In his second Epistle, the Apostle Peter wrote: “3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love” (2 Peter 1:3-7).
Why is personal diligence needed to participate in the divine nature? Why are some of the qualities of God sterner and self-regarding (e.g. moral excellence, knowledge, self-control) while others are gentler and refer to others (e.g. brotherly kindness and love)? Are they equally important? How do we unite them in one harmonious whole?
Verses 4 and 5 suggest that diligence is needed to become partakers of the divine nature. We all know what “diligence” means, but it is worthwhile to point out that the original meaning of the word is not so much diligence as haste. It is employed, for instance, to describe the eager swiftness with which the Virgin Mary went to Elizabeth after the angel’s salutation and annunciation. It is the word employed to describe the murderous hurry with which Herodias came rushing in to the king to demand John the Baptist’s head. It is the word with which the apostle, left solitary in his prison, besought his sole trusty companion Timothy to “make haste so as to come to him before winter.” Thus, the first notion in the word is haste, which crowds every moment with continuous effort, and lets no hindrances entangle the feet of the runner. When haste degenerates into hurry, and becomes agitation, it is weakness, not strength; it turns out superficial work, which has usually to be pulled to pieces and done over again, and it is sure to be followed by reaction of languid idleness. But the less we hurry the more should we hasten in running the race set before us. But, with this caution against spurious haste, we cannot too seriously lay to heart the solemn motives to wise and well-directed haste. The moments granted to any of us are too few and precious to be let slip unused. The field to be cultivated is too wide and the possible harvest for the toiler too abundant, and the certain crop of weeds in the sluggard’s garden too poisonous, to allow dawdling to be considered a venial fault. Little progress will be made if we do not work as feeling that “the night is far spent, the day is at hand” (Rom 13:12). The first element, then, in Christian diligence is economy of time as of most precious treasure, and the avoidance, as of a pestilence, of all procrastination. “Now is the accepted time” (2 Cor 6:2). “Wherefore, giving all haste, add to your faith.” Another of the phases of the virtue, which Peter here regards as sovereign, is represented in some translation of the word by “earnestness,” which is the parent of diligence. Earnestness is the sentiment, of which diligence is the expression. So the word is frequently translated. Hence we gather that no Christian growth is possible unless a man gives his mind to it. Dawdlers will do nothing. There must be fervour if there is to be growth. The engine that is giving off its steam in white puffs is not working at its full power. When we are most intent we are most silent. Earnestness is dumb, and therefore it is terrible. Again we come to the more familiar translation of the word as in the text. “Diligence” is the panacea for all diseases of the Christian life. It is the plain virtue that leads to all success. If you want to be a strong Christian — that is to say, a happy man — you must bend your back to the work and “give all diligence”. No man becomes a vigorous Christian by any other course than “giving all diligence”.
Unless we work with haste, with earnestness, and therefore with much putting forth of strength, our faith will not evolve the graces of character which is in it to bring forth. Peter has just been saying that God has “given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, and exceeding great and precious promises”. The Divine gift, then, is everything that will help a man to live a high and godly life. And, says Peter, on this very account, because you have all these requisites for such a life already given you, see that you “bring besides into” the heap of gifts, as it were, that which you and only you can bring, namely, “all diligence”. The phrase implies that diligence is our contribution. “Diligence” makes faith fruitful. Diligence makes God’s gifts ours. Then, again, the apostle gives an even more remarkable view of the possible field for this all-powerful diligence when he bids his readers exercise it in order to “make their calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10). If we desire that upon our Christian lives there shall shine the perpetual sunshine of an unclouded continence that we have the love and the favour of God, and that for us there is no condemnation, but only “acceptance in the beloved,” the short road to it is the well known and trite path of toil in the Christian life. Still further, one of the other writers of the New Testament gives us another field in which this virtue may expatiate, when the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews exhorts to diligence, in order to attain “the full assurance of hope” (Heb 6:11). The last of the fields in which this virtue finds exercise is expressed by Peter’s second Epistle, when he says, “seeing that we look for such things, let us be diligent, that we may be found of Him in peace without spot, and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14). If we are to be “found in peace,” we must be “found spotless,” and if we are to be “found spotless” we must be “diligent”. What a beautiful ideal of Christian life results from putting together all these items! A fruitful faith, a sure calling, a cloudless hope, a peaceful welcome, at last!
We must never forget, in considering the above series of Christian virtues, that faith is regarded as the foundation of them all. It is the raw material, so to speak, out of which all these other graces and excellences are made. And this is especially the case with regard to the sense of reverence to God manifesting itself in habitual communion with Him and habitual service of Him which is meant by the word godliness. Some of us say that we believe in Jesus Christ and are living by faith. Does our faith lead us to this continual godliness? Are we brought by it into continual communion with Jesus Christ, and, through Him, with God? Do we constantly refer all our actions to Him?
Real religion is a thing to be cultivated by the strenuous exercise of Christian graces. No man becomes “godly” by mere desiring. The bridge between faith and godliness is made of moral excellence, discrimination and discernment of duty, rigid self-control, patient perseverance. If you have these things your faith will blossom into godliness; if you have not, it will not. You will want all these virtues and graces which precede godliness in the above text. You will want moral excellence — for a hundred reasons, because of the condition of things round about you, which is always full of temptations to draw you away, because of your own proclivities to evil. And you will want moral excellence, because you can get no hold of an unseen God except by a definite effort of thought, which will require resolute will. Further, for godliness, we need to cultivate the habit of discrimination between good and evil, right and wrong, because the world is full of illusions, and we are very blind. And we need to cultivate the habit of self-control and rigid repression of passions, and lusts, and desires, and tastes, and inclinations before His calm and sovereign will, because the world is full of fire and our hearts and natures are tinder. And we need to cultivate the habit of patience in all its three senses of endurance in sorrow, of persistence in service, and of hope of the future, because the more a man cultivates that habit, the larger will be his stock of proofs of the loving-kindness and goodness of his God, and the easier and more blessed it will be for him to live in continual communion with Him. Exercise ourselves into godliness, and do not fancy that the Christian life comes as a matter of course on the back of someone initial act of a long-forgotten faith in Jesus Christ.
Finally, true religion or godliness unites in one harmonious whole the most dissimilar excellences of God’s character. Notice that all the divine qualities which precede godliness are of the sterner, the more severe, and self-regarding kind, and that those which follow it are of the gentler sort and refer to others. If I might so say, it is as in some Alpine range, where the side that faces the north presents rugged cliffs and sparse vegetation, and close-knit strength to breast the tempest and to live amidst the snows, whilst the southern side has gentler slopes and a more fertile soil, a richer vegetation, and a sunnier sky. And in like manner the difficult problem of how far I am to carry my own cultivation of Christian excellence apart from regard to others, and how far I am to let my obligations to help and succour others overcome the necessity for individual cultivation of Christian character, is best solved as Peter solves it here. Put godliness in the middle, let that be the centre, and from it will flow on the one side all needful self-discipline and tutoring, and on the other all wise and Christlike regard to the needs and sorrows of the men around us.
Let us ask the Lord to transform us with the song “Transfigure Us, O Lord” so that we may participate in His divine nature: