. It threatens the overthrow of all true Christian life.

And in both of them I stir up your sincere mind by putting you in remembrance. Mark how trustfully he appeals to the sincerity of the minds of the brethren, just as before (i. 12) he said they knew the things of which he was putting them in remembrance, and were established in the truth which they had received. And what he means by the "mind" we may see from 1 Peter i. 13, where he uses the same word: "Gird up the loins of your mind"—do not indulge vain, lax, and speculative opinions, as though these would forward you in your travel through the world—"be sober, and327 set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you." A mind so braced looks onward to the revelation of Jesus Christ, looks for every token of its drawing nigh. And because it is sincere, the man dare look into its inmost recesses, and by self-examination and discipline maintain its purity. He can think soberly of the Lord's coming because he is preparing for it. But he whose mind is dark, within whom the light has been turned into darkness, dare not think on these things, but with all his might endeavours to forget, ignore, and deny them. All that St. Peter thinks needful for these Asian brethren is that he should remind them. He knows that men's minds are prone to slumber, especially about the things unseen as yet; and his aim is to rouse them to thorough vigilance. But he has no new lesson to give them.

That ye should remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets. On few themes do the prophets dwell more earnestly than on those visitations of Jehovah which they publish as the coming of the day of the Lord. With Joel (ii. 11, 32) it is to be a time great and terrible, the prospect of which is to move men to repentance, for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered. And Israel were taught in many ways that this great day was constantly at hand. They were pointed to it by Isaiah (xiii. 6) when the overthrow of Babylon was foretold. For that nation the day of the Lord was coming as destruction from the Almighty. Jeremiah (xlvi. 10) and Ezekiel (xxx. 3) preach the same lesson, with the ruin of Egypt for their text. It is a day of vengeance, when the Lord God of hosts will avenge Him of His adversaries, a day of clouds, in which a sword shall come upon Egypt, and her foundations shall be broken328 down. By what they beheld around them God's people were to learn that a like day would come upon them also, upon everything that was high and lifted up against God; and for those who were unprepared another prophet (Amos v. 18) declared that it would be darkness, and not light. Before its coming, therefore, they were urged (Zeph. ii. 3) to turn to the Lord, that they might be hid in the day of His anger. For God designed by it to make Himself King of all the earth (Zech. xiv. 9), wherefore it would be great and terrible. For though Elijah should first be sent (Mal. iv. 5) to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, in its manifestation that day should still be like a refiner's fire to purge the evil from among the good.

Not without solemn purpose were all these words written aforetime, and the Christian preachers who felt that God was faithful were sure that such a day would come upon all the earth. How it would be manifested was for God, and not for them. Some of those who lived when St. Peter wrote beheld part of its accomplishment in the overthrow of the Holy City. But they felt—and their lesson is one for all time—that it is presumptuous in men to compute God's days, and that it is rebellious blindness not to acknowledge the coming of His day continually in the great crises of history. How many a time since St. Peter spoke has the Lord proclaimed by partial judgements the certainty of that which shall come at the last. The day of the Lord is attested when empires fall, when hordes of barbarians break in upon the civilised world that has grown careless of God, when convulsions rage like those which preceded the Reformation and which shook Europe at the French Revolution, and we329 may add to these the troubles which harass our own land to-day. All these things preach the same doctrine; all proclaim that verily there is a God that judgeth the earth. Not yet is the voice of prophecy silent. Oh that men would but remember how long and how surely it has been speaking!

And the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles. In connexion with the subject on which he is writing, the commandment of Jesus to which St. Peter alludes can hardly be other than that which occurs in the address of our Lord to His disciples after His last visit to the Temple: "Watch therefore, for ye know not on what day your Lord cometh; ... therefore be ready, for in an hour that ye think not the Son of man cometh" (Matt. xxiv. 42). And with the last judgement in his thoughts, we cannot fail to be struck with the frequency with which the Apostle in this letter repeats as the title of Christ "the Lord and Saviour" (i. 11; ii. 20; iii. 2, 18). This precise form occurs in no other part of the New testament. And it seems from the Apostle's use of it as though, while speaking of the certainty of the coming of the day of the Lord, he desired to give special prominence to the thought that to such as were looking for Him He would manifest Himself as the Saviour and Redeemer.

The words "your apostles" also appear to be used with design. They contain a direct acknowledgment of the mission of St. Paul as an apostle. By him more than by any other had these regions been brought to the knowledge of Christ, and we may rest confident that the gospel which he preached elsewhere he preached to them also. The lesson of watchfulness is oft repeated in his letters. To the Corinthians he330 writes, "Watch ye; stand fast in the faith; quit you like men; be strong" (1 Cor. xvi. 13), while, in connexion with this subject of the day of the Lord, his words to the Thessalonians are, "Ye yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.... But ye are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Let us watch and be sober" (1 Thess. v. 2-6). St. Peter's letter was to be read in those Galatian Churches whose members in past days had doubted about the apostolate of St. Paul. Its warnings would sink the deeper because enforced by the authority of him who even in his rebukes had spoken to them as his "little children" (Gal. iv. 19).

Knowing this first, that in the last days mockers shall come with mockery. St. Peter says the mockers will come; Polycarp1414   Ad Phil. vii. says in his day they had come. He terms them the first-born of Satan, and tells how they pervert the oracles of the Lord to their own lusts and deny that there is either resurrection or judgement. The signs of the times were not difficult to read; and the Apostle would have the brethren know what to look for, know in such wise that they should not be shaken in mind by what they saw or heard. For this the first need was Christian sobriety. Thus settled, they could ponder on the words of ancient prophecy and recall the lessons of those who had spoken to them in the name of Christ; and therewith their hearts might take comfort, and their heads be lifted up with expectation, knowing the last days were bringing their redemption nearer. The mockery of the sinners would keep no bounds. This331 he expresses by his emphatic words, just as largeness of blessing is described: "In blessing I will bless thee."

Walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? They would be a law unto themselves, and so they followed an evil law. As sinners before them had said, "Our lips are our own" (Psalm xii. 4), so these men by act and word alike proclaimed, "Our lives are our own, to use as we please. We have no account to give." Thus they made themselves bondslaves to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, and, with these fetters heavy about them, boasted of their liberty. They strengthened themselves in their evil way by jeering at the thought of Christ's return to judgement. "We have heard of the promise," they said, "but we see no signs of its fulfilment. The angels, you say, spake of His return when He was taken away from you. Let Him make speed and hasten His coming, that we may see it. You are for ever speaking of it as sure and pointing us back to the ancient Scriptures, as though they were a warrant for what you preach. 'Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come now'" (Jer. xvii. 15).

For, from the day that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. Here the mockers pass from the promise of Christ's return, and fall back upon the more distant records as supplying a stronger argument. "The fathers" of whom they speak cannot be the Christian preachers. Not many of them could as yet have fallen asleep in death. But the ancient prophets of the Jewish Scriptures had long ago passed away, and against them the scorners direct their shafts. "Centuries ago," they urge, "the prophetic record was closed; and its final utterance332 was of the day of the Lord, which has not yet come." Their word, "fell asleep" may have also been used as part of their mockery, classing the words of prophecy among baseless dreams. It may be they intended a special allusion to that one among the prophets who dates the time of the Lord's coming. Daniel (xii. 12) speaks of a waiting which shall last a thousand three hundred and five-and-thirty days. But say these scorners, "When his word was complete, he was bidden, 'Go thou thy way till the end be. For thou shalt rest, and shalt stand in thy lot at the end of the days.' He has fallen asleep, and the other fathers also. They all are at rest, and the end of the days is no nearer. The world stands fast, and will stand. It has seen no change since it was brought into existence."

Those who in faith clung to Christ could not fail, as they heard these scorners, to think of the Master's question, "When the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith in the earth?" (Luke xviii. 8), and of those other words of His which told them that the last days should be a parallel to the days of the Deluge: "As were the days of Noah, so shall be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and they knew not until the flood came and took them all away, so shall be the coming of the Son of man" (Matt. xxiv. 37-39). The strong earth was under the feet of those antediluvian mockers, the firmament above their heads. So in ignorance they jeered at what they would call the folly of Noah. But the Flood came, and then they knew. Yet the last days have seen, and will see, men as blind and as full of satire and scoffing as they.


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