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Let us now proceed to observe, that there were some special circumstances in the case of this Second Epistle of St. Peter which made such doubts in the first instance not unreasonable.
Suppose for argument's sake the Epistle to be genuine. Then this Epistle, it would appear, was published a very short time before St. Peter's death. The Author there speaks of himself as about to put off his earthly tabernacle, as the Lord had showed him. Suppose this to be the case. Then soon after the publication of it, the Apostle would be no longer at hand, to assure the Churches in person of the genuineness of this Epistle. The testimony of the Author himself could no longer be had concerning the Authorship of the Epistle: he was no longer on earth to give it. That testimony must be collected from other quarters-from his surviving friends, such as St. Mark and others, who were scattered by Persecution into different parts of the world. It would require time to collect their evidence, and to communicate it throughout Christendom; and the Book must wait for reception, till this evidence could be procured.
Hence a delay would arise in the reception of the Epistle.
Besides the Church had already received one Epistle of St. Peter-the first of the two Epistles. It was universally recognized as genuine and inspired. And when this second Epistle came under review, it was found that it differed in style-or at least some portion of it, viz., the second chapter of it,-differed in style from the first Epistle, known to be by St. Peter. This discrepancy of style caused doubts and demurs in some quarters'. If the first Epistle was St. Peter's (and it was universally acknowledged to be so), could the other, which differed from it in style, be St. Peter's also? And if the second was his, might not some doubts be cast on the genuineness of the first? Hence also it came to pass, that delays arose, which retarded the general reception of this Epistle.
Here we may observe two circumstances, which suggest reasons for thankfulness to Almighty God, watching over Holy Scripture.
Some persons have deduced objections against Scripture from the comparative lateness of the general reception of some few and smaller portions of the New Testament-particularly this Second Epistle of St. Peter.
But the fact is—this comparative lateness of reception furnishes a strong argument in favour of Scripture.
For, whence did this lateness of reception arise? From the wise caution and deliberation of the Church in this important matter. May we not say, it was due to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Himself, preventing and restraining her from receiving any portion of His own Word without due evidence of its Genuineness and Inspiration? If she had acted with less caution, if she had received at once any book which presented itself bearing an Apostolic name, she might have received forgeries, she might have received heretical writings, she might have been deceived by emissaries of the Evil One, disguised as Angels of Light.
She was warned by the Holy Ghost not to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits whether they are of God. Some are praised in the Apocalypse because they tried them that said they were Apostles, and were not, and found them liars. She would therefore make every Book pass through a period of probation, and a strict and severe ordeal ;-she would summon witnesses to give evidence on its authorship; she would collect the suffrages of the Churches with regard to it, before she would pronounce her verdict, and acknowledge any Book to be the work of an Apostle, and receive it as the Word of God.
Shall we murmur or cavil because this was the case? No. Rather we may thank God that it was so. For we here see an additional reason for trust and confidence in His Holy Word. It is precisely this wise caution of the Church, this lingering prudence, or rather let us say, it is the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit Himself, to which we owe the fact, that no Book, which has gone through that probationary scrutiny, and has once been received by the Church Universal as genuine and inspired, has ever been proved to have been erroneously received as such. In two or three cases, as was before observed, the judgment of the Church was delayed, and wisely delayed, for a time, according to the sound maxim,
“Deliberandum est diu, quod statuendum est semel.”
But in no case, when once given, has that judgment been reversed. The Canon of Scripture once formed has been stereotyped for ever.
1 See S. Jerome's Observations, Cat. Script. c. 1, and Ep. cxx. c. 11.
21 John iv. 1.
3 Rev. ii. 2.
Next, it may be observed, that the circumstances, which delayed the reception of certain books for some time, corroborate the evidence in favour of their reception, now that they are received.
Thus, for example, the difference in diction between the Apocalypse and Gospel of St. John, confirms our belief that writings so different in character would not have been received as the works of one person, and as divinely inspired, unless the primitive Churches, which received them as such, had been firmly persuaded that they were what they acknowledged them to be.
So again, as to the discrepancy of style that has been noticed between the First Epistle and part of the Second Epistle of St. Peter. This delayed the reception of this Second Epistle. But now that it is received by the Church of Christ, this very discrepancy strengthens the argument in favour of its reception. For it is evident that the Apostle St. Peter, who was enabled by the Holy Ghost to speak with tongues of various nations, could write in different styles: and reasons have been already adduced to show, that, from the difference of the circumstances under which the two Epistles were written, and from the difference of the design of each, and from the peculiar character, temperament, and position of the Author himself, St. Peter could not have done otherwise than adopt, in the Second Epistle, a very different tone from that of the First; and it is also clear, that another person, wishing to palm upon the world a forgery in the name of St. Peter, would have taken good care to imitate the style of St. Peter, as seen in his First Epistle, and would also have taken good care not to write a chapter so different in diction from the First Epistle of St. Peter, as the second chapter of the Second Epistle is.
But an objection may be urged here.
The circumstances just stated may explain, why this Second Epistle was not received at once by all Churches of Christendom in the first and second centuries. But it may be said; If this Epistle is the work of St. Peter, if it is inspired Scripture,—it was so in the first Century. A book cannot become Scripture by lapse of time. No number of years can make a writing to be Apostolic, which is not Apostolic; no number of years can make a writing to be inspired which was not inspired from the first. Eternity itself cannot change the word of man into the Word of God. And this Epistle, if it is an inspired work of St. Peter, must have been known by some persons in the first century to be an inspired work of St. Peter; and must have been received by some persons as such.
Was this the case?
Certainly, it was.
Let us remember that the Author claims to be St. Peter'. If this Epistle was not written by that Apostle, it is a shameless forgery; and there is good reason to believe, that such a forgery as this could not have escaped detection and exposure.
There were doubts concerning the genuineness and inspiration of this Epistle; and in consequence of these very doubts, its claims to be received as a canonical work of St. Peter would be scrutinized more closely. If on the one hand the Epistle was not what it professed to be, then it would certainly have been rejected; but if it passed through this scrutiny, and was finally recognized as genuine and canonical, then these doubts only strengthen our belief that it is what it claims to be, a work of the Apostle St. Peter.
What then is the evidence here?
Beginning with Apostolic times, we find that there are numerous passages in the Epistle of St. Jude, which coincide almost word for word with passages in the Second Epistle attributed to St. Peter.
Either St. Jude's Epistle was written before this Epistle, or after it.
If it was written before, then it is not at all likely, that a forger should have transcribed so many paragraphs from the Epistle of one Apostle, St. Jude, and have ascribed them to another, St. Peter.
If St. Jude's Epistle was written after this Epistle, as is most probable, then this Epistle must have existed in Apostolic times, and it must have been exposed and rejected as a forgery; and it is certain, that a forgery would not have been copied by the Apostle St. Jude; or rather we may say, the words of a forger would not have been repeated by the Holy Spirit, writing by the Apostle St. Jude.
Next, let us recollect, that the literary remains of the first and second centuries of the Christian. Church which have been preserved to us, are very scanty, and that it is probable that this Epistle was quoted in Ecclesiastical writings which do not now survive.
1 See i. 1, and on i. 17.
2 Twelve passages, at least. See below, Introduction to St. Jude's Epistle.
This inference may reasonably be derived from later writings.
Melito, Bishop of Sardis in the second century, in a recently discovered passage, appears to refer to this Epistle'. This evidence is the more important, because Melito dwelt in the country to which this Epistle purports to be addressed.
The same may be said of another testimony to which we may now refer.
Firmilian, Bishop of Cappadocia, who wrote in the third century, speaks of Epistles by St. Peter. This testimony shows that the Church of Cappadocia had received more than one Epistle by St. Peter. And this evidence is of more value, because both these Epistles which we receive as St. Peter's are addressed to the Churches of Cappadocia and Asia 3. Firmilian's Church and its neighbour Churches had received two Epistles from St. Peter. We have no evidence of the existence of any other Epistles by St. Peter than those which we possess. They are addressed to the Churches of Cappadocia and Asia. Therefore here is a strong presumption that these two Epistles were written by St. Peter.
S. Hippolytus, the scholar of Ignatius, and Bishop of Portus near Rome in the earlier part of the third century, quotes this Epistle as a genuine work of St. Peter ‘.
We have an earlier testimony from Alexandria: Clement, the celebrated Presbyter of that Church and teacher in the catechetical school there, commented on this Epistle; and Origen, his scholar, the famous teacher of that School in the second century, mentions two Epistles by St. Peter. This testimony is the more important as coming from that country, in which St. Mark, the son of St. Peter in the faith', had governed the Church.
Origen, indeed, mentions that the authority of this Epistle is questioned by some. Doubtless the Heretics, who are so severely censured in it, would have spared no effort to discredit and disparage it; they would have moved heaven and earth to destroy its Apostolic authority. These very doubts therefore confirm the proof in its favour.
We have seen why it was doubted by some-on account of discrepancy of style from the first. The fact of doubts existing in some places with respect to it, is a proof that it would not be received by them before its claims were scrutinized and settled. It would never have been generally received, before all doubts on this subject were cleared up.
And what was the result of the inquiry?
Eventually all doubts concerning its genuineness and inspiration were cleared up. It was received as an inspired work of St. Peter by all the Churches of Christendom. Thus these doubts of some Churches have served a most important purpose. They have been, under God's Providence, what the doubts of St. Thomas were concerning the Resurrection of Christ. The result of these doubts is, that we need never doubt.
When we arrive at the fourth and fifth century after Christ, we find that at that time this Epistle was universally received throughout Christendom as an inspired writing of St. Peter. It was recognized and cited as such by S. Cyril at Jerusalem, by S. Athanasius at Alexandria, by the Council of Laodicea, by S. Gregory Nazianzen at Constantinople, by S. Epiphanius in Cyprus, by S. Augustine in Africa, by Ruffinus and Philastrius in Italy. These venerable men were in earnest. They understood the importance of the question at issue,-Is this the work of an Apostle, is it the Word of God? They possessed many written documents for determining that question which we do not now possess. They all received this Epistle ". And let us consider, to what did this reception amount? It amounted to no less than this-that this Epistle was to be read in Christian Churches to Christian congregations as the work of an Apostle; it was to be read as Canonical Scripture, as of equal Authority with the writings of Moses and the Prophets,―as the Word of the Holy Ghost.
9 The original words of these writers may be seen in the Appendix to the Author's Lectures on the Canon of Scripture, pp. 349-378, 2nd edit. 1851. Cp. Kirchhofer, Quellensammlung,
10 To this may be added the testimony of the Ancient Uncial Manuscripts. In A and C the First Epistle is inscribed Пéтpov A', and in B it is inscribed porn. These inscriptions show that the copyists of those very early documents knew a Second Epistle, and in A and B the Second is contained, with the inscription Πέτρου Β ́. It is also described as the Second Epistle of St. Peter in C, G, K.
How could such a reception have taken place? Only from the concurrent persuasion of all those Fathers and Churches-that this Epistle is indeed the work of St. Peter, and the Word of God.
If, as has been alleged by some in recent times, this Epistle was not known in the age of St. Peter, if it is the production of a later generation, how could this general suffrage have been obtained, and this universal reception have ever been effected? The question was not concerning a various reading, or a single verse, but a whole Epistle, claiming to be from the pen of an Apostle. Suppose now that the Bishops and Clergy of the Churches in all parts of Christendom had been able or willing to palm a forgery upon the people, suppose that they had all conspired to invite them to receive the work of an Impostor as the Word of God, can we imagine that the many thousand Congregations would have connived at such an act of impiety? Would no single voice have been raised to denounce it? And this not in a dark age,-not in medieval twilight, when ignorance prevailed, and superstitions stole into the Church; but in the meridian splendour of the fourth and fifth centuries,-in the most brilliant age of Ecclesiastical learning, in the age of S. Athanasius, S. Basil, S. Cyril, and the Gregories, and S. Chrysostom, and S. Jerome, and S. Augustine. All these received this Epistle. It was read, as it is now read,-in all Churches, as the work of St. Peter, and as the Word of God. It never would have been so received, it never would have been so read, unless they had been satisfied by irresistible proofs that it is, what it professes to be, the work of St. Peter, and that it is, what they declared it to be, the Word of God. Their reception of it affords practical demonstration that such proofs were given. We may safely appeal to their reception of it as a sufficient reason for our reception of it. If such evidence as this does not convince us, no evidence will. There is scarcely a single writing of all Antiquity, sacred or profane, which must not be given up as spurious, if the Second Epistle of St. Peter be not received as a genuine writing of the Apostle, and as a part of Holy Writ.
Let us consider also the nature of this testimony,-the testimony of the Universal Church. The Universal Church is formed of all the Churches of Christendom. The testimony of the Churches of Christendom, regarded merely as human societies, guided by reason and experience, is assuredly of great weight. But the Church of Christ Universal is not to be regarded as a mere human association. It is not like a legal Tribunal, or a civil Assembly; it is not like a literary Institution, or a scientific Society. It is the Spouse and Body of Christ, enlightened by the Holy Ghost. It is the seven-branched Golden Candlestick, set in the Tabernacle of this World, to illumine it with the Light of His Holy Word. It is the Guardian and Keeper of Holy Writ. If any Book which the Church Universal propounds to us as Scripture, be not Scripture; if any Book, which she reads as the Word of God, is not the Word of God, but the Work of an Impostor, then, with reverence be it said, Christ's promise to His Church has failed, and the Holy Spirit has not been given to guide her into all truth. But Christ is the Truth. He is the Alpha and Omega. His Word is Yea and Amen. And therefore what He promised, that He performed. He has been, He is, and He ever will be, with His Church. He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. He has sent His Spirit to teach her all things. And therefore the testimony of the Universal Church of Christ, declaring that the Epistles, which we receive as such, are Epistles of St. Peter, and are the Word of God, is not her testimony only,-it is the testimony of Christ, Who is present with her. It is the Witness of the Holy Spirit, Who is in her. Therefore that witness is true. And we may rest firmly assured, that the Second Epistle of St. Peter, which has been received by the Universal Church of Christ for fourteen hundred years, is indeed what she affirms it to be, a genuine work of the Apostle, and a part of the Holy Scriptures given by Inspiration of God'.
1 After this Introduction had been finished, the Writer was favoured by the kindness of the Rev. Francis Procter, M.A., Author of the History of the Book of Common Prayer,-with access to some papers of the late lamented Archdn. Hardwick, in vindication of the Genuineness of this Epistle. The learned Author designed to have written a Treatise on this question, and to have added it to those valuable works which he bequeathed to
the world as Christian Advocate in the University of Cambridge. He did not live to execute his design; but enough is preserved to show his strong conviction of the genuineness of this Epistle. An extract from his papers will be found below, p. 79, and some use has been made of them in the Synopsis of the Contents of the Epistle.
Summary of the Contents of the Epistle.
In addition to what has already been said above on the design of this Epistle, the following brief summary of its contents may be inserted here:
The doctrines which constitute the groundwork of this Epistle are those of the Eternal Sonship, Divine Majesty, and glorious Re-appearing of Christ our Saviour and Lord.
The opening salutation is addressed to all who are represented by the Apostle as partakers of the same precious faith as that which animated the writer and his Jewish fellow-Christians; and he prays that Grace and Peace may be multiplied to them in the mature knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
He then proceeds to recall to the minds of his readers, in a hortatory form, certain fundamental truths of religion, as already known to them.
1. The divine gift of Regeneration, bestowed upon them by God, and making them partakers of the divine Nature.
2. The consequent obligation on their part to add to their faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and other graces, till their Christian life is consummated in Love.
3. The glorious recompense, which is laid up in store for those who cherish these evangelical graces, and "bring forth the good fruit of them in their lives; and this recompense is the entrance, that is richly furnished to them, into the Eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ 2."
St. Peter had dilated on these truths in his First Epistle; and the reference to them here indicates the connexion of this Epistle with the former one, and confirms the arguments for its genuineness.
He warns them that wherever these graces and virtues are not, there the doctrine of Christ is not duly known. Whosoever does not grow in grace, and bring forth good fruit, is blind to the true nature of the Gospel, and forgets the purging away of his former sins, and cannot hope for admission into the holy and blessed presence of their Saviour and King.
The Apostle reminds them, that these truths have already been made known to them, and supposes that "they are well grounded and settled in them;" but he deems it right, while he is spared to them, which will be but for a short time, to stir up their minds by calling these doctrines and truths to their remembrance. Truths like these, he implies, deserve the most earnest attention; and he must be solicitous for their maintenance. For it was no fable, such as misbelievers devise, which we followed, when we made known to you the Power and glorious Re-appearing of Christ. Our eyes saw some gleams of that glory in His Transfiguration on the Holy Mount, and we heard with our ears the voice from heaven proclaiming Him to be the well-beloved Son of God.
We have, also, other confirmations of these truths in the prophetic Word; to which ye give heed, and in doing so, ye act wisely-however the false Teachers may disparage it—until the day dawn, and the light in all its fulness breaks in upon you.
But with regard to Prophecy, you need some cautions. The true Prophecy must be distinguished from the false: and you must remember, first of all, that true Prophecy is a far higher thing than the utterance of the Prophet's own knowledge; and though he utters prophecy, it surpasses his powers of interpretation; for they who uttered it, did not utter it as mere men, but as men of God, who were borne along by the Holy Ghost'.
Besides, as there were false prophets among the people of Israel, who were a type of the Christian Church, so there will be false Teachers among you. The writer places himself, without any misgiving, among the true Prophets, and proceeds to unveil the future. He pre-announces that false Teachers will arise in the Church, and he describes the character of those Teachers, and the evil fruits of their teaching, with the prophetic fire and pathos of an ancient Hebrew Prophet. The chief characteristic of these false Teachers is, that they will "deny the Lord that bought them." Here is the source of the misery which will overflow from them upon the Church. Starting forth from this destructive heresy, they will seduce many by their licentious doctrines, and will trade and traffic therewith, for love of lucre. Yet the destruction of these destroyers is at hand. They may