Excerpts from Calvin's Commentaries
Second Peter


The purpose of this paper is to present a selection of quotations from John Calvin's commentary on Second Peter. These excerpts represent exceptional insights either on the text itself or on Christian living. John Calvin was one of the great theologians of the Protestant Reformation. All excerpts are from the Baker edition in 22 volumes.


Introduction

The doubts respecting this Epistle mentioned by Eusebius ought not to keep us from reading it. For if the doubts rested on the authority of men whose names he does not give, we ought to pay no more regard to it than to that of unknown men. And he afterwards adds that it was everywhere received without any dispute. What Jerome writes influences me somewhat more, that some, induced by a difference in the style, did not think that Peter was the author. For though some affinity may be traced, yet I confess that there is that manifest difference which distinguishes different writers. There are also other probable conjectures by which we may conclude that it was written by another rather than by Peter. At the same time, according to the consent of all, it has nothing unworthy of Peter, as it shows everywhere the power and the grace of an apostolic spirit. If it be received as canonical, we must allow Peter to be the author since it has his name inscribed, and he also testifies that he had lived with Christ. And it would have been a fiction unworthy of a minister of Christ to have impersonated another individual. So then I conclude that if the Epistle be deemed worthy of credit, it must have proceeded from Peter; not that he himself wrote it, but that some one of his disciples set forth in writing, by his command, those things which the necessity of the times required.* For it is probable that he was now in extreme old age, for he says that he was near his end. And it may have been that at the request of the godly he allowed this testimony of his mind to be recorded shortly before his death, because it might have somewhat availed, when he was dead, to support the good and to repress the wicked. Doubtless, since in every part of the Epistle the majesty of the Spirit of Christ appears, I dread to repudiate it, though I do not here recognize the language of Peter. But since it is not quite evident as to the author, I shall allow myself the liberty of using the word Peter of Apostle indiscriminately.

I shall now come to the argument, which may be briefly stated. The design is to show that those who have once professed the true faith of Christ ought to respond to their calling to the last. After having then extolled in high terms the grace of God, he recommends to them holiness of life, because God usually punishes in hypocrites a false profession of his name with dreadful blindness, and on the other hand he increases his gifts to those who truly and from the heart embrace the doctrine of religion. He therefore exhorts them to prove their calling by a holy life. And to give a greater weight to his admonitions, he says that he is already near his end, and at the same time excuses himself that he so often repeated the same things, his object being that they who should remain alive on the earth after his death might have what he, when alive, wrote more deeply fixed in their minds.

And as the foundation of true religion is the certainty or the truth of the gospel, he shows, first, how indubitable is its truth by this fact--that he himself had been an eyewitness of all things which it contains, and especially that he had heard Christ proclaimed from heaven to be the Son of God. And, in the second place, it was God's will that it should be borne witness to, and approved by the oracles of the prophets.

He, however, predicts at the same time that danger was approaching from false teachers who would spread impious inventions, as well as from the despisers of God who would mock all religion; and he did this that the faithful might learn to be watchful, and that they might be fortified. And he seems to have spoken thus designedly, lest they expected that the course of truth in the kingdom of Christ would be tranquil and peaceable, and free from all contention. He afterwards, as on a tablet, describes the character and manners of those who would by their corruptions pollute Christianity. But the description which he presents especially suits the present age, as it will be more evident by a comparison. For he especially draws his pen against Lucianic men who abandon themselves to every wickedness and take a profane license to show contempt to God, yea, and treat with ridicule the hope of a better life; and at this day we see that the world is everywhere full of such rabble.

He further exhorts the faithful not only to look always for the coming of Christ with suspended and expectant minds, but also to regard that day as present before their eyes, and in the meantime to keep themselves unpolluted for the Lord, in which doctrine he makes Paul as his associate and approver. And to defend his writings from the calumnies [slander] of the ungodly, he severely reproves all those who pervert them.

*Click here to read Zahn's view, pages 1 and 3.


"Yea, I think it right, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up" (2 Pet. 1:13)

He expresses more clearly how useful and how necessary is admonition because it is needful to arouse the faithful, for otherwise torpor will creep in from the flesh. Though, then, they might not have wanted teaching, yet he says that the goads of admonitions were useful lest security and indulgence (as is usually the case) should weaken what they had learned and at length extinguish it.

He adds another cause why he was so intent on writing to them--because he knew that a short time remained for him. "I must diligently employ my time," he says, "for the Lord has made known to me that my life in this world will not be long."

We hence learn that admonitions ought to be so given that the people whom we wish to benefit may not think that wrong is done to them, and also, that offenses ought to be so avoided that yet the truth may have a free course and exhortations may not be discontinued. Now, this moderation is to be observed towards those to whom a sharp reproof would not be suitable, but who ought on the contrary to be kindly helped since they are inclined of themselves to do their duty. We are also taught by the example of Peter that the shorter our term of life remains, the more diligent ought we to be in executing our office. It is not commonly given to us to foresee our end; but they who are advanced in years or weakened by illness, being reminded by such indications of the shortness of their life, ought to be more sedulous and diligent, so that they may in due time perform what the Lord has given them to do. Nay, those who are the strongest and in the flower of their age, as they do not render to God so constant a service as it behooves them to do, ought to quicken themselves to the same care and diligence by the recollection of approaching death, lest the occasion of doing good pass away while they attend negligently and slothfully to their work.

At the same time, I doubt not but that it was Peter's object to gain more authority and weight to his teaching when he said that he would endeavor to make them to remember these things after his death, which was then nigh at hand. For when anyone, shortly before he quits this life, addresses us, his words have in a manner the force and power of a testament or will, and are usually received by us with greater reverence.


"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as ... among you"
(2 Pet. 2:1)

As weak consciences are usually very grievously and dangerously shaken when false teachers arise, who either corrupt or mutilate the doctrine of faith, it was necessary for the Apostle, while seeking to encourage the faithful to persevere, to remove out of the way an offense of this kind. He, moreover, comforted those to whom he was writing and confirmed them by this argument, that God has always tried and proved his Church by such a temptation as this in order that novelty might not disturb their hearts. "Not different," he says, "will be the condition of the Church under the gospel from what it was formerly under the law. False prophets disturbed the ancient Church; the same thing must also be expected by us."

It was necessary expressly to show this because many imagined that the Church would enjoy tranquility under the reign of Christ. For as the prophets had promised that at his coming there would be real peace, the highest degree of heavenly wisdom, and the full restoration of all things, they thought that the Church would be no more exposed to any contests. Let us then remember that the Spirit of God has once for all declared that the Church shall never be free from this intestine evil. And let this likeness be always born in mind, that the trial of our faith is to be similar to that of the fathers and for the same reason--that in this way it may be made evident whether we really love God, as we find it written in Deut. 13:3.

But it is not necessary here to refer to every example of this kind. It is enough, in short, to know that like the fathers we must contend against false doctrines, and that our faith ought by no means to be shaken on account of discords and sects, because the truth of God shall remain unshaken notwithstanding the violent agitations by which Satan strives often to upset all things.


"Even denying the Lord that bought them" (2 Pet. 2:1)

Though Christ may be denied in various ways, yet Peter, as I think, refers here to what is expressed by Jude; that is, when the grace of God is turned into lasciviousness. For Christ redeemed us that he might have a people separated from all the pollutions of the world, and devoted to holiness and innocency. They, then, who throw off the bridle and give themselves up to all kinds of licentiousness are not unjustly said to deny Christ by whom they have been redeemed. Hence, that the doctrine of the gospel may remain whole and complete among us, let this be fixed in our minds--that we have been redeemed by Christ that he may be the Lord of our life and of our death, and that our main object ought to be to live to him and to die to him.


"For if God spared not the angels that sinned" (2 Pet. 2:4)

We have stated how much it behooves us to know that the ungodly, who by their mischievous opinions corrupt the Church, cannot escape God's vengeance. And this he proves especially by three remarkable examples of God's judgment--that he spared not even angels, that he once destroyed the whole world by a deluge, and that he reduced Sodom and other neighboring cities to ashes. But Peter thought it sufficient to take as granted what ought never to be doubted by us, that is, that God is the judge of the whole world. It hence follows that the punishment he formerly inflicted on the ungodly and wicked he will now also inflict on like characters. For he can never be unlike himself, nor does he show respect of persons so as to forgive the same wickedness in one which he has punished in another; but he hates injustice and wrong equally, whenever it is found.

For we must always bear in mind that there is a difference between God and men. For men indeed judge unequally, but God keeps the same course in judging. For that he forgives sins, this is done because he blots them out through repentance and faith. He therefore does not otherwise reconcile himself to us than by justifying us; for until sin is taken away, there is always an occasion of discord between us and Him.


"And spared not the old world, but saved Noah, the eighth person, a preacher of
righteousness" (2 Pet. 2:5)

The import of what he says is that God, after having drowned the human race, formed again as it were a new world. This is also an argument from the greater to the less; for how can the wicked escape the deluge of divine wrath since the whole world was once destroyed by it? For by saying that eight only were saved, he intimates that a multitude would not be a shield against God to protect the wicked, but that as many as sin shall be punished be they few or many in number.

But it may be asked why he calls Noah the preacher of righteousness. Some understand that he was the preacher of the righteousness of God, inasmuch as Scripture commends God's righteousness, because he defends his own and restores them, when dead, to life. But I rather think that he is called the preacher of righteousness because he labored to restore a degenerated world to a sound mind, and this not only by his teaching and godly exhortations, but also by his anxious toil in building the ark for the term of a hundred and twenty years. Now, the design of the Apostle is to set before our eyes God's wrath against the wicked so as to encourage us at the same time to imitate the saints.


"And delivered just Lot . . . [who] in seeing and hearing vexed his righteous soul"
(2 Pet. 2:7,8)

The common explanation is that Lot was just in his eyes and ears, because all his senses abhorred the crimes of Sodom. However, another view may be taken of his seeing and hearing, so as to make this the meaning--that when the just man lived among the Sodomites, he tormented his soul by seeing and hearing; for we know that he was constrained to see and hear many things which greatly vexed his mind. The purport of what is said then is, that though the holy man was surrounded with every kind of monstrous wickedness, he yet never turned aside from his upright course.

But Peter expresses more than before, that is, that just Lot underwent voluntary sorrows. As it is right that all the godly should feel no small grief when they see the world rushing into every kind of evil, so the more necessary it is that they should groan for their own sins. And Peter expressly mentioned this, lest when impiety everywhere prevails we should be captivated and inebriated by the allurements of vices and perish together with others; but that we might prefer this grief, blessed by the Lord, to all the pleasures of the world.


"The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations" (2 Pet. 2:9)

What first offends the weak is, that when the faithful anxiously seek aid they are not immediately helped by God, but on the contrary he suffers them sometimes as it were to pine away through daily weariness and languor. And secondly, when the wicked grow wanton with impunity and God in the meantime is silent, as though he connived at [left uncensured] their evil deeds. This double offense Peter now removes, for he testifies that the Lord knows when it is expedient to deliver the godly from temptation. By these words he reminds us that this office ought to be left to him, and that therefore we ought to endure temptations and not to faint when at any time he defers his vengeance against the ungodly.

This consolation is very necessary for us, for this thought is apt to creep in: "If the Lord would have his own to be safe, why does he not gather them all into some corner of the earth, that they may mutually stimulate one another to holiness? Why does he mingle them with the wicked by whom they may be defiled?" But when God claims to himself the office of helping and protecting his own, that they may not fail in the contest, we gather courage to fight more strenuously. The meaning of the first clause is, that this law is prescribed by the Lord to all the godly that they are to be proved by various temptations, but that they are to entertain good hope of success because they are never to be deprived of his aid and help.


"Scoffers . . . saying, 'Where is the promise of his coming?' " (2 Pet. 3:4)

It was a dangerous scoff when they insinuated a doubt as to the last resurrection. For when that is taken away there is no gospel any longer, the power of Christ is brought to nothing, the whole of religion is gone. Then Satan aims directly at the throat of the Church when he destroys faith in the coming of Christ. For why did Christ die and rise again except that he may some time gather to himself the redeemed from death and give them eternal life? All religion is wholly subverted unless faith in the resurrection remains firm and immovable. Hence, on this point Satan assails us most fiercely.

But let us notice what the scoff was. They set the regular course of nature, such as it seems to have been from the beginning, in opposition to the promise of God, as though these things were contrary or did not harmonize together. Though the faith of the fathers, they said, was the same, yet no change has taken place since their death, and it is known that many ages have passed away. Hence they concluded that what was said of the destruction of the world was a fable, because they conjectured that since it had lasted so long it would be perpetual.


"For this they willingly are ignorant of . . . the world that then was, being overflowed
with water, perished" (2 Pet. 3:5,6)

By one argument only he confutes the scoff of the ungodly, even by this: that the world once perished by a deluge of waters when yet it consisted of waters (Gen. 1:2). And as the history of this was well known, he says that they willingly, or of their own accord, erred. For they who infer the perpetuity of the world from its present state, designedly close their eyes so as not to see so clear a judgment of God. The world no doubt had its origin from waters, for Moses calls the chaos from which the earth emerged "waters". And further, it was sustained by waters. It yet pleased the Lord to use waters for the purpose of destroying it. It hence appears that the power of nature is not sufficient to sustain and preserve the world, but that on the contrary it contains the very element of its own ruin, whenever it may please God to destroy it.

For it ought always to be borne in mind that the world stands through no other power than that of God's word, and that therefore inferior or secondary causes derive from him their power and produce different effects as they are directed. Thus through water the world stood, but water could have done nothing of itself but on the contrary obeyed God's word as an inferior agent or element. As soon then as it pleased God to destroy the earth, the same water obeyed in becoming a ruinous inundation. We now see how egregiously they err who stop at naked elements as though there was perpetuity in them, and their nature were not changeable according to the bidding of God.

By these few words the petulance of those is abundantly refuted who arm themselves with physical reasons to fight against God. For the history of the deluge is an abundantly sufficient witness that the whole order of nature is governed by the sole power of God.


"Be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years,
and a thousand years as one day" (2 Pet. 3:8)

He now turns to speak to the godly; and he reminds them that when the coming of Christ is the subject they were to raise upwards their eyes, for by so doing they would not limit by their unreasonable wishes the time appointed by the Lord. For waiting seems very long on this account, because we have our eyes fixed on the shortness of the present life, and we also increase weariness by computing days, hours, and minutes. But when the eternity of God's kingdom comes to our minds, many ages vanish away like so many moments.

This then is what the Apostle calls our attention to, so that we may know that the day of resurrection does not depend on the present flow of time but on the hidden purpose of God, as though he had said: "Men wish to anticipate God for this reason, because they measure time according to the judgment of their own flesh; and they are by nature inclined to impatience, so that celerity is even delay to them. Do ye then ascend in your minds to heaven, and thus time will be to you neither long nor short."


"But the Lord is not slack concerning his promise" (2 Pet. 3:9)

He checks extreme and unreasonable haste by another reason, that is, that the Lord defers his coming that he might invite all mankind to repentance. For our minds are always prurient [having a restless desire], and a doubt often creeps in as to why he does not come sooner. But when we hear that the Lord, in delaying, shows a concern for our salvation, and that he defers the time because he has a care for us, there is no reason why we should any longer complain of tardiness. He is tardy who allows an occasion to pass by through slothfulness. There is nothing like this in God, who in the best manner regulates time to promote our salvation. And as to the duration of the whole world, we must think exactly the same as of the life of every individual. For God, by prolonging time to each, sustains him that he may repent. In the like manner he does not hasten the end of the world in order to give to all time to repent.

This is a very necessary admonition so that we may learn to employ time aright, as we shall otherwise suffer a just punishment for our idleness.


"Seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also . . ." (2 Pet. 3:17)

After having shown to the faithful the dangers of which they were to beware, he now concludes by admonishing them to be wise. But he shows that there was need of being watchful lest they should be overwhelmed. And, doubtless, the craft of our enemy, the many and various treacheries which he employs against us, the cavils [trivial objections] of ungodly men, leave no place for security. Hence vigilance must be exercised lest the devices of Satan and of the wicked should succeed in circumventing us. It, however, seems that we stand on slippery ground, and the certainty of our salvation is suspended as it were on a thread, since he declares to the faithful that they ought to take heed lest they should fall from their own steadfastness.

What, then, will become of us if we are exposed to the danger of falling? To this I answer, that this exhortation and those like it are by no means intended to shake the firmness of that faith which reposes on God, but to correct the sloth of our flesh.

The meaning is this: That as long as we are in the flesh our tardiness must be roused, and this is fitly done by having our weakness and the variety of dangers which surround us placed before our eyes; but the confidence which rests on God's promises ought not to be thereby shaken.


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