As we pass the conventional boundary of another year, most of us, I suppose, cast glances into the darkness ahead. To those of us who have the greater part of our lives probably before us, the onward look will disclose glad possibilities. To some of us, who have life mostly behind us, the prospect will take 'a sober colouring from an eye that hath kept watch over man's mortality,' and there will be little on the lower levels to attract. My text falls in with the mood which the season fosters. It directs our onward look to a blessed certainty instead of a peradventure, and it deduces important practical consequences from the hope. These three things are in the words of our text: a clear vision that should fill the future; a definite aim for life, drawn from the vision; and an earnest diligence in the pursuit of that aim, animated by that hope.
Now these three -- a bright hope, a sovereign purpose, and a diligent earnestness -- are the three conditions of all noble life. They themselves are strength, and they will bring us buoyancy and freshness which will prolong youth into old age, and forbid anything to appear uninteresting or small.
So I ask you to look at these three points, as suggested by my text.
I. First, then, the clear hope which should fill our future.
'Seeing that ye look for such things.' What things? Peter has been drawing a very vivid and solemn picture of the end, in two parts, one destructive, the other constructive. Anticipating the predictions of modern science, which confirm his prophecy, he speaks of the dissolution of all things by fervent heat, and draws therefrom the lesson: 'What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?'
But that dissolution by fire is not, as people often call it, the 'final conflagration.' Rather is it a regenerating baptism of fire, from which 'the heavens and the earth that now are' -- like the old man in the fable, made young in the flame -- shall emerge renewed and purified. The lesson from that prospect is the words of our text.
Now I am not going to dwell upon that thought of a new heaven and a new earth renewed by means of the fiery change that shall pass upon them, but simply to remark that there is a great deal in the teaching of both Old and New Testaments which seems to look in that direction. It is, at least, a perfectly tenable belief, and in my humble judgment is something more, that this earth, the scene of man's tragedy and crime, the theatre of the display of the miracle of redeeming love, emancipated from the bondage of corruption, shall be renewed and become the seat of the blessed. They who dwell in it, and it on which they dwell pass through analogous changes, and as for the individuals, the 'new creation' is the old self purified by the fire of the Divine Spirit into incorruption and righteousness, so the world in which they live shall, in like manner, be 'that new world which is the old,' only having suffered the fiery transformation and been glorified thereby.
But passing from that thought, which, however interesting it may be as a matter of speculation, is of very small practical importance, notice, still further, the essential part of the hope which the Apostle here sets forth -- viz., that that order of things towards which we may look is one permeable only for feet that have been washed and made clean. 'Therein dwelleth righteousness.' Righteousness there, of course, is the abstract for the concrete; the quality is put for the persons that exhibit it. And just as the condition of being at home in this present material world is the possession of flesh and blood, which puts creatures into relationships therewith, and just as it is impossible for a finite, bodyless spirit to move amongst, and influence, and be influenced by, the gross materialities of the heavens and the earth that now are, so is it impossible for anything but purity to be at rest in, or even to enter into that future world. 'The gates' of the New Jerusalem 'shall not be closed day nor night'; but through the ever-open gates none can pass except they who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. There stand at the gates of that Paradise unseen, the repulsions of the angel with the flaming sword, and none can enter except the righteous. Light kills the creatures of the darkness.
'How pure that soul must be
Thus, then, brethren, an order of things free from all corruption, and into which none can pass but the pure, should be the vision that ever flames before us. Peter takes it for granted that the anticipation of that future is an inseparable part of the Christian character. The word which he employs, by its very form, expresses that that expectance is habitual and continuous. I am afraid that a great many so-called Christians very seldom send their thoughts, and still less frequently their desires, onwards to that end. In all your dreams of the future, how much space has been filled by this future which is no dream? Have you, in these past days, and do you, as a matter of habitual and familiar occupation of your mind, let your eyes travel on beyond and above the low levels of earth and peradventures, to fix them on that certainty?
Opticians make glasses with three ranges, and write upon a little bar which shifts their eyepieces, 'Theatre,' 'Field,' 'Marine.' Which of the three is your glass set to? The turn of a button determines its range. You can either look at the things close at hand, or, if you set the eyepiece right and use the strongest, you can see the stars. Which is it to be? The shorter range shows you possibilities; the longer will show you certainties. The shorter range shows you trifles; the longer, all that you can desire. The shorter range shows you hopes that are destined to be outgrown and left behind; the longer, the far-off glories, a pillar of light which will move before you for ever. Oh, how many of the hopes that guided our course, and made our objective points in the past, are away down below the backward horizon! How many hopes we have outgrown, whether they were fulfilled or disappointed. But we may have one which will ever move before us, and ever draw our desires. The greater vision, if we were only wise enough to bring our lives habitually under its influence, would at once dim and ennoble all the near future.
Let us then, dear friends, not desecrate that wondrous faculty of looking before as well as after which God has given to us, by wasting it upon the nothings of this world, but heave it higher, and anchor it more firmly in the very Throne of God Himself. And for us let one solemn, blessed thought more and more fill with its substance and its light the else dim and questionable and insufficient future, and walk evermore as seeing Him who is invisible, and as hasting unto the coming of the day of the Lord.
II. Then, secondly, note the definite aim which this clear hope should impress upon life.
If you knew that you were going to emigrate soon, and spend all your life on the other side of the world, in circumstances the outlines of which you knew, you would be a fool if you did not set yourself to get ready for them. The more clearly we see and the more deeply we feel that future hope, which is disclosed for us in the words of my text, the more it will prescribe a dominant purpose which will give unity, strength, buoyancy, and blessedness to any life. 'Seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent.' For what? 'That ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless.'
Now mark the details of the aim which this great hope impresses upon life, as they are stated in the words of my text. Every word is weighty here. 'That ye may be found.' That implies, if not search, at least investigation. It suggests the idea of the discovery of the true condition, character, or standing of a man which may have been hidden or partially obscured before -- and now, at last, is brought out clearly. With the same suggestion of investigation and discovery, the same phrase is employed in other places; as, for instance, when the Apostle Paul speaks about being 'found naked,' or as when he speaks about being 'found in Him, not having mine own righteousness.' So, then, there is some process of examination or investigation, resulting in the discovery, possibly for the first time, of what a man really is.
Then note, 'Found in Him,' or as the Revised Version reads it, 'in His sight.' Then Christ is the Investigator, and it is before 'those pure eyes and perfect judgment' that they have to pass, who shall be admitted into the new heavens and the new earth, 'wherein dwelleth righteousness.'
Then mark what is the character which, discovered on investigation by Jesus Christ, admits there: 'without spot and blameless.' There must be the entire absence of every blemish, stain, or speck of impurity. The purer the white the more conspicuous the black. Soot is never so foul as when it lies on driven snow. They who enter there must have nothing in them akin to evil. 'Blameless' is the consequence of 'spotless.' That which in itself is pure attracts no censure, whether from the Judge or from the assessors and onlookers in His court.
But, further, these two words, in almost the same identical form -- one of them absolutely the same, and the other almost so -- are found in Peter's other letter as a description of Jesus Christ Himself. He was a Lamb 'without blemish and without spot.' And thus the character that qualifies for the new heavens is the copy of us in Jesus Christ.
Still further, only those who thus have attained to the condition of absolute, speckless purity and conformity to Jesus Christ will meet His searching eye in calm tranquillity and be 'found of Him in peace.'
The steward brings his books to his master. If he knows that there has been trickery with the figures and embezzlement, how the wretch shakes in his shoes, though he may stand apparently calm, as the master's keen eye goes down the columns! If he knows that it is all right, how calmly he waits the master's signature at the end, to pass the account! The soldiers come back with victory on their helmets, and are glad to look their captain in the face. But if they come back beaten, they shrink aside and hide their shame. If we are to meet Jesus Christ with quiet hearts, and we certainly shall meet Him, we must meet Him 'without spot and blameless.' The discovery, then, of what men truly are will be like the draining of the bed of a lake. Ah, what ugly, slimy things there are down in the bottom! What squalor and filth flung in from the houses, and covered over many a day by the waters! All that surface work will be drained off from the hearts of men. Shall we show slime and filth, or shall we show lovely corals and silver sands without a taint or a speck?
These are the details of the life's aim of a Christian man. And they may all be gathered up into one. The end which we should seek as sovereign and high above all others is the conformity of our character to Jesus Christ our Lord. Never mind about anything else; let us leave all in God's hands. He will do better for us than we can do for ourselves. Let us trust Him for the contingent future; and let us set ourselves to secure this, that, whether joy or sorrow, whether wealth or poverty, whether success or failure, whether sweet companionship or solitary tears be our lot for the rest of our lives, we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge and likeness of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Make that your aim, and freshness, buoyancy, enthusiasm, the ennobling of everything in this world, and the bending of all to be contributory of it, will gladden your days. Make anything else your aim, and you fail of your highest purpose, and your life, however successful, will be dreary and disappointed, and its end will be shame.
III. Lastly, notice the earnest diligence with which that aim should be pursued, in the light of that hope.
Peter is fond of using the word which is here translated 'be diligent.' Hard work, honest effort, continuous and persevering, is His simple recipe for all nobleness. You will find He employs it, for instance, at least three times in this letter, in such connections as, 'Besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue,' and so on through the whole glorious series; and again, 'Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure.' So, then, there is no mystery about the way of securing the aim; work towards it, and you will get it.
Now, of course, there are a great many other considerations to be brought in in reference to the Christian man's means of becoming Christlike. We should have to speak of the gifts of a Divine Spirit, of the dependence upon God for it, and the like; but for the present purpose we may confine ourselves to Peter's own prescription, 'be diligent,' and that will secure it. But then the word itself opens out into further meanings than that. It not only implies diligence: there may be diligence of a very mechanical and ineffective sort. The word also includes in its meaning earnestness, and it very frequently includes that which is the ordinary consequence of earnestness -- viz., haste and economy of time.
So I venture, in closing, just to throw my remarks into three simple exhortations. Be in earnest in cultivating a Christlike character. Half-and-half Christians, like a great many of us, are of no use either to God or to men or to themselves. Dawdling and languid, braced up and informed by no earnestness of purpose, and never having had enthusiasm enough to set themselves fairly alight, they do no good and they come to nothing. 'I would thou wert cold or hot.' One thing sorely wanted in the average Christianity of this day is that professing Christians should give the motives which their faith supplies for earnest consecration due weight and power. Nothing else will succeed. You will never grow like Christ unless you are in earnest about it any more than you could pierce a tunnel through the Alps with a straw. It needs an iron bar tipped with diamond to do it. Unless your whole being is engaged in the task, and you gather your whole self together into a point, and drive the point with all your force, you will never get through the rock barrier that rises between you and the fair lands beyond. Be in earnest, or give it up altogether.
Then another thing I would venture to say is, Make it your business to cultivate a character like that of Jesus Christ. If you would go to the work of growing a Christ-like spirit one-hundredth part as systematically as you will go to your business to-morrow, and stick at it, there would be a very different condition of things in most of our hearts. No man becomes noble and good and like the dear Lord 'by a jump,' without making a systematic and conscious effort towards it.
I would say, lastly, Make haste about cultivating a Christlike character. The harvest is great, the toil is heavy, the sun is drawing to the west, the evening shadows are very long with some of us, the reckoning is at hand, and the Master waits to count your sheaves. There is no time to lose, brother; set about it as you have never done before, and say, 'This one thing I do.'
And so let us not fill our minds with vain hopes which, whether they be fulfilled or not, will not satisfy us, but lift our eyes to and stay our anticipations on those glories beyond, as real as God is real, and as certain as His word is true. Let these hopes concentrate and define for us the aims of our life; and let the aims, clearly accepted and recognised, be pursued with earnestness, with 'diligence,' with haste, with the enthusiasm of which they, and they only, are worthy. Let us listen to our Master, 'I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day; the night cometh.' And let us listen to the words of the servant, which reverse the metaphor, and teach the same lesson in a trumpet call which anticipates the dawn and rouses the sleeping soldiers: 'The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.'