The Seven Christian Graces
March 17th, 1974 @ 10:50 AM
THE SEVEN CHRISTIAN GRACES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Peter 1:5-9
3-17-74 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Seven Christian Graces. In our preaching through the book of 2 Peter, last Sunday morning we left off with verse 4 [2 Peter 1:4]. And today we begin with verse 5 in the first chapter [2 Peter 1:5]:
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your 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 love—charity.
For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that you shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
[2 Peter 1:5-8]
This is one of the most meaningful sentences to be found in all God’s Holy Word, a sentence that covers verses 5, 6, and 7 [2 Peter 1:5-7]. These divine excellences, these Christian endowments, these beautiful and heavenly graces: they are seven in number, beginning with faith, then like the scale upward to the octave, ending in love.
Somebody looking at this and commenting on it said what Simon Peter means is that using faith as a foundation, we are to perfect ourselves on this first rung—which would be virtue—and then having completed that, we begin on the second rung of knowledge, and then up and up and up. Having mastered each one, we go to the next and to the next.
From the way the King James Version reads, you might think that: “And beside all this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and then add to virtue knowledge; to knowledge temperance,” and so on [2 Peter 1:5-6]. That might be possible, looking at it here in this English version.
But when you look at it closely, and especially in its Greek text as Simon Peter wrote it, there is something other, and beyond, and else that the apostle has written by inspiration in this beautiful and meaningful sentence. Instead of being like rungs on a ladder—and having perfected one, we rise to the next; and having achieved success in that one, we rise to the next, and so on up—rather what he is saying is that the divine excellencies are like a rope, or like a cable, with seven strands and they are intertwined, and they arise out of one another.
They are present incipiently, initially, embryonically, in the newborn Christian when he’s born into the kingdom of Christ. All of these graces incipiently, initially, are born in him. They are the genes of the beautiful Christian life and as the babe grows into strength and finally into maturity and manhood, these virtues also grow. They grow out of each other. They’re intertwined; they support each other. And all of them are in us to begin with, and in cultivation and Christian experience they become dominant in the beautiful Christian life.
Now the reason I think that is because of an unusual word that Simon Peter uses here: you have it translated “add.” Beginning with faith—the great foundation—”add” to your faith virtue; and to that, knowledge; and to that, temperance; and to that, patience and godliness [2 Peter 1:5-6]. But, you look at that word “add.” It is a very unusual word, and it is a musical word. The Greeks, as they presented their ancient dramas—and they were the greatest in the world—as the populace went to see a play written by Euripides, or Aeschylus, or Aristophanes, or any of those incomparable Greek tragedians and comedians, they developed in their Greek art what the Greeks called in their word a choros—c-h-o-r-o-s, choros, chi, like a big “X,” choros—and the choros was a singing group. It was trained to take a part in a recitative, or in a beautiful song, in the dramatic presentation.
Now from that word choros, there developed a Greek word chorēgeō, chorēgeō which means “to furnish it, to provide it, to supply it.” And that word grew out of a habit in the ancient, classical world of the government appointing a citizen in the Greek state, in the Greek city—such as, say, Athens—to train, and to support, and to supply, and to provide the choros. A man was assigned the honor, and he’d have to be an affluent man, of training the choros; of providing for it, supplying for it, taking care of it.
So they developed from the word choros that Greek word chorēgeō—that is, to train a choros, to lead a choros, to supply a choros, to furnish a choros. And as time went on, as words get—you know—they move away from their original birth and become general, so the word chorēgeō came to mean “to furnish, to supply.” It is a musical term, and thus was used by Simon Peter in speaking of the great groundwork of faith, from which these beautiful virtues of the Christian life—these divine and heavenly excellencies—come. They are supplied. They are furnished, translated here “adding.”
Now it intrigues me, to begin with, the musical word that is used by the inspired apostle. The Christian life, if I could follow his imagery, the Christian life is like the scale. It has a basic note, a keynote, and then seven steps above, till finally we come to the octave. And if the Christian life is beautifully lived, it is a song, it is a melody, it is in harmony with the will of heaven.
I set my wind-harp in the wind,
And the wind came out of the south,
Soft it blew with gentle coo,
Like words from a maiden’s mouth.
And like the stir of angels’ wings
It gently touched the trembling strings;
And O my harp gave back to me
A wondrous heavenly melody.
I set my [wind-harp] in the wind,
And the wind blew from the north so loud,
From the icy north it hurried forth,
And dark grew sea and cloud.
It whistled down the mountains’ height,
It smote the quivering cords with might,
And still my harp gave back to me
Its wondrous heavenly melody.
Ah me that such a life were mine,
Responsive tuned and true,
When all was gladness, all was shine,
Or when the storms of sorrow blew.
That so, ‘mid all the fret and strife,
The jarring undertones of life,
My life might rise to God, and be
One long harmonious symphony!
[“The Wind-Harp,” Temple Bar, quoted in
The Eclectic Magazine, Nov. 1876]
Wouldn’t that be a glorious benedictory gift from heaven? The life like a harp, and the wind blows softly from the south or harshly from the north, but whither it blew in soft and gentle touch, or in harsh and tragic stroke, the harp would play back to God a heavenly symphony filled with the divine excellencies: these beautiful Christian graces.
You know, it brought to my mind something some of us have seen in the catacombs in Rome. You would never think—and so far as I know, this is the only instance I know of in art, Christian art or in Christian literature—there is a Greek god who is taken and depicted as a type of Christ. Now would you believe that? A pagan, sensual worship, such as the Greeks employed, a type of our living and glorious Lord?
Well, the picture is this: It is one of Orpheus, who is playing on his harp, and around him are the wild animals in silent awe and quiet, worshipful wonder. And the picture is of the young god, the Thracian god of poetry and music, the god Orpheus, a beautiful young man. And he’s seated there, playing on his lyre of five wonderful strings. And as he plays, there is around him a lion, a bear, a leopard, a serpent, a tortoise. And up in the trees, there is a peacock and an owl and other birds. And they’re all quiet, listening to Orpheus play and sing.
A Christian took that and drew it on the walls of the catacomb that you can see as a type of how our Lord subdues the violent impulses that are in us. And as the animal world becomes quiet, and tame, and worshipful, and silent; so the heart of a man, touched by the hand of Christ becomes beautiful, and peaceful, and gracious, and excellent.
That is exactly this here, beginning with the great foundation of faith [2 Peter 1:1]. And faith is the prolific source of all of the Christian graces. It starts there: in trust, in faith, in committal to God.
You know, in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Luke, verses 3 and 4 [Luke 17:3-4], there is a touch—an inspired touch—of this that you’d never guess for. It came about when they were talking about forgiveness and forgiving one another. The Lord said to His disciples, He said to His apostles, “If a man traspass against thee—if he do you wrong—forgive him.” And said our Lord, “if a man transgress against you—do you wrong—seven times in a day, seven times in that day, you forgive him” [Luke 17:3-4].
“Oh,” said the disciples. “Oh, when injury follows injury, and trespass on heels of trespass, we are to forgive the man seven times a day, if he transgresses seven times a day?” Do you know what the exclamation of the apostles was? Wouldn’t you have thought they would have said, “O Lord, if I am to do that, if a man does me wrong seven times every day and seven times I am to forgive him, O Lord, give me patience, please. I need it.” Or, wouldn’t you say, “O God, teach us the secret of the divine forbearance.” Wouldn’t you have thought that?
Do you know what they said? When the Lord said, “If a man transgress against you seven times and seven times, you forgive him,” the disciples replied, “O Lord, increase our faith, increase our faith” [Luke 17:5].
Now why that? That’s the little touch of what inspiration is in the Word of God. Faith is the foundation, and the fountain, and the root of all of the Christian excellencies. And the Christian faith does not deal with externals apart from the great internals that give it birth.
So if we have a great faith, then the faith grows the tree that bears the fruit. And that is exactly what the apostle avows here. On the basis of our faith, then may these beautiful fruits—these beautiful notes, these symphonies grow.
“To your faith may there be furnished aretē—aretē, translated here “virtue” [2 Peter 1:5]. Aretē is a very much-used word in Greek classical language, and poetry, and philosophy: aretē translated here “virtue.” Well, when we read it, we think of moral excellence, which is fine. That’s good. That’s fine, but there’s a whole lot more in it than that. There’s a whole lot more to aretē. There’s a whole lot more in virtue than that. You see, “virtue” comes from the Latin word v-i-r, vir. They pronounce it “weer,” which is the Latin word for “man.” So v-i-r-t-u-s, “weer-tus”— the way they pronounce it—is “manly,” and it refers to courage. That is, as a man would face the confrontations and battles of life, he is to be courageous, not without fear.
You know, the really courageous man would be a soldier who enters the war, the fray, not without fear, but the really courageous soldier would be one who’s trembling, his knees are shaking, his hand is not steady, his face is blanched, he’s full of terror, but he enters the battle just the same. That would be a courageous soldier, and that is the meaning of the word here.
Our feet may tremble, but the rock of Christ, on which we stand is immovable [Matthew 7:24]. We’re to be courageous in the confrontation. In faith, we’re to be aretē—courageous, manly—conquering fear. Don’t be afraid of what the future holds. And don’t be afraid in the hour of our death. And don’t be afraid in the eternity to come, we’re to face it courageously in the faith of our Lord.
And then we’re to add—that is, to supply—gnōsis, “knowledge” [2 Peter 1:5], for it is possible for one to be zealous and fanatical. Our arête, our virtue, needs to be seasoned with insight and understanding: Gnōsis, gnōsis. You know, it’s a remarkable thing. There is a place in the high priestly prayer of our Lord when the Lord identified that with salvation. Remember what He said; high priestly prayer of John 17:3,”This is life eternal—this is salvation—that they might know Thee the only true and living God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou has sent” [John 17:3]. Spiritual knowledge is a heavenly gift: spiritually to know that faith is the victory, that prayer prevails, that it pays to serve Jesus. Oh, what an infinitely precious knowing, knowledge: gnōsis.
Aretē: courage. Gnōsis: knowledge. “And to knowledge add temperance” [2 Peter 1:6]: enkrateia; enkrateia, translated “temperance, temperance.” When you use that word “temperance,” you think of prohibition, temperance; actually, the word does not refer to liquids any more than it refers to solids. Actually, the word does not refer to materialities any more than it refers to inward spiritualities.
The word refers to that discipline by which a man is able to present himself in self-restraint, in continence, before God. It is possible for a man to conquer the whole world and not conquer himself. There never was a general in Roman days, or in modern days, there never was a warrior that compared with Alexander the Great. In ten short years he conquered the entire civilized world, and yet, he died at thirty-three years of age in a drunken orgy in Babylon; conquered the world, and then lost himself.
That’s so easily possible. All of you who are interested in sports remember the story of John L. Sullivan, who was the pugilistic heavyweight champion of the world and fought in a day when it was bare-knuckled—there were no gloves; and fought sometimes for seventy-two rounds. There was no end to it. They fought till there was a victor. John L. Sullivan was one of the great athletes of all time, and unchallenged during the days when he was champion of the world. As time went on, John L. Sullivan turned aside from the discipline of an athlete, and he began to waste his life in drink and debauchery. There came, in the providence of life, a sickly young fellow by the name of Jim Corbett. As a child, Jim Corbett was small and anemic; but he trained, and he trained, and he disciplined himself. And he got ready, and upon a day he challenged John L. Sullivan, the pugilistic champion of the world. And John L. Sullivan, in the bars and in the saloons, and among his henchmen—John L. Sullivan said, “Why, with one blow of my fist, I’ll pulverize him!” He said, “In the first round, I’ll flatten him on the canvas!” And when that battle was fought between John L. Sullivan and Jim Corbett, it went on for round, after round, after round, after round, after round, for hours. And when it was over, John L. Sullivan lay flat on the mat and Jim Corbett was the champion of the world.
Something great happened out of that, and that’s the reason I use it as an illustration. When John L. Sullivan stood up, he apologized to the world for his drunkenness and his debauchery. And from that day on, until he died, he gave his whole life speaking to young people, and to college kids, and to high school kids, and to civic meetings, pleading for temperance, and for continence, and for discipline. And one of the reasons the Eighteenth Amendment was added to the American Constitution—the prohibition amendment—was because of the crusading of John L. Sullivan.
That’s what this refers to. In our lives, it is a Christian virtue for a man to be self-contained and continent, for a man to bridle those lusts on the inside of his soul and life that lead him to debauchery and ruin. And adding to temperance, adding patience—hupomonē; a “bearing up under” [2 Peter 1:6]. And the last three are a triumvirate: and adding to these eusebeia: “godliness”; and philadelphia, “brotherly kindness”; and agapē [2 Peter 1:6-7], which is a God kind of love.
I have no opportunity and time except just to speak of the last: the octave, the highest note—starting in faith and ending in agapē [2 Peter 1:5-7]. There are three words used in the ancient Greek world for “love.” One is eros; there was a god of love called Eros. It’s a strange thing: that word, as common in the Greek language and as common in the Greek literature as your word for “love” is today, love; it is never found in the Word of God, not once. The word eros referred to carnal love, lust, and was much used in the ancient world. Eros: it’s never found in the Bible. The second word for love is philos, and this you will find in the Bible many times; philos, philos is the love of friends. Phileō is to love as a friend; two friends would love each other, phileō. Philos is the love of friendship.
There is another word that is used in the Holy Scriptures, translated here “charity” [2 Peter 1:7]. In the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians [1 Corinthians 13:1-8], the King James translators used that word “charity” from the Latin caritas, which means a holy, and virtuous, and heavenly love: charity, caritas—agapē. It’s a love like God’s love. Not limited to friendship, but a love that covers the whole earth, including our enemies and those who do us wrong: agapē, God’s love.
In the ancient world, in the long ago, in the first Christian century, outside of Ephesus and on the road to Phrygia, there lived a Christian saint by the name of Trophimus. Why, they said Trophimus knew the apostle Paul! Oh, and they said Trophimus knew the sainted John, and in his age, Trophimus, the Christian, lived in a little cottage by the side of the road, and there did he humbly witness to the love and goodness of Jesus. He even had a well of water, and a bucket to draw it from the deep; in order that the weary traveler might be refreshed with a cool drink of water. Look: he even had bread in the house. And when a sojourner passed by, famished with the long, long journey, he had bread for the sojourner to eat. Not only that, but when eventide came and the sun was westering in the sky, Trophimus had a place in the little cottage where the wayfarer could rest for the night.
Upon a day, down the road and toward the evening, there came three armored Roman soldiers with their swords and with their armor. And they stopped at the humble home of Trophimus. And Trophimus asked them why their haste, and why their journey, and why their armor. And they replied, “Under the mandated order of the Emperor Caesar himself, we have been sent on a mission to find a violent and a dangerous man by the name of Trophimus. Why,” said the Roman soldiers, “they say he is a Christian. He blasphemes, he refuses to bow before the image of the Roman emperor himself, and we are sent on a mission to find him and to execute him on the spot.”
“Oh,” said Trophimus, “he is a Christian.”
“Yes,” said the Roman soldiers, “he is a Christian and a dangerous man, and guilty of treason against the government: he refused to worship before the image of the Caesar.”
“And you say he is a vile, and a violent man, and a dangerous man?”
“Yes,” said the soldiers, “and we have orders to slay him, execute him on the spot.” And Trophimus replied, “You need no further go. Rest for the night, and I will deliver this dangerous Trophimus to you in the morning.” So he gave drink, and he gave meat to the three Roman legionnaires for the evening, and then a place for them to rest in the night. And while the three Roman soldiers slept, Trophimus went to his little flower garden, back of the cottage home, and dug a grave. The next morning, after the soldiers had breakfasted and after they had refreshed themselves, Trophimus said to the three, “Come with me, and I will deliver into your hands this Christian Trophimus.”
So he led them to the little flower garden, and standing by the open grave, he said, “You seek the Christian Trophimus? I that speak unto thee am he. I but ask that you bury me in the midst of my flowers.” And he bowed his head for the stroke of the sword. That’s why in history you will read that the early Christians out-lived, and out-died, and out-loved the whole Greco-Roman world. They turned it on its very hinges. They changed the course of history. They remembered the word of their Savior: “Bless them that curse you, do good to them who despitefully use you, and pray for them who persecute you, that you may be like your Father who is in heaven” [Matthew 5:44-45]. That is agapē love, the love of God, and the crowning virtue of the sainted Christian [2 Peter 1:7]. How sweet a way, how precious the road once followed, and loved, and traveled by the disciple of Christ: you.
In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, in the balcony round, a family you; on this lower floor, a family you; a couple you, there or here; or just one somebody you, while we sing the hymn and while we press the appeal, would you come? Make the decision now. Make it now in your heart.
And when we stand up to sing, stand up, coming down that stairway, walking down that aisle, “Here I am, pastor, I’m putting my life with your people [Hebrews 10:24-25]. I’m taking the Lord as my Savior” [Romans 10:8-13]. However God shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. Do it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.