In the Madison Avenue Baptist Church
New York City
Text: 2 Peter i:3, 8; more especially commencing at 5th verse.
I SUPPOSE we will all agree that the important work we have to do in this life, as regards ourselves, is the building of our characters. The business man knows how important it is for him to understand the character of his subordinates. A large part of the capital in trade of some men is this power to look into the hearts of others. How important is this gift to the politician. Have you never got a letter from a stranger proposing some great thing, and wished to look that man in the face for five minutes that you might be able to know him? How you looked the letter over and over again, in hopes that it might reveal something about the character of the sender. Have you never observed a skilled physician at the bedside of a very sick patient, endeavoring to draw the sick man into a conversation, talking on things unimportant, until you have wondered what it all meant? That physician, so quiet, seemingly indifferent in his talk, knew what he was about. He wished to understand the character of his patient. You, parents, all know how necessary it is that you find out the nature of your children. And pastors know how essential it is for them to look into the hearts of their parishioners. But important as it is to know the character of others, it is still more important that you understand your own. What a man is is more essential than his possessions or standing in the world. We have almost a morbid desire to know about our fellow-men. The press seeks to gratify this curiosity by its publication of what others are doing. We should look to ourselves — at the revelations our actions make of our own natures. Then, character is the only thing which we shall carry away from this fast, fleeting life. Our body, touched by death, shall soon drop from us, then what we are will remain, will pass on. The apostle, in the passage, is speaking of the building of character — He treats :
1. Of some reasons for this work.
2. Of lessons as to the way it is to be done.
3. The motives for doing the work.
First. — THE REASONS OR ENCOURAGEMENTS.
1. The Apostle says that God's divine power has given us all things which are necessary for the development of life and piety. He does not say that we will, unaided, be able to build up ourselves. We all know, who have tried it, how hard this work is. All things we need God gives us. Can we think of
anything God has failed to give — donate — to us when we were earnestly desiring to perfect ourselves?
2. Then the Apostle adds, as another reason, that God has given us exceeding great promises for the future. "As the day is, so shall thy strength be." This cheers us in our greatest trouble. We do not know, when in the severest trial, but what God is just then, in this, fulfilling some promise? A wise father does not give to his son at once a large capital. It might be ruinous to him. He gives him capital and responsibility and power as he is able to bear it. "Exceeding great and precious promises." How these words give us courage in our battle of life! Have you not walked out with a child in the darkness, where, if alone, it would be terror-stricken? It tightly grasps your hand. It wishes to assure itself that it has a hold of your hand. Thus assured, it is not afraid. Why? It has confidence. So we walk in dark places with God. We have a confidence that relieves us from fear. We need to be assured that God is with us. His promises, great, exceeding, and precious, give us this assurance.
3. Then we have an inspiring ideal. He has given us a nature that partakes of the Divine nature. It is true, we are animal. How the animal in us does assert itself! It is no wonder that many scientific men come to the conclusion that man is nothing but animal; that there is only a difference of degree. When you stop and think, shake yourselves, and listen to the voices in you, you will know there is a difference. Beasts reason a little, but exhibit no sign of a moral nature. They have no conscience They know nothing whatever of right and wrong — of the word ought — a word a little child may utter, but which can shape the universe. Now, with this moral nature, which brings into kinship with the Divine nature, we have an inspiring reason for building up a right nature in us.
Second. — NEXT, THE APOSTLE SHOWS HOW WE ARE TO PROCEED IN THE WORK.
1. To your faith add virtue. He starts with faith, the foundation of all. He assumes that you believe. Without believing, you would not be a Christian. But you are not to stop with believing. He who stops there is no Christian. He must exercise his faith. And in the exercise of it virtue will be furnished. That is the meaning of the passage, "To your faith " supply "virtue;" that is, try to be good. The mother says to the child, "Try to be good." The learned philosopher, the poet with his mighty word-power, angels, God Himself, cannot say anything better than "try to be good."
2. To virtue supply knowledge. It is not enough that you simply desire to do what is right. You are to know what is
right. You must get light. How often we say, had we known what wo do now, we would not have done this or that. Even those who try the hardest to be good stumble in the darkness. Then there are very many who don't more than half try. How these do go astray! Very important is it that the Apostle has said, supply knowledge to thy faith. In the whirl of our daily life, when everything is so confusing, we need light as well as a desire to be good.
3. To your knowledge supply a good degree of self-control. That is the meaning of temperance. Passion and prejudice blind knowledge. We must control ourselves, or the light will be put out. Men often cheat themselves much more than they do others. You say we are speaking about simple things, as if to children. True, these things are simple, but they are the very essence of right living. The greatest things, the things that lie right near the foundations of life, are simple. Do some of you think that to gain self-control is easy? If you think so, you have never made a real effort at it. Do some of you think it hard? Remember, God works with and in him who tries to be right and to do right.
4. Then, in your exercise of self-control, have a goou supply of patience. You have seen how sometimes those who have succeeded in gaining control of themselves are impatient with others who lack in this respect. Persons may obtain this mastery of themselves by heroic effort; or, it may be, they lack temptation. One has no patience with a drunkard — and it is hard enough to have patience with such an one. The impatient man is cold and narrow, and could hardly be a drunkard if he tried. Did you never hear a drunkard, ashamed of himself, say "Well, I ain't stingy and mean, as that fellow." Says, the Apostle, let your self-control supply patience. In this mad, rushing age of ours how needful is this injunction! There are some who think patience to be a weak thing. It is no sign of strength that through lack of self-control we give vent to temper and passion. A horse that runs away does not prove that it is strong, but that the driver is weak.
5. Then, lest that we should think that this life is all, the Apostle continues, To patience supply piety. Piety controls all the other graces. Then, says he, see that in this piety is brotherly kindness ; and in this brotherly kindness is Charity — Love. Where there is so much to bear, so much roughness, so much that is selfish and hard, that worries and irritates, as in this world, how essential that the Christian should have patience and brotherly kindness and love.
Third. — OBSERVE SOME ADDITIONAL MOTIVES TO THIS WORK.
1. Through these things we will make progress in the life of a Christian, "For if these things be in you and abound, they
make you that you shall neither be barren nor unfruitful," etc. If you are teaching a clerk his duties, you tell him to do this and that, and then he will understand how to do these other things. So with children; so with scholars at school. We learn duty through the discharge of duty. Christianity is a practical thing. If these truths be in you and abound, then will you know more of Christ and of His sustaining sympathy, and of the whole round of Christian truths. All this will be wrought through the atonement and intercession of Christ. So there will be no place for boasting. He who has developed the most, done the most, will be the most humble.
2. Another reason is given in verse 10: You will make " your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, you will never fall." I remember when a boy how those words, "calling and election," often sent a shiver through my soul. How many stumble over them. What does the Apostle say? — If you do these things, if you will supply to you faith, virtue, etc., you will never fall, and so you will make your calling and election sure. There is a divine side to this doctrine of election; but with that we have nothing to do. If a man wishes to know whether he is a Christian, one of the elect, let him try to do these things. How we are constantly brought back to the practical!
3. But a crowning motive is given in verse 11: "For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ." The word ministered may be rendered supplied. Is not this motive enough that we give all diligence to perfect our characters? Brethren, I have tried to preach you a practical sermon, one that would help me in my troubles, and I pray God it may help you.
[From I. K. Funk, editor, The Complete Preacher: Sermons Preached by Some of the Most Prominent Clergymen in this and Other Countries, 1895, pp.38-40. Document from Google Books. — jrd]
John A. Broadus Index
Baptist History Homepage