Sharing in the Precious Faith of the Apostles by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Expository Sermons on 2 Peter.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from October 1946 to March 1947. It was originally printed in 1948-1950. The current publication is in 1999.
‘Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord.‘ (2 Peter 1:1-2)
We have here a letter written in the early days of the Christian church to a number of Christian people. They were scattered abroad, we gather from the first Epistle, throughout a considerable part of the then civilised and known world. It is a letter written to people who were confronted by difficulties and by problems. The first Epistle, in the same way exactly as this Epistle, makes it quite clear that the object that the Apostle had in mind when he wrote both these letters was to comfort and to encourage and to strengthen these people. They faced difficulties, both from without and within, for their world, as one is never tired of pointing out, was a world very similar to ours.
If we regard history from a spiritual standpoint we must be impressed by the fact that the essential character of life in this world does not change. We may regard certain things today as being terrible and serious, and we feel that by contrast with these things, the circumstances confronting the people two thousand years ago were almost trivial. Yet we have to realise and to remember that the problems they experienced were as grievous and as serious to them as our problems are to us today. The way of conducting war has changed, the way of living in certain superficial respects has changed, and yet the facts remain essentially the same. The world is a place of difficulty and thus, I say, we find that these people in their age and time, as we in ours, were conscious of terrible problems. They had believed the Christian Gospel and, perhaps, at first had partly misunderstood it, thinking that everything was suddenly going to be all right and that they would have no further problems. But they had now reached the stage in which they had discovered that that was not the case. They had opposition from without; there were persecutions, there were trials, there were difficulties even in the matter of food and clothing and in various other things.
Then in addition to all these things there were troubles also arising from within the church, and this second Epistle of Peter is particularly concerned about these problems. For the problem that ever confronts Christian people in a world like this is, ultimately, just the one problem of unbelief. We can therefore understand why the great message of this second Epistle of Peter was written to strengthen Christian people against various forces and factors that were tending to shake and to unsettle them in their faith. Certain doubts and queries were insinuating themselves into their minds. Peter tells us at great length in the second chapter that false teachers had crept into the churches and that these, with their false teaching, were trying to undermine the faith of these early Christian people.
In particular, questions were being raised as to the value of the promises of God. An essential part of the preaching of the Gospel, from the very beginning, was the message of the second coming of our Lord and of the various things that would accompany it. All those first preachers preached a Gospel of judgment. You remember how often we are told in the Gospels and in the book of the Acts of the Apostles that their message in the first instance was that men and women should flee from the wrath to come. The Gospel was always presented in terms of judgment. It was put in that historical form, it was emphasised and stressed that this self-same Jesus who had been crucified and buried, and who had risen again, would likewise come again in judgment, and that when He came He would judge the world, and that therefore all should make certain of being found in a right relationship to Him. But these false teachers and others had crept into the churches and they were raising questions and queries. `Where is the promise of his coming?’ they said. `Years have passed and nothing has happened, the world is still the same as it was—what, then, of this preaching, what of this Gospel?’ And there was much in the hearers themselves that made them ready to listen to this. Unbelief can be very insidious and insinuating. It comes and takes
advantage of various conditions through which we are passing—when we are tired or ill, when we are passing through bereavement or sorrow, or when we have just emerged from a world war; in that kind of position of lassitude and tiredness these thoughts come in. The danger was that the faith of this infant church should thus be shaken.
Now such is the background which we have to bear in mind. This is a letter written to people who are besieged by difficulties without, and at the same time attacked by difficulties within.
I need scarcely point out how apposite and appropriate this letter is to our state and condition at this present time. The Christian church avowedly and frankly is facing an extremely difficult period. We would have to go back a very long time, at least two hundred years, to find a time when she had to face such grievous difficulties. And I would say that the besetting sin at such a time as this is probably the sin of discouragement. There is a tendency because of all these things to ask certain questions, and there are always those who are ready to help us to yield to doubts and fears and to encourage us in them. I therefore believe, as I am never tired of saying these days, that the first thing that is necessary at the present time is that Christian people should be certain of their position. I borrow the words of the Apostle when he says, `I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them’. That is profound psychology! It is a very great mistake to think that because we know a thing we need not be reminded of it repeatedly. I would therefore suggest that if we are concerned about the state of the church and of the world, if we really do look for revival and reawakening at the present time, we must concentrate on the church rather than on the world. The church is the bearer of the message of salvation; and if the church herself is lifeless or uncertain or unhappy, how can she do the work? It seems to be increasingly clear that the main problem at the moment is in the church herself. The world is sinful. Of course, the world is always sinful. We have no right to expect anything but sin from the world. We should never be surprised at the state of the world or the condition of the masses of the people. It is the essential teaching of the Bible that as long as men remain in the world and outside Christ they must be like that. Is it not the case, however, that perhaps the main explanation of why so many are outside the church and why the church is passing through this difficult period, is the state of the church herself? As Paul puts it in writing to the Corinthians, `If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle?’
If we are uncertain about our position, how can we confront the world, and why should the world look at us and be convinced and convicted of its sin as it sees us? Surely the highway to revival, as the history of the great revivals of the past shows us so clearly, is that the church herself must be a living church. When that happens her impact upon the world invariably becomes something powerful and mighty. Now that is the object of this particular letter; it is to strengthen Christian people. You notice how Peter puts it in a phrase in this very first chapter. The need, he says, is to `make your calling and election sure’. That is the thing on which we must concentrate.
Now the great message of the Gospel divides itself up in a perfectly simple and natural manner. What does it say to people in this state and condition? It is quite clear at once that there are two main things. The first is they must be absolutely certain of that which they believe. They must make quite certain of the basis and the foundation of their faith. Then, having done that, they must add to it and grow in it. Peter states all that, really, in these first two verses, and the whole Epistle is nothing but the out-working of this statement which he makes at the very beginning. These are the two points: you must know what you have, and then you must add to it and increase it. ‘Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord’—that’s it! In a sense that is the whole of the Christian life. We first make certain of our beginning and our foundation; then we go on adding to it. We `continue in the faith’ with which we begin; we `hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.’ This is the way other writers in the New Testament put exactly and precisely the same thing. Peter keeps playing on this theme, and he ends the letter on the very same note, `But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ You have got it: very well, you must proceed to grow in it.
Now this is surely a message for us at this present time. The first thing we have to do is to make certain of the foundations. We need not stay to labour this point. We all must be ready to agree that the main effect of the various movements in the realm of thought and in the realm of religion (alas!) during the last hundred years has been to query and to question the foundation. The trouble still in the church is a matter of foundations. There are those who would have us believe that it is a good and right thing to form great unions, to have a great ecumenical church, and that then we shall be a great body of people confronting the whole world. But the question is, what is this great ecumenical church to stand for? What is she to believe? What is her foundation? We are not concerned primarily about numbers, for however great a body the ecumenical church may be, she will have no influence upon the world unless she has a truth to present, unless she has a solid and firm foundation on which to stand. Surely that is the great emphasis of the Bible. What the Bible is concerned about is truth, and in a very extraordinary manner it ridicules our pathetic faith in big battalions and in great numbers. It seems to go out of its way to teach a doctrine of the remnant and to show what one man can do when that one man is truly Christian. It shows our Lord taking a handful of men and making them apostles and the sole guardians and custodians of the faith—that is its message! The emphasis is not upon numbers of men but upon this truth of God, this foundation, upon this deposit of faith. And I suggest, therefore, that at this time this must be the first thing on which we must concentrate and of which we must make doubly certain. We must know exactly where we stand and in whom we believe.
Well now, let us briefly look at some of the things that the Apostle tells us here about this very basis and foundation of our faith. He puts it all in these very suggestive words, ‘Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ’. Now what does he mean by this? Let us try to divide it up.
The first thing that he emphasises is that there is only one faith. The Apostle is writing to Christian people. Many of them were Gentiles, as the first Epistle shows quite clearly, and yet, says Peter, the faith you have, the faith you have obtained, is the same, it is a like precious faith with that which I and my fellow apostles, and the Jews likewise, have obtained and which we enjoy. Now this is something which we can put in a number of different ways. The faith, if you like, is the same for all classes and groups and kinds of people. That is one of the central and essential glories of the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. `God’, Peter tells us elsewhere (Acts 10: 34) `is no respecter of persons.’ The Gospel of Jesus Christ cuts out once and for all our artificial human divisions and distinctions; it announces that the whole world is made one, face to face with God. In other words, when we come into the house of God, and when we face the Gospel, our antecedents are in a sense utterly irrelevant—there is neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. Every middle wall of partition has been broken down, and it matters not at all whether we are able or ignorant, learned or lacking in intelligence. Power, social status, wealth, position—all these things are utterly irrelevant. There is only one faith, the `like precious faith’. We all have to face the same truth.
But, again, we can go on to add that there is only one faith, in the sense that the only faith is the faith of the apostles. You have obtained `a like precious faith with us’, says Peter; and this is as true today as it was in the days when the Epistle was written. Here, perhaps, is the very essence of the modern heresy. We are so conscious of changes on the surface that we tend to believe that changing times and changed times demand a changed or different Gospel. One of the most difficult things for the natural man to believe is that a Gospel which was preached nearly two thousand years ago can possibly be adequate today. Yet I say that that is the very foundation of our whole position. `The faith’ today is still the faith of the apostles. The Christian church is built upon `the foundation of the apostles and prophets’, and however much knowledge may have been garnered with respect to scientific matters, or indeed with respect to men’s hearts, and to the mind and its working, and all such matters, still we come back and see that there is no faith today apart from the apostolic faith. `Like precious faith with us.’ This is surely something remarkable and extraordinary. The passing of nearly two thousand years has not changed the position at all; indeed history itself bears very eloquent testimony to, and proof of, the soundness of that contention.
Look back across the past two thousand years, look at all the striving and efforts and endeavours of man; consider all the organisations and movements; consider all the Acts of Parliament; consider all the various experiments and forms of government; look at man as he has tried to delve into the mysteries of life; look at the amazing record of education and culture during the past two thousand years! Yet must we not agree that when you come back to the primary problems and questions of man himself, of life and of living, the problem of how to live together in this world without killing one another, and without destroying one another and our world, there is no advance at all? Surely, then, the evidence of history supports this contribution of the Scriptures themselves. There is only one Gospel, says Peter. You may be a Gentile, you may be living far away from Jerusalem and Judea, but if you are truly Christian you have the same faith as I have, and all the other apostles and all the other Christians have. And you and I are in that same position today. You can search the world, you can search the heavens, you can go down into the depths, you can go to the remotest part of the world in an attempt to discover an answer to the problem of life, but ultimately you come back to this. There is only one faith, there is only one Gospel, and the passing of the ages and the centuries does not affect it. It is an everlasting Gospel; it is changeless.
Very well, what is this Gospel? Peter answers that question; and you will notice that at the very centre of it he puts Jesus Christ. `Oh, how very elementary all this is,’ says someone. My dear friend, I have emphasised the fact that it is elementary. We are living in days when it is the elements of the faith that are being forgotten. `Jesus Christ!’ ‘Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ’, or as some would translate it, `through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ’. What is the faith? Obviously you cannot answer the question without seeing at once that Jesus is central. You notice how many times Peter mentions Him. In the very introduction in the first two verses of his letter Jesus is there in the very centre, and there is no Gospel apart from Him.
Now that, I think, needs to be put today in some such form as this. There are many who, when confronted by the state of the world as it is today, are beginning to say that we must get back to religion. There are many who, seeing the havoc of the Second World War and the utter futility and hopelessness of the inter-war period, and who remember the First World War, look at these things and say, `Well, we seem to have tried and exhausted everything else; there is only one answer, the people must be brought back to God.’ There is much talk of the need again of acknowledging God, of a need for people to subscribe again to the great general statements of religion. There is a feeling that if we are to put a check upon the moral delinquency in young people we must get back again to religion and religious education in the schools. But I say that at this point a very great and real danger arises. There are many movements in this modern world that are exhorting people to believe in God and to surrender themselves to God, but I think you will find that in many of them the name of Jesus is never mentioned. They advocate and teach a belief in God; they preach a message that urges people to submit themselves to God; but Jesus Christ is not central, Jesus Christ is not essential. There is no talk about Christ. You can go direct to God, they tell us. Now that, of course, is an utter travesty of the New Testament Gospel. It is the religion of the Jew, it is the religion of the Mohammedan, who believes in God. To believe in God alone is not enough to make us Christian, to have a general belief in God as Creator and God as Father is not in itself Christian. You need the Christ of the apostle Peter. He cannot keep away from the name of Jesus Christ. Christ is there in the very centre and forefront of the picture, in the very salutation and introduction. He shows us what is the very essence of the Christian faith: it is none other than the Person of Jesus Christ Himself.
Not only that, Peter becomes still more specific—`You have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.’ Now that is Peter’s way of putting in a phrase the great doctrine of justification by faith which is expounded so wondrously by the apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. That is the essence of the Gospel. The message is, that there is only one way whereby man can be right, or righteous, in the sight of God; and that is by the righteousness that is given to us in Christ. The problem confronting man is how to be just with God. It is certainly very right to come back to God and to believe in God, but the first question is, How can I do this? God is Holy, God is Absolute, `God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.’ I am sinful. What can I do? The Old Testament contains a law, and the law said, If you do these things you will be right with God. And the tragedy is that so many people still try to do that. Yes, they say, we must be right with God. But how do I become right with God? How can I live that new life? I read the Commandments, I do my best to keep them—I try to get right with God. But by my own efforts and exertions I will never put myself right with God. To believe that I can is in utter antithesis to and a contradiction of the Christian Gospel.
What is the Gospel? It is this—`Like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.’ The message which the apostles preached round their world was simply this, that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was none other than the only begotten Son of God, and that He had come on earth for one thing only, and that was that He might bear the sins of man Himself. In Christ God has dealt with the sin of mankind; He has punished sin there, He has done away with it. How can man be right with God? Believe that, submit yourself to it, and say: I have no righteousness of my own; I accept the righteousness that God gives me in Christ. I am unworthy and sinful, but I can be clothed with the righteousness of Christ; and, clothed with that, I can stand and face God and the righteousness of God. That is the essence of the Christian faith. The Christian church, therefore, has in this modern world to tell men that they cannot save themselves, that all their efforts and exertions will end in utter futility, but that God has done something in Christ; He has made a new way of righteousness—`the righteousness of God … by faith’. God tells me that here is the way to get rid of sin and its guilt and power: here is a new nature and a new life and positive righteousness. God is offering a way back to Himself in and through Jesus Christ and Him crucified—that is the nature of the faith.
Now let us observe one other thing with respect to it, because Peter describes it as a `precious faith’. `To them, that have obtained a like precious faith with us.’ This word `precious’ is the apostle’s favourite word. You will find that he uses it in his first Epistle and here again he does so. He goes on using it again and again. What does it mean? It means something valuable, it means indeed something that is beyond price, beyond computation; there is nothing like it—‘precious’—something that is in a sense of greater value than life itself. Let me put it in the form of an illustration. You see a man who has been taken ill—he has lost his health and he consults a doctor. This is what he says to him: If you know of any remedy, or anything that can be done, I beg of you to let me know about it. I do not care what it may cost me, I must have it. What is the value of wealth or position or anything else I may have if I have lost my health? My health is more precious than anything else. I will mortgage my goods to get this treatment, because health is precious, it is beyond computation, it is more valuable than anything else. That is what Peter says about this faith, and I know of no better test of our Christian profession than that we should ask this simple question: Is this doctrine about Christ our righteousness precious unto us?
What is it that makes this doctrine precious? Let me just mention some of the things to you, that we may rejoice together with the Apostle as we think of them. Why is the faith precious? Well, it is the faith that justifies. It is the faith that enables me to know that I stand guiltless in the presence of God. Can anybody measure or compute the value of that—a conscience void of offence, a knowledge that God has forgiven me, fear of death and the grave gone, the feeling that I can face any accuser that may ever rise up against me and point to Jesus? `Precious faith!’ Money and learning and all that the world can give me can never give me peace of conscience, peace of mind, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ with its doctrine of justification in Christ gives me that at the very beginning. What else? Sanctification! What does sanctification mean? Sanctification means that not only am I guiltless in a legal sense, but that I have the precious promise of this Gospel that the Holy Spirit is working in me that which will ultimately rid me of every spot and blemish and of all pollution; not merely that I am forgiven and remain the same man, but that I receive a new nature. And, ultimately, glorification. What does that mean? It means that we shall stand in the presence of God in a perfect state. We know not yet what we shall be, says the Apostle John, but we know that when we shall see Jesus Christ we shall be like Him. The glorification of the saints means their being taken out of earth to be with God and Christ and ultimately to live with God and Christ for ever and ever. It is the faith that gives me these things; it is by faith I believe them. It is by faith I know that God has forgiven me, it is by faith I know that I shall spend eternity with God. `Precious faith!’
And then think of these matters in terms of the way they come to us—by the calling of God. God looked upon us from heaven and singled us out. Why are you a member of the Christian church? Why are you not like millions who are unconcerned about these things and who feel that they are idle tales? It is because God called you. It was not your decision. Why are you different? Is it not that the Holy Spirit of God has done something to you? He has apprehended you, He is dealing with you. Oh! what precious faith it is, that tells me that, though I am an insignificant pygmy in this extraordinary world, the Father of Lights, the God of all power, and dominion, is interested in me, and knows me, and is concerned about me, and has placed His almighty hand upon me—‘precious’ faith that tells me that! It tells me also of sonship, of regeneration, of being made a son, adopted into God’s family. Have we this precious faith? Go on then to think of it subjectively. You find, says the Apostle, that it leads to peace within and peace with God and peace with every man—this amazing `precious’ faith!
There is the foundation, says the Apostle. It does not matter who you are, or where you come from; if you are a Christian, that is your faith, that is what you believe. You will find it all in Christ. You see that without Him you are lost and nothing, but in Him you are complete, for He `of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption’. He is my All— Christ is all and in all. He is everything. Jesus Christ! And the faith in Him is `precious’ to my soul because of these amazing things He has done for me, and is still doing to me, and will yet do for me until I stand complete in Him in the presence of God. Is the faith precious to you? It is precious to all who are truly Christian. [1-11]