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XXIX

"WHAT MANNER OF PERSONS OUGHT YE TO BE?"

"But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness, looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God, by reason of which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? But, according to His promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."—2 Peter iii. 10-13.

The Apostle, ever earnest to put the brethren in mind of the things they had heard or read, never fails to follow his own precept. His thoughts perpetually go back to the words of Jesus, of which the passage before us is but one example out of many. "If the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched" (Luke xii. 39). So spake Christ to the disciples when urging them to be like unto servants that look for the coming of their lord. To the Master's parable St. Peter now gives its application: But the day of the Lord will come as a thief. He means first to mark the unexpected advent, which steals upon men when they least think of it. Sinners will have lulled themselves into security, and the thought farthest from their minds will be the all-important preparation. St. Paul uses the same356 figure in speaking of the same subject (1 Thess. v. 2), from which passage the words "in the night" have found their way into the text of St. Peter, to which, as the Revised Version indicates, they do not belong. And in the Epistle to the Hebrews the Apostle has defined the preparation which, joined with patience, should keep men in readiness for the certain advent: "Exhorting one another, and so much the more as ye see the day approaching" (Heb. x. 25).

St. Peter passes on to tell of the terrors which shall attend on that day. Here also he has in mind the words of his Master, who, after a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, spake of that greater coming of the Son of man of which the overthrow of the Holy City was to be but a partial type: "There shall be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations, in perplexity for the roaring of the sea and the billows, men fainting for fear and for expectation of the things that are coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken" (Luke xxi. 25; Matt. xxiv. 29). With the Lord's language for his warrant, he paints, largely in the words of the prophets of old, the things which shall befall the world in that great and notable day: In the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Isaiah had used like words of old: "All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll" (Isa. xxxiv. 4); and in another place he speaks (xxiv. 19) of the earth as utterly broken, clean dissolved, moved exceedingly; Micah has to proclaim the coming of the Lord, and he pictures it thus: "The mountains shall be molten under Him, and the valleys shall be357 cleft as wax before the fire" (Micah i. 4); and Nahum, describing the day of the Lord which he foresaw was coming upon Nineveh, says, "The mountains quake at Him, and the hills melt; and the earth is upheaved at His presence, yea the world and all that dwell therein." It is St. Peter's, by the light of the words of Jesus, to read their full purport into these prophetic messages, and to teach those upon whom the ends of the ages are come that all these things will have their consummation in that coming of the Lord which shall be the close of these latter days.

When thus considered his description contains many striking details. "The heavens will pass away." Christ Himself had so spoken, not of heaven only, but of the earth also. His word was the same which Peter employs, but He used it in the same sentence thus: "My word will not pass away" (Matt. xxiv. 35). That is the one thing to which we may trust. All else will be destroyed or changed. Only those who are in Christ will be fit for the new order. For them old things are passed away; behold, they are become new (2 Cor. v. 17). They have been purified by the fire of the Holy Spirit, and so can abide the day of Christ's coming.

To describe the dread process he has a striking word, which, like so many of the Apostle's expressions, is used nowhere else in the New Testament: "With a great noise" (ῥοιζηδόν). It is applied to many sounds of terror: to the hurtling of weapons as they fly through the air; to the sound of a lash as it is brought down for the blow; to the rushing of waters; to the hissing of serpents. He has chosen it as if by it he would unite many horrors in one.

Then the thought of nature's dissolution. All that358 was bound together at the Creation, and then received a law of cohesion which sustained it thenceforth, will be cast loose, the compacted world dissolved. These things have been thought of as emblems of stability. God hath made the round world so fast that it cannot be moved (Psalm civ. 5), but He who made can also unmake. How foolish then must they be who bound their thoughts and aims by what the world can give, making themselves thereby of the earth, earthy, and so sure to fail when that is destroyed. And what are those works that are in the earth of which the Apostle speaks? Do the words mean no more than "the world and all that therein is," a phrase so common in Scripture? At first sight it appears so. But some most ancient manuscripts, instead of "shall be burned up," read "shall be discovered." Of this the Revised Version takes note on its margin. From this reading the mind goes to the words of the Preacher, "God shall bring every work into judgement, with every hidden thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil" (Eccles. xii. 14). The sense is thus bound closer with the coming of the day of the Lord.

Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness? The Apostle says more than "are to be dissolved." His word signifies "are being dissolved." The event is so sure, and the interests involved so weighty, that he speaks of it as present, that thus he may more forcibly urge his lesson of preparation. "What manner of persons ought ye to be?" Christ had supplied the answer, and so St. Peter gives none: "Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning, and ye yourselves like unto men looking for their lord" (Luke xii. 25). The figures imply readiness359 for any service, most of all, to an Eastern mind, readiness to set forth on a journey. Such should ever be the attitude of those who are but sojourners and pilgrims. And by his words the Apostle intimates how this preparedness should enter into every relation of the Christian life. The translation says, "in all holy living and godliness"; but in the Greek there is no word for all. Literally the words are "in holy conversations and godlinesses." In English we could not use words thus. Hence the device of the translators to come as near to the sense as is possible. But if we carry with us the thought contained in these plural words, we see how St. Peter teaches by them that in our daily life and work as well as in our religious exercises we should be ever watchful, ever ready. Our life with men and with God should be stamped as "Holiness unto the Lord." By such a walk we shall keep ourselves apart from sinners, and be helped thus far to keep away from sin. And the godliness of which he speaks springs, as he has already taught (i. 6) in this Epistle, from a patient waiting on the Lord. Thus the whole attitude of the Christian becomes one of wakeful readiness. He is of those of whom it is said, "Blessed are those servants whom their lord when he cometh shall find watching."

Looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God, by reason of which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat. The question of the mockers, "Where is the promise of His coming?" will not disturb those whose lives are thus made ready. That coming fills their every thought, moulds every desire, controls and chastens every action. For not only do they look for it: they long for it, and earnestly desire it. For to be with Christ is far better.360 Hence they hear of the melting elements and the fires of heaven without alarm. With them it is as with the Hebrew children in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. The fires which others dread, and by reason of which the heavens dissolve and the elements melt, will have no power over them save to loose their bonds, to free them from the burden of the flesh, to further that change from the natural to the spiritual which St. Paul teaches we must all undergo; while with them there will be the Son of God. And thus they will attain to their desire, and become partakers of the Divine nature.

But the translation "earnestly desiring" by no means exhausts the significance and solemnity of St. Peter's word. The Authorised Version rendered it "hasting unto the coming of the day of God"; but the word "unto" is not in the Greek, though the verb means "hastening." The word is found in the LXX. of Isa. xvi. 5, where the Authorised Version translates the Hebrew by "hasting righteousness" and the Revised by "swift to do righteousness." But though a king, as in that passage, may be said to hasten righteousness by being swift to do it, is there any sense in which men could be said to hasten the coming of the day of God? It seems as though Christ intended to set such an aim before His servants. Before He was crucified He spake that prophetic promise, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me." When He had been lifted up on the cross and as a testimony to His Godhead, lifted up from the grave, He gave His commission to the Apostles: "Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations.... Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." He promised His Spirit also to be their Guide into all truth.

Thus were they sent to be heralds of and labourers361 for his kingdom; and one of them has testified to the abundance of the aid bestowed: "I can do all things through Christ that giveth me power." But he who thus spake could say to his converts, "Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor. xi. 1). In this way men can lift up Christ; in this way can they draw men to Him. And to do this by examples of holy living and godliness is the work which He has committed to His Church, to let the light of Christian lives shine before men in such wise that they may be won for Him. And when we see His kingdom's slow advance, St. Peter's question is turned into a reproach, "What manner of men ought ye to be?"

But, according to His promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. All creation was marred at the Fall. It groaneth and travaileth until now in pain along with the sons of men. It was made subject unto vanity, but that was by reason of God, who made it thus subject in hope that it shall be delivered, along with man, from the bondage of corruption. And that victory was promised from the first. The seed of the woman shall not always be the spoil of the serpent. The world was in many ways kept alive to this thought. A race was promised from whom all nations should be blessed. God established a kingdom to represent His rule in the world, and at length Isaiah was inspired to tell of new heavens and a new earth (Isa. lxv. 17). He too foresaw that this was for a reign of righteousness, that it pointed to a time when the wickedness of the wicked had come to an end: "The sun shall be no more thy light by day, neither the moon by night; for the Lord shall be thy everlasting light, and as for thy people, they shall all be righteous." And Christ while362 on earth endorsed the prophetic word: "I go to prepare a place for you. I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there shall My servant be."

Hence St. Peter says, "According to His promise we look forward." And by using the same he identifies the new heavens and the new earth with the coming of the day of God. The believer heeds no more the mockers who ask, "Where is the promise of His coming?" He can look and lift up his head, assured that his redemption draweth nigh. For his expectation has been fostered through a life of holy conversation and godliness, and the assurance of the day of God is firm, for the kingdom of God is set up within him.

And the consolation of the promise consists largely in the thought that in the new creation righteousness will dwell, will make its home. First, there will be Christ the righteous, who is also our righteousness; and all the hindrances and stumbling-blocks of this life will be removed. Here the sojourners and pilgrims abide for the time amid many foes and countless perils; then they will be delivered even from their own frailties. As their home is new-created, so they shall become new creatures. So their thought, their prayer, their struggle, is ever, Sursum corda; and day by day they are bound less to earth and realise more of heaven.

"The distant landscape draws not nigh

For all our gazing, but the soul

That upward looks may still descry

Nearer each day the brightening goal."

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