2 Peter 3:17-18
You therefore, beloved, seeing you know these things before, beware lest you also, being led away with the error of the wicked…
I. A SPIRITUAL STEADFASTNESS MAY BE OBTAINED. The Prophet David commands it, prays for it, and confesseth that some did obtain it, possess it. And doth not the apostle also persuade to the same, crying, Be steadfast, immovable? Who, then, hath cause to question the truth of this doctrine? If any shall, reason may relieve him. For, is not a man a subject capable of it, may he not be fitted to receive it? Is not the faculty of his understanding, in respect of its essence, sound? His will of power, strongly, since his fall, bent to action? And hath he not affections, violent, passionate? Again, shall we think anything impossible with God? And if this were not thus, for what end was preaching appointed, sacraments ordained, and prayer commanded? Are these given in vain? Finally, let me ask thee a question, Shall not Christ be of ability to recover what Adam of imbecility lost? The Holy Ghost to build what the unclean spirit did destroy? Spiritual steadfastness is a firm retention of the degree of grace received. Observe further that this steadfastness is habitual, practical. Again, habitual steadfastness is in the understanding, will, and affections. As for practical steadfastness, that is external, internal.
II. THE CAUSE OF THESE DECLININGS. And they be within us, without us. First, melancholy, for it is a true axiom that the soul follows the disposition and temperature of the body. Secondly, some raging lust, unmortified affection. When such a passenger is in the ship of man's soul, like another Jonah it will unsettle all. If the reins hang under his feet, the strongest, readiest footed beast may stumble. Cut all the feet equal the table stands steadfast, else not. Thirdly, unbelief, what mists will this raise in our understandings. How subtly will this sophister argue, dispute, what? Where is the promise of Christ's coming? Fourthly, carnal confidence, that is, whatsoever we trust in except Christ Jesus. Fifthly, weakness of grace, to speak properly this is not a real or positive cause of declining, yet by occasion may have a finger in the business. Sixthly, want of knowledge experimental. Now the contrary of all these we have mentioned will be excellent helps for the firm retention of grace received. Wherefore keep thy body in good plight, feed on choice meats, walk in pure air, use moderate labour, recreation. Mortify also fleshly lusts, crucify the whole body of sin, for in so doing thou shalt remove rubs out of the way, curb the old man, and bind him to good behaviour. See in like sort thou increase thy faith, and that will expel infidelity — consume it as fire doth stubble. And shall not hope in Christ make the new man lusty, arm him against fear, foil despair, and in all assaults cheer up his spirits? Be sure to grow in grace, for is not a feeble person subject to trip, to stumble when able bodies hold out, march valiantly, win the field? And thus much of the inward causes of declining; the other, from without us, follow. First, wavering minded companions. He who walks with such will in time walk as such. Secondly, the fierce trial of affliction. Thirdly, personal wrongs, undeserved injuries. Fourthly, public scandal. Fifthly, example of supposed great ones. For some are like a strong poison that dispatcheth its patient quickly, others a lingering disease which killeth certainly though not suddenly. These things being inserted let us proceed. First, when we have not so clear an apprehension of the worth of grace, and the means to procure it, increase it, as in former time. If the glory thereof be darkened, and we account faith, love, hope, but as common favours, in some degree we are declined. Secondly, if we want an eager appetite after the doctrine of sound words, the bread and water of life, feed on them more for fear and fashion than love and affection, we have just cause to suspect ourselves. Thirdly, a neglect of our particular calling. For a diligent hand maketh rich, as well in spiritual as corporal things. Unthrifts and loiterers always die beggars. Fourthly, when we feebly perform holy actions, or fearfully omit them. Fifthly, a fifth symptom is a quiet concoction of what heretofore we have distasted, spued out, holding the same, as then, for loathsome meats. A soul in her best plight, as she abhors the greatest so hates the least known evil. Sixthly, finally, when men offend, and will not endure reproof. And may a spiritual steadfastness be fallen from? Then try thyself if thou be or not revolted. Tradesmen keep a register of all their proceedings, cast up their accounts yearly, take a strict view how they have decreased or increased their substance; and should not Christians be as wise in their generation? First, we must call to remembrance what truths in the understanding or in our conversation, we have fallen from, and so return unto them. Secondly, we are to consider what sin we have embraced, whether it be an error in judgment or practice, and if we clearly discern any, then to cease from it. First, cast in thy mind what an uncomfortable condition thou art fallen into, compare it often with the times of old. Do not slavish fears upon the least occasion arise in thy soul? Secondly, consider that greater evils than these may attend thee. This may suffice to have spoken of the last branch of our text, the other succeedeth. "Lest ye also being led away with the error of the wicked." Error leadeth from steadfastness. He who is led with error is always unsettled. For error leads from God. And is not He the best stay, and very centre whereupon all the creatures are settled, established. Again, whither leads error to any constant object? Is it to the world? Doth not the fashion of it pass away? Think it not strange, then, if they who err from the doctrine of godliness be unstable in all their ways. What marvel is it that men walking on craggy rocks, steep mountains, and unequal ways, trip, stumble, and catch a fall? Whereas the apostle calls it the error of the wicked, we may collect, that the way of error, by a peculiar prerogative, is the way of the wicked. True it is that error is called a way, but a crooked, wandering, and evil one. For as the commandments of God are styled ways, so are the doctrines of men. Thus far we are agreed; but what may be the reasons hereof?
1. Because the wicked invent them, are the prime authors of them. For what a man effecteth is properly said to be his own.
2. Again, in regard they conserve and support them.
3. This way is not from God; He disclaims it. For all His paths are holy, and good, and true. "Beware lest ye also," etc. The note which issueth out of this phrase is this, that by one error many may be seduced. As first, from the quality of error, for it is of a spreading nature. Besides, error is easy, pleasant; and what is agreeable to the flesh of multitudes is followed. The way of truth is straight, narrow. Moreover men are wonderfully prone to follow examples, the worst, not the best. And by one error may many be seduced; then get a good eye, a sound judgment; exercise thy wits, that thou mayest discern between truth and falsehood. Error being discovered is to be avoided.
(John Barlow, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.