The Believer—The Backslider—The Sow That Was Washed
by G.J. Stewart
There are three different conditions in 2 Peter which are exceedingly interesting in the history of souls, inasmuch as nearly all the cases that are met with today may be classified under one or other of them.
The first two of these are given in chapter 1:5-9, and the last in chapter 2:20-22.
The first two are in contrast to each other, and present two possible states of soul that a believer may be in, as the result of either diligence or negligence on his part; while the second and third although apparently approximating closely as to external conditions, are really internally separated by an infinite moral distance. In spiritual things, that which is internal is eternal.
In the first two cases Peter addresses those who had “obtained like precious faith with us”—i.e., those who had been the recipients of faith obtained only from God, who, through His righteousness, or faithfulness to His promises as the God of Israel (for Peter wrote to Jewish Christians), had bestowed upon some of His ancient people this faith in common with the apostles.
Now, this faith was precious to them, inasmuch as it brought them into present relationship with a heavenly Christ, and made them the depositaries of exceeding great and precious promises surpassing all those made to an earthly people. They became also partakers of the divine nature, and were enabled to live above the corruption that is in the world through lust, God having conferred upon them not only this precious faith, but also all things that pertain to life and godliness.
1. THE BELIEVER
In the first of the three classes, then, is found the one who diligently makes use of all these things that divine power has furnished him with, and adds to his “faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity” (vv. 5-7). Here the soul, in the energy of a living faith, maintains the sense of the grace that has dealt with it, and rejoices in it. It thus becomes neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ while here, and having made its calling and election sure, awaits assuredly an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Happy, thrice happy! the soul who thus goes on in the blessed confidence of faith, and learns increasingly here the glory of the Person of Him who has saved it, and walks calm and serene above all the perplexities and difficulties that beset it in this world through which it passes as a pilgrim.
This is the full Christian character of the believer as a pilgrim on earth awaiting the glory.
2. THE BACKSLIDER.
The second class (v. 9) is set forth by one who also having had ministered to him from the same source “like precious faith,” and having rejoiced in the first fresh joy and outgoing of faith in the knowledge of the forgiveness of sins, has alas! been negligent of availing himself of “all things that pertain to life and godliness”; and instead of adding to his faith valour (virtue), &c, has, on the contrary, been gradually overcome by the corruption that is in the world through lust. Thus, instead of maintaining a clear conscience, he has rather laded it with thick clay, until, putting away a good conscience, he has made shipwreck of the faith, and has become blind, short-sighted, and forgotten that he was purged from his old sins, and is, as to his present happiness and knowledge of forgiveness, in no respect different, to an outward observer, from a man who has never been purged at all. Nor would it be right to accredit such a one with being one of the Lord’s people; although it is a relief to know that it is not in our province to settle his case for him, but “the Lord knoweth them that are his” (2 Tim. 2:19).
This man is a backslider—a poor, wretched, miserable backslider—of whom there are doubtless thousands in this Christendom of ours, this world-church system that surrounds us on every hand. Should this meet the eye of such, let it encourage him or her that it is not said here that such a soul was not purged; but that he has forgotten that he was purged. God cannot in righteous government on earth permit one who indulges in lust and worldliness to enjoy the knowledge of forgiveness of sins, nor the glory of the Person of Him who purchased it.
But for such there is hope. “He restoreth my soul” is written, and He delights in restoration. “Turn unto me, and I will turn unto you,” He says. But beware! He may have to chastise you before you turn if you continue in your present ways. You may have to say with Ephraim, “Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God” (Jer. 31:18).
If the backslider who may read these lines will but take up the language of the following verse, “Come and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn and he will heal us; he hath smitten and he will bind us up,” all will be well. And then shall he know if he follow on to know the Lord.
Oh, that such would turn now! They will find that God is a God ready to pardon and to cleanse. His principle is that of confession for governmental forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
3. THE SOW THAT WAS WASHED.
The third class is altogether of a different nature. Separate as the first two classes must be all the time of their earthly sojourn, this is separate from both for eternity, although it may have mingled at times with both on earth. It is set forth in chapter 2:20-22 by one who, having escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, becomes again entangled therein and overcome. Here is one who through the knowledge that is spread abroad throughout Christendom of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has been restrained from giving the rein to his desires; has maintained a decent outward appearance, and made a profession of Christianity. But he has never obtained a new nature, was never born again, born of God; and so after a time of decent outward profession, he begins gradually to feel the irksomeness of this imposed restraint, and listens to the great swelling words of vanity of someone or other of the false professing teachers of Christendom, and, allured through the lusts of the flesh, turns back to the true habits of his nature, and becomes entangled therein and overcome.
Alas for him! It has happened according to the true proverb, “The dog is turned to his own vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” Better for him not to have known the way of righteousness! The last end is worse with him than the beginning. How many such there are also in Christendom!
How many young men there are who through the influence of the opened Word of God in the house have been thus restrained, until, listening to false teachers, and through desire to find an excuse for their own lusts, they break out suddenly, as it may appear (though how gradual the way to it has been they know, and God knows), and show what their true nature is. Like the tiger’s whelp that was reared by an officer as a pet, which, when once it had tasted raw flesh, burst its chain and betook itself to the jungle again. It was always a tiger, never anything else. So also in Peter; it was always a dog, always a sow, always unclean in nature, although its ways for the moment were cleansed by the external influence of the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Who can tell the difference between these last two cases, looking upon them from an outward point of view? And yet how immense the distance that separates them morally. Yet while life lasts God would encourage hope, and we can say to all, there is forgiveness with God that He may be feared. May the Lord help the reader to gauge his state before God.
If unsaved, salvation is still offered. Oh, turn ye, turn ye; for why will ye die?
If a backslider, a patient God awaits your return that He may fill you again with joy.
If a believer, slack not thy hand; go forward. Add to thy faith daily, and so in present joy await an abundant entrance into the presence of thy Lord.
The Gospel Messenger 1900, p. 131