"Like precious faith with us."—2 Peter i. 1.
Some of you may be aware that many scholars have denied that this Epistle was written by the Apostle Peter. There are a great many reasons, which I think valid, for accepting it as genuine, and amongst them is the occurrence of certain characteristic phrases in both of the Epistles which go by that Apostle's name.
This word " precious" is one of these. We read in the first Epistle of "the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire." And a few verses further on, we read, of " the precious blood of Christ." In the next chapter we have a, quotation from Isaiah interpreted of Christ—" A chief corner-stone, elect, precious," which "preciousness," according to the more accurate rendering of the Revised Version, is in the next verse said to belong to believers. In the second Epistle we find this phrase of our text, "like precious faith," and in an immediately following verse we read of " exceeding great and precious promises."
Thus there runs through both letters the use of the same characteristic and somewhat indefinite epithet, which expresses only the Apostle's lofty idea of the value of the themes with which he is dealing. The old man getting near the end of his life had come to think that the really valuable things were not the things which can be handled, counted and weighed; that the truly precious things were these—Christ, His blood, God's promises, and the faith which grasps these three. These are worth all the rest; and as for the rest—well, if you have them you are not much the better, and if you have not them you are very little the worse.
But my text not only speaks of "precious faith," but of "like precious faith with us." And the question is, who are the two classes whose faith is here declared to be of equal worth? One answer may be that the " us" means Peter and his brother Apostles, and if so, then we have here a declaration of the substantial identity and equal value of the faith of all Christian people, whether they hold the highest office or fill the most undistinguished place in the Church.
But more probably the two classes referred to here are the Gentile Christians to whom the letter was addressed, and the Jewish Christians, with whom Peter classes himself. In the name of all the latter he welcomes the "uncircumcision" into the unity of the Church, and recognises them as possessors of the same faith, and, therefore, enriched with the same salvation. He proclaims that the wall of partition is broken down, and stretches his hand across its ruins to grasp his brethren's hands. He is back again to the old lesson which he learned on the house-top at Joppa and in the dwelling of Cornelius. It is the reiteration of his own argument with which he had quieted the suspicions of the Church at Jerusalem when they heard of his baptism of Cornelius. "Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as He did unto us, who believed n the Lord Jesus Christ, what was I, that I could withetand God?" Although the old national bigotry had conquered him for awhile, and he had been unfaithful to his earlier convictions, he has returned to them, and is side by side with " his beloved brother Paul" in the assertion of the abolition of all national prerogative, and the inclusion on equal terms within the Church of all men, be they of what race they may, if only they possess faith in Jesus Christ.
Such being the force and bearing of these words, we may use them as suggesting some not unimportant points, which throw light upon that much spoken about, but often dimly understood, subject of Faith, especially in regard of its object, its value, and its substantial identity under the most different forms.
I.—Consider then, first, the object of faith, as here defined.
The Authorised Version reads, "To them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and of our Saviour Jesus Christ." But the Revised Version reads more accurately, "faith . ... in the righteousness." The former rendering is admissible, and would give the meaning that God's righteousness revealed in Jesus Christ gave occasion for our faith, which would be quite true, inasmuch as if there had been no righteousness revealed, there could have been no faith. But that meaning is less satisfactory than the other, which regards the righteousness as being the object of our faith. As Paul says, "The righteousness of God from faith is revealed unto faith."
Now the object of faith is much more frequently said in the New Testament to be Jesus Christ, and it is all-important to keep clearly in view that He, the personal Christ, is the true and proper object of our faith. Faith is trust, and the object of trust must be a person. We may say that we trust a promise, but that really means that we trust him who has made it. We may believe a creed, but for trust we must have a living God of Whom the creed speaks. It is Christ Himself, then, in the sweetness and graciousness of His character, in the sacrifice of His death, and in the glory of His risen life, Whom we trust in, and by trusting in Whom we live.
That principle is important as bringing clearly into view how faith in Christ is strictly parallel with our trust in one another. It is the very same act which knits us to Christ, and to God in Christ, and which knits us to one another. It is faith which makes it possible that the world should go on at all. The same confidence with which men of business rely upon each other in their transactions, the same confidence with which we in our families safely trust in the love and truth of wife or husband, friend or child, when directed to Jesus Christ becomes the spring and the heart of all religion.
What tragic folly and waste it is that we should squander the treasure of our trust on such unworthy objects, when we might safely lodge it in the safe keeping of His Almighty hands! The vine which trails along the ground and twines its tendrils round any rubbish which it may come upon, is sure to be trodden under foot. If it lift itself from the earth and fling its clasping rings round the shaft of the Cross, its stem will not be bruised, and its clusters will be heavier and sweeter. The tendrils which anchor it to the rubbish heap are the same as those which clasp it to the Cross. The trust with which we lean upon the bruised reeds of human help is the same as that with which we lean upon the iron pillar of a Saviour's aid. Faith is trust, and its object is not a creed, but a person, whom it is the work of all creeds to make known.
That being understood, then comes the importance of the words of my text. A man may say :—" Oh! I trust in Christ, I am a Christian ;" but the whole question is: —What Christ is it that you are trusting in, and what is it that you are trusting to Him for? So, in order to make definite the vagueness which may attach to the thought of faith in a person, unless we declare what the person is, we have to keep in view such sayings as this of my text. The Apostle Paul, for example, speaks in one place of "faith in His blood," and his brother Peter here speaks of "faith in the righteousness of God and Christ." If we take these two definitions of the object of faith, they explain what true faith in Christ has to lay hold of. If you are truly trusting in Christ you are trusting in His blood; if you are truly trusting in Christ you are trusting in His righteousness. If your faith, so-called, lays hold on a Christ Whose blood is nothing to you, Whose righteousness is to you only example and stimulus, and no more, my brother! you have not got the "like precious faith" with those of whom the Apostle is the representative. The Christ Whom we must trust is the Christ Whose blood cleanses from all sin, Whose righteousness makes us righteous. And the great truths that He, by His perfect obedience, has fulfilled the law, that by His death we are justified, and that by His indwelling in us we are sanctified, are all summed up in this word of my text, which declares the object of faith to be the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.
There is much need, I think, in these days, when so much foolish impatience of doctrine has crept into the professing Church, and when some men are so afraid of anything that savours of that great truth of a dying Christ Whose blood is our righteousness, to say plainly that not only must our faith grasp Jesus, but that our faith must grasp this Jesus,—the Jesus that died for our sins and was raised again for our justification—if we are ever to be "found in Him, not having our own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ."
II.—Now, still further consider the worth of this faith.
What is the value of faith? Why is it so precious? I have already pointed out that in both these letters certain things are declared to be precious, and I enumerated them as being Christ Himself, Christ's blood, and God's great promises. These are precious in one way by virtue of their own inherent value. But faith is only precious because of that which it lays hold of.
So that is the first item in the precionsness of faith—its worth as a channel. You remember that in one place we read about "the door of faith." What is the worth of a door? It is only a hole in a wall. The value of the door is in that which it admits or in that which it is the means of our entering into. So faith is precious, not because of anything in itself, for it is nothing in itself, but because of what it grips and grasps, and of what it admits into our hearts.
Just as the hand of a dyer that has been working with crimson will be crimson; just as the hand that has been holding fragrant perfumes will be perfumed ; so my faith, which is only the hand by which I lay hold upon precious things, will take the tincture and the fragrance of what it grasps. A bit of earthenware piping may be worth a few pence in intrinsic value, but if it is the means by which water is brought into a besieged city which else would perish with thirst, who will estimate its worth? In like manner, faith is precious because it brings God in Christ, and the blood of Christ and the promises of Christ, all flooding into my soul to fill it with life, and fruitfulness, and refreshing. It is the hand which lays hold on the hand of God that He may hold me up. It is the taking down of the shutters that the sunshine may come in. Which lights the room, the removal of the shutters or the sunshine? Which is the precious thing, the faith or the Christ that rises on the faithful soul with "healing in His beams"? It is the grasping of the poles of the electric battery, powerful only as bringing me into contact with the quick and quickening impulse. Faith brings all riches to me, and therefore is itself gilded with some reflection of their lustre, and partakes of their preciousness.
Then again we may consider the worth of faith as a defence. We read of the "shield of faith." How is faith valuable as a shield? Has it any power of protection in itself? Am I any the safer merely because I am confident that I am? A man may have an obstinate confidence which is misplaced and may lull him into a fatal security. I do not become safe by believing myself to be so, however strong may be the imagination or the fancy. All depends upon what it is that I am relying on. So, then, faith is no shield in itself; it has no power to protect you from anything, either from dangers without or dangers within. "The Lord God is a Sun and Shield. 0 Lord of Hosts, Blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee." Thrust your arm, howsoever feeble it may be, through the handles of that great Buckler, and hide yourself behind Him, and "He will cover your head in the day of battle."
Loose things on the deck of a ship will be blown overboard when the storm comes. There is only one way to keep them firm, and that is to lash them to something that is fixed. It is not the bit of rope that gives them security, but it is the stable thing to which they are lashed. Lash yourselves to Christ by faith, and whatever storm or tempest comes, you will be safe, and stand firm and immovable. Your faith is precious because it knits you to His immortal stability.•
And in like manner we may consider the worth of faith as a purifier. When Peter had to defend himself before the Church in Jerusalem for his action in regard to Cornelius, his one plea was, "God . . . put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith." But how does faith purify? Is there anything in my confidence which will make me pure? No ! there is no moral efficacy in the mere act of trust. All depends upon what it is that you are trusting to. You will get like the object of your confidence. If you are trusting to money you will get jaundiced with it. If you are trusting to creatures, the great law will come true about you which has determined the degradation of all idolatrous nations :—" they that make them are like unto them, so is every one that trusteth in them." As the man's trust, so will the man one day become. The only faith that purifies is faith in Him Who is pure. My faith makes me clean only in the measure in which, and because, it joins me to the Christ Who Himself is righteous, and gives me possession of all the motives to purity which love to Him can set in action, and of all the power for purifying which the gift of His Spirit can bring. Faith is the believing contemplation of Christ in His beauty and graciousness, and every man that hath thia confidence in Him does purify himself, because He is pure. Faith is the believing appropriation of that Divine Spirit by Whose mighty operation alone we can become holy and good. And so, brethren, all the value of faith comes from the intrinsic and unspeakable preciousness of these things with which it is conversant.
III.—And now, lastly, my text suggests to us the substantial identity and equal preciousness of faith in all varieties of form and degree.
If we adopt the view that the Apostle is here declaring, that the faith of the Gentile Christian is equally precious with that of the Jew, the door is opened for the recognition of the oneness of faith under the extremest differences of form.
There is no such gulf between any two sects of Christians who have faith in the blood and righteousness of Christ, as there was between the Gentile and the Jewish sections of the primitive Church at the time when this Epistle was written. And yet, says Peter, here is a bridge that can be thrown across that deep gulf, for on both sides of it faith may be identical. Let us learn that two men who both alike are trusting to Jesus Christ as their Saviour, and who are most unlike each other in all other respects, in creed, in culture, in general outlook on the world, in disposition and character, are liker each other than a Christian man and a non-Christian, who in all particulars except faith are as like as twins. The deepest thing in every man that has it is his faith in Jesus Christ, and likeness in that brings him near all others who have it, however unlike on the surface their characteristics may be.
But now do not let us run away with the lazy charity, so called, which is often mere poisonous indifference to truth. I will go as far as any man in recognising the substantial identity, under the most different forms of manifestation, of faith in Jesus Christ. The Quaker on that hand, who will have no ritual or ceremony at all, and the Roman. Catholic priest on the other, on the steps of the altar, with the incense-smoke curling about him as he sings Mass, may be brothers. And all manner of differences in opinion, in politics, in culture, in race which may separate men from men, are like the cracks upon the surface of a bit of rock, which are an inch deep' while the solid mass goes down a thousand feet. But I am not going to pretend that the man whose Christ did not die for him, and whose Christ gives him no righteousness in which he can stand before God, possesses "like precious faith unto us." To say that he does is to worship charity at the expense of truth, and to be a traitor to
the Master for the sake of seeming to be friendly with those who are not His subjects. My brother! The widest charity has no vagueness; all that love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity are one, but it must be the Lord Jesus Christ that they love.
And then in like manner, if my text have the other application to which I have adverted, that of the identity in faith between the Apostles and the humblest believers, that application teaches us the other lesson of the substantial identity of faith under all degrees of attainment. The poor man's half-sovereign, which stands between him and want—his " one ewe lamb," is made of the same gold as Rothschild•s millions. Each tiny particle of a magnet, if it be smitten off the whole mass, is magnetic, and sends out influence from its two little poles. And so the smallest and the feeblest faith is one in character, and one in intrinsic value with the loftiest and superbest. Only, as is the measure of the man's faith, so will be the measure of his possession of the precious things.
Therefore, dear brethren, seeing that we may all have that faith which, whether it be as a grain of mustard-seed or whether it be grown to be greater than all herbs, is yet one in its mysterious life; seeing that we may all possess it, and that there are infinitely various degrees in which we may possess it, and consequently infinite increase possible in the good things it brings to us, let us all take that old prayer, and with it the always appropriate confession, " Lord ! I believe, help Thou my unbelief." And then, like this very Apostle, if, standing upon the stormy billows, when our hearts are ready to fail us, we "stretch lame hands of faith," and grasp the strong Hand which will be stretched out to us, we shall be held up. His strong hand, not my weakness; His grasp, not mine; Christ, not my faith in Christ, will keep me from falling and present me faultless before, the presence of His glory.