Before we enter upon this Epistle of St. Peter, it is necessary to present a brief Introduction, that it may be understood how this Epistle is to be ranked, and in order that a right apprehension of it may be attained.
[Footnote 1: Literally, instruction.]
In the first place, it must be understood that all the Apostles present one and the same doctrine; and it is not correct to speak of four Evangelists and four Gospels for all which the Apostles wrote is one Gospel. But Gospel means nothing but a proclamation and heralding of the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ, merited and procured through his death. And it is not properly that which is contained in books, and is comprehended in the letter, but rather an oral proclamation and living word, and a voice which echoes through the whole world, and is publicly uttered that it may universally be heard. Neither is it a book of laws, containing in itself many excellent doctrines, as has hitherto been held. For it does not bid us do works whereby we may become righteous, but proclaims to us the grace of God, bestowed freely, and apart from any merit of our own; and it tells how Christ has taken our place, and rendered satisfaction for our sins, and canceled them, and by His own works justifies and saves us.
[Footnote 2: Count.]
Whoever sets forth this, by preaching or writing, he teaches the true Gospel, as all the Apostles did, especially St. Paul and St. Peter, in their Epistles. So that all, whatever it be, that sets forth Christ, is one and the same Gospel, although one may use a different method, and speak of it in different language from another, for it may perhaps be a brief or extended address, or a brief or extended writing. But yet, if it tends to this point, that Christ is our Saviour, and we through faith on Him, apart from works of our own, are justified and saved, it is still the same Word, and but one Gospel, just as there is also but one faith and one baptism in the whole Christian world.
So, also, one Apostle has written the same [Gospel] that is contained in another's writings; but they who insist most largely and emphatically on this, that faith on Christ alone justifies, are the best Evangelists. Therefore St. Paul's Epistles are more a Gospel than Matthew, Mark and Luke, for the latter give little more than the history of the works and miracles of Christ; but of the grace which we have through Christ, none write so emphatically as St. Paul, especially in his Epistle to the Romans. And yet, since more importance by far belongs to the word than to the works and deeds of Christ, and where we are to be deprived of one it were better that we should want the works and the history than the word and the doctrine; those books are to be most highly esteemed which most largely treat of the doctrine and words of the Lord Christ; for though the miracles of Christ had never been, and we had no knowledge of them, we should yet have had enough in the word, without which we could not have had life.
Thus this Epistle of St. Peter is one of the noblest books in the New Testament, and contains indeed the pure Gospel; for he takes the same course as St. Paul and all the Evangelists, in inculcating the true doctrine of faith, -- as that Christ has been given us, who takes away our sin and saves us, as we shall hear.
Hence you may judge of all books and doctrines, what is Gospel or not; for what is not set forth or written of in this manner, you may safely decide to be false, however excellent in appearance. This power to decide is one that all Christians possess, -- not the Pope or Councils, who boast that they only have the power to determine. -- This is sufficient introduction and preface. Let us now listen to the Epistle.