It seems to me that there is great force today in the warning conveyed in the words: “Beware, lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Peter 3:17).
A steadfast course on the part of the Christian is of chief moment—one that is not deflected by attractions that are counter to those of Christ and His commands—but that, like Paul’s in Philippians 3, has the surpassingness of the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ as the great object before it, until the mark for the prize in glory be attained.
Steadiness, along with progress in the divine life, is the proof of the operation of God in the soul. It is a lifelong miracle, as great indeed as the first quickening from a state of death in trespasses and sins to the blessed relation of a child and son of God. This called for the mighty power of God, but surely the maintenance of that soul, amid all the weakness of the flesh and the tremendous energy of evil around, is equally the work of God. For this we have the precious ministry of our great High Priest on high: “He is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him”; and but for His ability to do so, where would we be?
“Your own steadfastness” is a remarkable expression. For if one regards his own career as a Christian he is bound to acknowledge a thousand deviations from his object, and he who knows himself best, and who also knows the keen edge of true discipleship, is the first to own it; and yet, thank God, there is such a fact as “your own steadfastness.” It can be seen in many a bright and faithful witness, amid all the snares of the sorry “Vanity Fair” of this world, through which they pass. It was seen in full perfection in Him who was in every sense “the faithful witness,” and now the “first-born from the dead”; but, miracle as it surely is, “your own steadfastness” is as actual a fact as is any other part of the operations of God. The successful passage of Israel through the Jordan was as signal a proof of the work of God as their crossing the Red Sea forty years before. It was His mercy and power in each case.
But what is the special snare and hindrance to this “steadfastness” today? It is “the error of the wicked.” And what is this special error? It is found in our present chapter (2 Peter 3) and in that which precedes it. In this we read of “false teachers” in Christendom, who deny the Lord who bought them (it does not say “redeemed them”) and whose one business it was to contaminate the flock of Christ. Their practice and doctrine were on a par; for the denial of the Lord in doctrine was, and ever must be, the total subversion of true moral conduct. Their influence is pestilential. They had been affected, no doubt, for a moment, by “the holy commandment (beautiful word) delivered unto them”; and had, so far, admitted the moral worth of Christianity; but, like dogs, they had returned to their vomit, and, like swine (externally washed) to their wallowing in the mire. Against such an influence the apostle warns the church. They were guilty of a fearful sin—that of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and of producing, by the corruption of the best thing, the worst of all corruptions, “their damnation slumbereth not.” God will visit their sin upon them—as the “tares” they shall be gathered and consumed.
The snare of chapter 3 is the boast of the last-day scoffers, that “all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation,” and that any such event as the coming of the Lord in judgment is a delusion. Say they, “Where is that promise?”
Oh, do they never read the Bible? or, if they read it, do they not believe it. It is there, sure enough, repeated over and over again, from the days of Enoch (as quoted by Jude) to the end of the Revelation by John. I question if any statement in Scripture is more generally or emphatically announced than is “judgment to come.” But this ribald, infidel, last-day scoffer, whether shot by the tongue of the atheist or written by the polished pen of the critic, is more than likely to injure the faith of the lambs and sheep of Christ; and hence the timely warning. The error of the wicked may lead them away and cause them “to fall from their own steadfastness.” But to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
The peril today is great, but safety lies in the exhortation following: “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Very much what we saw in the life-practice of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3.
There is really no security against error save in a growing, deepening knowledge of the Lord Himself. Let us set our hearts on this most precious knowledge. The walls of no ecclesiastical fold, however strong, can afford this security. There must be growth in grace and in the personal knowledge of the Lord, in order to maintain true steadfastness in testimony to Him.