“For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” — II Peter 1:8
The things referred to are those just enumerated [in the previous verses]. Having started with faith, by which we are made partakers of the Divine nature, the apostle proceeds to evolve from this the whole system of spiritual graces. “Add to your faith virtue.” And it is not simply add. The word is a much more vital one. It is, rather, furnish in your faith virtue, and in your virtue knowledge, and in your knowledge temperance. Let your faith be so prolific that out of it may be evolved the whole continuous and unfolding system of spiritual virtues. If these things be in you, and abound, they will make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. The inner and ever-expanding life of faith will appear in the outward fruits and actions of piety, thus advancing you towards the perfect knowledge of Christ, and full conformity to His character.
These words lead us to consider the twofold condition, and the twofold manifestation of the Christian life.
I. The two-fold condition of a Christian life
“If these things be in you, and abound.” There must be inward life before there can be outward activity; and this inward life must abound before its outward manifestations can be multiplied.
How many are trying to work, without having been “created in Christ Jesus unto good works” by the renewing of the Holy Spirit. Their activity is therefore detached and superficial, like the motion of the wheel upon its axle, which is impelled by contact with the earth instead of being driven by an inward impulse. When we act from the claims of duty, from the requirements of society, from the demands of public opinion, or from the authority of law, our good works are, in a certain sense, external to us. They are taken on, rather than lived out.
Now, if you have said that a person is conscientious, you have paid a high tribute to him. But when you have said that a person is faithful, you have bestowed a yet higher tribute upon him. A faithful man is one who has faith in him as well as a conscience; something that is in love with Jesus Christ, as well as loyal to the ten commandments. Hence he has that which draws him towards well doing, as well as towards right doing.
For if it takes a conscientious man to do right, it takes a faithful man to do good; if it takes a conscientious man to be honest, it takes a faithful man to be self-denying; if it takes a conscientious man to love his neighbour as himself, it takes a faithful man to love his enemy and to do good to one that hates him. Indeed, I know not that conscience, at its best estate, would ever have told us that when one smites us on the right cheek we should turn to him the other also; or, if one takes away our coat, we should also let him have our cloak. This is the gospel. Conscience is an inner law, but faith is an inner gospel.
Well, now we are taught that this faith must be in us, as something personal and living, before we can bring forth the external fruits and works of righteousness. Our faith may be in our creed, that half-way house between the Bible and the heart; it may be in our intellect, that mid-station between the mind of God and the will of man. But this is not enough. A creed religion is apt to be disputatious, busy with mere dogmatic moralities, defending nice distinctions, and hovering for ever over sectarian issues; an intellectual religion is speculative, toiling at definitions and exhausting its energies on logical inferences. And if one’s piety stops at either one of these stations — at the intellect or the creed — that man’s religion is vain.” If these things be in you.”
Our faith must come to us through the brain in deed. But it cannot stop there. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” The mind takes truth from the Scriptures, weighs it, perchance, in the scales of some tried and standard confession, and then distils it into the heart, its richest essence, its finest life, condensed and deposited there. And nothing can evolve from itself a holy, self-denying, and truly benevolent life like this. A germ of faith will make a giant in activity. That faith be in us rather than external to us is of the very highest importance then. You know the difference between an opinion and a conviction. The one is what we think; the other is what we are. Our opinions may sit lightly on us, but our convictions are the iron in our blood, which make the very strength and stalwartness of our manhood. And faith, as an active grace, is simply Christian conviction. It is what we believe and feel and are upon Divine questions and promises. And it is the only thing which can give a rooted strength and stability to our Christian life.
And do we stop to think when we are taxed with some extraordinary service that the surest way to be fit for it is to have our faith strengthened; that we must believe more if we would be able to do more?
That is a fine touch of spiritual wisdom which appears in the disciples’ answer to the Lord, when He instructed them in regard to the duty of forgiveness: “If thy brother trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent, thou shalt forgive him.” Exceeding strain is this to put upon our patience, — offence crowding on offence, and injury treading on injury, till it has grown to a sevenfold affront. “Lord, teach us patience, train us in the secret of Thy Divine forbearance,” do they ask? No. “And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.” They asked that the root might be strengthened, to brace the tree for such trial and resistance.
Radical above all other systems is Christianity. It knows nothing of externals which are not the product and outcome of an internal life. Nay! not even an external morality or an external philanthropy. These things tend inevitably to become either powerless or disordered when cut loose from a personal faith. The Apostle Paul, after summarizing his prodigious labours, qualifies his statement thus: “Whereunto I also labour, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily.” And when he has exhorted us to a holy and Christ-like example, he is careful to add, as imparting the true secret of such an example, “Rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith.”
Now, the danger is with us all, not so much that we shall become inactive, as that our activity shall get uncoupled from our personal faith. By our associations and fellowships we may be so geared into the great prevailing movements of Christian philanthropy and beneficence that we shall move without our will; our activity kept up while our spirituality is declining; our public testimony growing loud while our closet cries are growing silent. The very prevalence and popularity of Christianity constitutes one of our greatest dangers. The outward help which we get takes off the strain of inward necessity, so that we can be moved without our own motion, and be warmed without our own pulse-beat.
And the greatest blessing which can come to any of us is to have some work assigned to us which is so peculiar and so unpopular that we can get no help for it in the prevailing Christian sentiment, and must, therefore, be driven back upon our solitary faith in God. Yes, to be led into some path of Christian service so new and so untrodden, that we have to cry out, as the Master did, “I am alone,” is a sore and bitter trial; but if we can add, as He did, “Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me,” it is a high privilege, since we are thus set apart unto God, by being set apart from men.
It was the faith of one man, William Carey, the cobbler, that started and gave momentum to the great enterprise of modern missions. His friend, Andrew Fuller, has recorded his amazement at the boldness and invincible courage of that faith. But doubtless its strength was largely due to its solitariness. His conviction, which was rebuked at first and frowned upon by his brethren, had to take refuge in his own lonely heart; .and there, shut up to God, and fed upon that meat which the world knows not of, it grew to such vigour and giant energy that nothing could resist it. Praise and bless the Lord for any discipline that drives our faith inward, and closets it with God, and so makes it something absolutely in ourselves, because so absolutely in God!
But there is yet another element in the twofold secret of Christian activity, — the abundance of our faith as well as its radical inwardness: “If these things be in you, and abound.” If we are to do any great work for God, we must have a large reserve of faith and spiritual power from which to draw. The force of what we expend depends upon the bulk and depth of that which is behind it. Hence God has been careful to enjoin fulness of the Divine life as well as overflow. “I am come that they might have life,” says Jesus, “and that they might have it more abundantly.”
One of the greatest sins of Christians is that of spiritual improvidence. They are only careful for life, for the supply of their daily needs. And when they are called to give out, it is simply from a temporary provision that they bestow. Consequently there is a feebleness, — a lack of spiritual momentum in the service of many, that renders it well-nigh powerless. Now, the simplest exercise of faith gives us life. “He that believeth on the Son hath life” But it is only a faith that “groweth exceedingly,” day by day, that gives us abundant life. And for such a faith we ought to strive with all our heart.
It is a shame that so much of our service for Christ is merely provisional; called into exercise to meet a present demand, instead of being the result of deep and permanent impulse, that it is so often the mere drainage of a superficial piety instead of being the welling up of the deep life of God in the soul. It is because of this that it lacks spontaneity as well as force. It depends for its flow on a favourable lay of the land, and not upon its communion with God, in whom all its fountains lie, and hence has no abiding perennial force.
What a lesson to this point has Christ taught us in His discourse with the woman of Samaria: “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.” But there He does not stop, howbeit that were enough to satisfy many who should read His words in after time. To have our own thirst satisfied, and to be assured that we shall never lift up our eyes in torment, and call for a drop of water to cool our parched tongue; — is not this practically, though unconsciously, the extent of many Christians’ anxiety?
But the heart of Christ is larger than ours. He gives abundant life as well as life. “But the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” What is so irrepressible as a living spring? You cannot stanch it with all your power, or resist the pressure of its crystal waters. The strength of the hills is given to it, — the hills, with their deep, hidden reservoirs, which the droughts cannot find and the sands cannot choke. And that is what the life of a true disciple ought to be, — not giving out mere intermittent streams of blessings, and these when he is drawn upon by the claims of duty, or the demands of suffering; but flowing down in perennial supply from the great deeps of God.
A responsive piety is noble, but a spontaneous piety is nobler. The one goes out because it is called for; the other because it is sent. The one answers the cry of a famishing world: the other obeys the command of a bountiful Lord. The apostles spoke with mighty power, because they were “filled with the Spirit,” as the record again and again declares. It was this fact which gave such a penetrating force to their words. They were not winged words, moving with their own momentum simply; but projectile words, carried on by the almighty impulse of the Holy Ghost. Utterances to which we rise by an extraordinary effort; words which are above our real spiritual level, have but little force, and go but little way. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” It is what is behind our life and conduct and utterances that gives them power, not what is in them simply. Hence the double condition of inwardness and fulness of faith in order to attain abundant success.
II. The two-fold manifestation of a Christian life
“Ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful.” These two words, “barren and unfruitful,” seem, as we read them, to be synonymous. But as they stand in the original there is a very sharp and significant distinction between them. The one refers to the active, and the other to the passive, products of the Christian life, and the words have been well translated by an old commentator: “Neither unworkful nor unfruitful.” There is evidently a difference between fruit and works. The one is the spontaneous product of a Divine life within the soul; the other the active manifestation of that life in Christian service. Works may be easily counterfeited; fruit cannot be counterfeited. Fruit, because so entirely the product of the inner life, is made by our Lord the test of character. He does not say that by men’s works we shall know them, but by their fruits. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits… A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Wherefore by their fruit ye shall know them..”
The world is full of works which have no root or nourishment in faith. They are useful and zealous and well directed, but are not necessarily the outcome of a holy heart. Charity has come to be fashionable, and men and women conform to its demands in order to be in style. Good works are the assessment which society makes on those who are prosperous, and many practise them to maintain their credit in polite circles. Benevolence has assumed the character of a joint stock enterprise, by which one part of the public relieves the needs of the other; and so in fairs, and concerts, and collations, people will eke out their shares and get their dividends of entertainment and pleasure. But there is nothing of humble, self-denying, sanctified well-doing in all this.
These are “the dead works” spoken of in Scripture, — such as have no root in faith and love to God. For whatever is separated from its source becomes dead. Sunder a branch from the tree and it dies, though its form and substance may remain unchanged; and sunder the best and most approved Christian service from its relation to Christ, and it becomes dead works. It is equally true that apart from Christ we cannot be what God requires, and we cannot do what God requires. “Without Me,” — that is, apart from and separated from Me, — “ye can do nothing,” says Christ. It is not the whole question, then, whether our works are manly, but whether they are also godly; whether they are humane, but whether they are also Divine; whether they command the praise of men, but whether men beholding them “shall glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
And, to show how radical these directions are, you remember that the Scripture speaks of “repentance from dead works.” We are not only to be sorry that we have sinned, but especially that we have been deceiving men and dishonouring God with the semblance of well-doing when the enduring root and vital principle have been wanting. No! the works of righteousness cannot be taken on. What we call the externals of Christianity are absolutely worthless, dead wood cumbering the tree, unless they are the outcome of what is radically and divinely internal
And if there is one thing which we ought to be afraid of in these days of prevailing religious activity, it is that we may get overlaid with the outward forms of Christianity before we have been inlaid with its precious virtues; overlaid with its charities and its rituals, its sacraments and its ceremonies, its alms deeds and its Churchmanship, before we have been inlaid with its living mosaic of heavenly graces, faith and virtue, and godliness and charity. Christ dwells within us, except we be reprobates; and our hearts must worship towards Him before they can work towards men.
The law said, “This do, and you shall live;” but grace has absolutely reversed this. It says, “Live that you may do this.” Live in Christ the Saviour, that you may work out your own salvation; live in the Spirit that dwells within you, that you may labour for the world which lies about you. If we fail of this, our good works will be bereft of their inner substance, and we shall deceive both ourselves and our fellow-men.
And so, because of the ease with which good works may be counterfeited, Christ does not stake the gospel on the doings which may appear in connection with it, but upon the fruits which are grown upon it. For fruit, ah! here is something which cannot be easily imitated. There is a fine aroma which breathes from it, there is a delicate flavour which belongs to it, which none can quite counterfeit. And, though men may try to simulate it in the waxwork graces which they attach to their characters, nobody is deceived. Take the list which Scripture gives us as “the fruits of the Spirit”: “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” How these defy imitation! How they baffle all attempts to mere artificial construction!
Now, if faith be in us, and abound, these fruits will be found upon us. They will appear and develop unconsciously, like the husbandman’s seed, “which springeth and groweth up he knoweth not how.” They will come through our communion with the Lord, rather than through the energy of our own will. Exactly as Christ says, “He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” No effort here; no striving after fruitfulness. To be sure, in nature there must be the human planting and training. But here, even that is taken out of our hands. “My Father is the Husbandman.” The whole process is Divine from beginning to end. To beget the highest graces of the Christian life we have absolutely nothing to do but to abide in communion with Christ through faith and prayer and feeding on the Word.
What had the branch to do with producing the purple cluster of grapes, the rare compounding of its flavours, the exquisite tints of its skin, the perfect symmetry of its form, — what had it to do with all this? Nothing, except to maintain communion with the sap and root of the vine which bore it. And these lessons of our Lord from nature are wonderfully true to the spiritual facts which they set forth.
“Consider the lilies,” says Jesus, “they toil not, neither do they spin”. Blessed admonition to you who have been trying to manufacture the fruits of the Spirit; weaving meekness in the handloom of self-culture, spinning gentleness out of the coarse fibres of your unhappy disposition, and toiling to produce the fabric of goodness from the texture of your natural badness. Cease your vain labour; consider the lilies. Nature grows her fruit, and God grows His; and no human skill will ever take this business out of His hands. If you covet humility, that “lily of the valley,” remember that it comes not of toiling or spinning. Nothing is so absolutely beyond our power to produce as this. For if we could attain humility through our own effort, we should be conscious of it. And the moment humility is self-conscious, it becomes pride. If it is found in us at all, it will be because we are in intimate communion with Christ, sharing His life, and conformed to His example, who “made Himself of no reputation”; who “humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
Or take another illustration — “the fruit of the lips,” of which the Scripture speaks. “Let us therefore offer unto God the sacrifice of praise continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.” None of all the Divine fruits has been so laboriously imitated as this. The richest voices have been borrowed from the stage amid the opera to offer the sacrifice of praise in God’s house; all the training of musical science, all the triumphs of musical art, have been laid under contribution; but the illusion never satisfies a spiritual ear. There is nothing about which the most devout Christians are more certain than that fine singing is not worship. The genuine fruit of the lips can only be produced from the Divine life within the soul. “I create the fruit of the lips,” says Jehovah.
Of the “new song” we are told that “no man could learn that song but the one hundred and forty-four thousand which were redeemed from the earth.” And the same is true of the prelude of that song as of the full chorus. It takes a redeemed soul to rise to this great harmony. The unredeemed will attempt it, for men often venture in where angels fear to tread. Churches hire fine performers from the world to offer for them the sacrifice of praise. But no price is great enough to tempt an angel to undertake the new song. This is the fruit of redeemed lips only, and by that fruit the redeemed shall be known when the Lord shall judge His people. There is a Divine harmony in the worship which is “in spirit and in truth,” that is as inimitable as the flavour of nature’s most delicious fruits. Art cannot compass it. Culture cannot rise to it. It is as foreign to nature as it is spontaneous to grace.
And now, my brethren, that we may make all this practical, how shall we become more fruitful and more workful as God’s children? The time is short, and we must not only work while it is day, but we must bear fruit while it is the season for fruit. There is no story which so affects a truly conscientious Christian as that of the barren fig-tree. Nothing but leaves — O Lord, shall it be so? Life passing, the services of God’s house coming and going, and so little forth-putting and ripening of the Christian graces! And the Lord is coming into His garden by-and-by, “to see if the vine flourish, and the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth;” and “what manner of fruits, new and old, we have laid up for our Beloved.”
If Christ has not fruit in us, He has it nowhere in the world. The grapes grow on the branches, not on the vine, and “ye are the branches.” We are set here to represent Christ, by “being fruitful in every good work.” If we fail, He fails just to that extent of being commended to men. And it is upon this issue that we shall be judged. “Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away.” It is not what we intended to be, but what we are, that will determine our destiny at the Master’s coming. If the thorns and gnarls of unsanctified temper fill the place which God set apart and pruned for the sweet fruits of love and charity, we shall suffer loss, and the shame which the Lord has threatened will come upon us. And if instead of works, good deeds done to the poor, the gospel preached to the heathen. and the sick and afflicted visited in the name of Christ, there be only the spreading leaves of a vain profession, then the “Inasmuch as ye did it not” will fall with fearful emphasis upon our ears.
Oh, we are so careless and drowsy upon the great question of the works and fruits of faith! To bring them forth seems to many almost a gratuity, — something added after our salvation has been secured, but not something necessary to secure an entrance to heaven. How we forget, that just as there is an abundant faithfulness to which we are exhorted, so there is an abundant entrance to which we are invited. And the one is determined by the other. And therefore the writer of my text lays stress upon “these things” which he has twice mentioned, and says, “If ye do these things, ye shall never fall. For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
This page Copyright © 2000 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site: https://www.peterwade.com/.
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