2 Peter 3:11-18
Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in all holy conversation and godliness,…
I. The expectation of a coming day of God affects Christian thought, in the first place, BY REMINDING US OF WHAT HUMAN LIFE REALLY IS AND MEANS. Springing, as it does, out of the very idea of duty, being, as it is, the inseparable concomitant of a reasoned conception of right and wrong as the law planted within us by some moral being, who must have the will and the power to enforce it, the expectation of a coming judgment at once raises man into his true place as the first of created beings here below; and yet, withal, it keeps him there. In short, the knowledge that we have to be judged at once guarantees our dignity and defines our subordination. It is only as moral beings having free-will that we are capable of undergoing judgment at all; and, as having to undergo it, we are necessarily and infinitely below Him whose right and whose duty it is to judge us.
II. A second way in which the expectation of the coming of the day of God powerfully affects Christian thought is THAT WHICH ILLUMINATES THE SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY. The sense of responsibility is as wide as the moral sense of man; that is to say, it is as wide as the human race. This primal idea, rooted in our first instinctive perceptions of moral truth, that we are responsible beings, necessarily implies that some one exists to whom this responsibility is due. Who is it? We look around us, and we see, most of us, some fellow creatures to whom we have to answer for our conduct. The child knows that he must answer for it to his parents — to his mother in early, to his father in later years. The schoolboy thinks of his master, the clerk of his employer, the soldier of his commanding officer. As we get higher in the scale of society, it may seem at a distance that there are personages so exalted as to be subject to no human masters to whom their responsibility is due; but in reality it is quite otherwise. Those who govern us are answerable to what is called public opinion for their conduct of public affairs. That is to say, they have to give an account, not to one, but to many millions of their countrymen. But if conscience speaks to us at all with clearness and honesty, it tells every one of us one thing about such responsibilities we owe to our fellow-creatures, and that is that such responsibility covers only a very small part indeed of our actual conduct. A great deal goes on in every life which is either right or wrong, yet for which a man feels in no way accountable to any human critic or authority whatever. Is he, therefore, not accountable for such acts and words as do not fall within human jurisdiction? And this knowledge obliges us to look often and beyond this human world to One to whom our responsibility is really due. As He only can take account of that which is withdrawn from the eyes of our fellow-men, so He assuredly does take account of all in which others may have a right to do so. We are responsible to God — yes, all who seriously believe that He exists as the moral Governor of this world which He has made must admit this responsibility. But, then, the question arises: When is the account to be rendered? That God keeps His eye upon it day by day in the case of every one of us is as certain as that He exists. It is faith in a future judgment which makes the sense of responsibility living and operative, by making the prospect of a real reckoning definite and concrete.
III. Belief in a coming day of God AFFECTS OUR WHOLE VIEW OF HUMAN HISTORY AND OF HUMAN LIFE. When we take up a volume of ancient history, or of the history of our own country, of what does it mainly consist? It describes royal and noble personages succeeding one another — their birth, their training, their coronations, their deaths. It describes the varying fortunes of multitudes of human beings associated together as what is called a nation, their privations, their conquests, their gradual improvement, the crimes for which they are collectively responsible. In short, we read history too often as though it told us all that was to be said about man, as though when man had done with this earthly life there was really an end. Ah! we forget the truth which makes history so inexpressibly pathetic, that all is not really over with those whom it describes, that they have only ceased to be visible, that the most important part of their career yet awaits them, viz., the account they have to give of it. Our Saxon forefathers, and the Britons whom they so ruthlessly exterminated, and Alfred, and Edward the Confessor, and William the Conqueror, and Rufus, and Coeur de Lion, and John, and the great Plantagenets, the Edwards and the Henrys, and Elizabeth, and Mary Stuart, and Charles, and Cromwell, and the Georges, and the Pretenders, and the great statesmen who fill the canvas of the first half of this century, and the men of the first Revolution, and the Napoleons, down to those who left us but yesterday — depend upon it they are no mere names; they are still living beings; and this is the fact, the pathetic fact, common to all of them, that they are waiting for the final judgment, and they already know enough to know what it will mean to each one of themselves. This view of history, considered in the light of a coming day of judgment, extends itself at once and inevitably to human life in our own day and immediately around us. Our first and, so to call it, our natural view of human beings around us takes note of their positions in this world, and of the points wherein they differ from or resemble ourselves. We think of them as better or worse off, as more or less educated, as friendly or as distant acquaintances, as belonging to a past or to a younger generation, or to our own, as standing in this or in that relation to the public life of the country, as belonging to this or to that profession, as occupying this or that or a third position in the social scale; but once let us have steadily thought out the truth that, like ourselves, every human being is certainly on his trial and his judgment before Him, and how insignificant do all those considerations about our fellow-creatures appear in the light of this tremendous fact! Yes, those possessors of vast influence, which they use, if at all, for selfish ends; those owners of accumulated wealth, which they spend so largely, if not altogether, upon themselves; those men of cultivated minds, who regard cultivation as an end in itself, and without a thought of what it may be made to do for others or for the glory of God; yes, the consideration that all, all will be judged, and that every hour that passes brings them nearer to the judgment, makes us think of human life around us in quite a new light.
Parallel VersesKJV: Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,