There is much the believer can learn from Clement’s second “epistle” or sermon, especially in this day and age where faith without repentance is taught.
Authorship. We have good reason to believe that Clement wrote the sermon known as 2 Clement. It’s heavy reliance on Scripture in order to reflect the authority of what is being taught is typical of his style. Further, he quotes 2 Peter 3:4, a work otherwise not cited in any other early Christian work other than 1 Clem 23:3.
All these things have we heard even in the times of our fathers; but though we have waited day by day, we have seen none of them [accomplished] (2 Clem, Chapter 11).
These things we did hear in the days of our fathers also, and behold we have grown old, and none of these things hath befallen us (1 Clem 23:3).
Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation (2 Peter 3:4).
The resemblance is striking. We may not only gather that Clement is the author of both letters, but also that he is not slavishly quoting 2 Peter. He may be quoting it from memory, which explains the slight difference in the renderings (but the same idea being communicated.) This gives us good reason to believe that 2 Peter has an early date, was actually written by Peter, and that the rendering we have in the present is probably the right one (because Clement does not appear to be preserving an earlier, more accurate rendering.)
We also have one other reference to 2 Peter.
Know ye that the day of judgment draweth nigh like a burning oven, and certain of the heavens and all the earth will melt, like lead melting in fire; and then will appear the hidden and manifest deeds of men (2 Clement, Chapter 16).
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed (2 Peter 3:10).
Again, we have evidence he is thinking of the same written source. The similarities are just too close.
Proto-Reformed Theology. The subject of the sermon appears to be to take on creeping antinomianism in the Church. It is interesting to see how Clement approaches the topic.
First, he asserts the deity of Christ: “[I]t is fitting that you should think of Jesus Christ as of God,–as the Judge of the living and the dead” (Chapter 1).
Second, he makes the thrust of his later argument, with an interesting qualification: “And it does not become us to think lightly of our salvation; for if we think little of Him…For, indeed, how great are the benefits which we owe to Him” (Chapter 1)! As we can see, Clement makes clear that works do not merit our salvation (which has already been accomplished because its “ours”,) but rather it is out of gratitude that we are compelled to do good works.
Third, Clement endorses monergism:
We were deficient in understanding, worshipping stones and wood, and gold, and silver, and brass, the works of men’s hands; and our whole life was nothing else than death. Involved in blindness, and with such darkness before our eyes, we have received sight, and through His will have laid aside that cloud by which we were enveloped…[W]e had no hope of salvation except it came to us from Him. For He called us when we were not, and willed that out of nothing we should attain a real existence (Chapter 1).
As we can see, he makes clear that our salvation has been attained strictly by the will of God changing us. In his first letter Clement wrote:
And so we, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the Almighty God justified all men that have been from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen
Fourth, Clement preaches the Gospel, but obviously objects to the idea that there can be faith void of works:
Since, then, He has displayed so great mercy towards us, and especially in this respect, that we who are living should not offer sacrifices to gods that are dead, or pay them worship, but should attain through Him to the knowledge of the true Father, whereby shall we show that we do indeed know Him, but by not denying Him through whom this knowledge has been attained (Chapter 3)?
“Attaining knowledge,” as we can see, comes by “not denying Him.” Clement is referring to our placing of faith in Christ, hence not denying refers to belief and not works. How do we know this. Immediately afterwards Clement writes:
For He himself declares, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father.” This, then, is our reward if we shall confess Him by whom we have been saved (Chapter 3).
As we can see, it is those who believe in their heart that Christ is Lord and confess with their mouth that He rose from the dead are saved (Rom 10:9).
After stating this, Clement jumps into his topic: antinomians are falsely confessing faith. And as we can see, he proves it from the Scriptures:
But in what way shall we confess Him? By doing what He says, and not transgressing His commandments, and by honouring Him not with our lips only, but with all our heart and all our mind. For He says in Isaiah, “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”
Let us, then, not only call Him Lord, for that will not save us. For He saith, “Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall be saved, but he that worketh righteousness.” Wherefore, brethren, let us confess Him by our works, by loving one another, by not committing adultery, or speaking evil of one another, or cherishing envy; but by being continent, compassionate, and good (Chapters 3, 4).
As we can see, Clement’s argument is not that we need something on top of works to be saved, but rather we exercise true faith in our good works. “[N]ot only now let us seem to believe and give heed, when we are admonished by the elders…but let us often and often draw near and try to make progress in the Lord’s commands” (Chapter 17). This is the argument James makes in the second chapter of his Epistle.
Suspect Teachings. The rest of the work reads as admonishments to live righteously and contains teachings that would perturb the modern Protestant. For example, let’s look at the following from Chapter 8: “Wherefore, brethren, by doing the will of the Father, and keeping the flesh holy, and observing the commandments of the Lord, we shall obtain eternal life.” He then goes about teaching notions such as these particularly from the sayings of Jesus from the Scripture.
We also have the claim that “better is fasting than prayer,” which would make many a modern Protestatn’s head explode. “[A]nd alms than both,” he continues in Chapter 16. After quoting 1 Peter 4:8 (“charity covereth a multitude of sins,”) he asserts that “prayer out of a good conscience delivereth from death.” So again, he is not saying that good works are more important than a heart that cries for God in prayer. Rather, a heart that is not contrite and is still stony does not offer up prayers that bring a man any avail, rather a good conscience delivers from death. Good works, as well as fanciful claims to faith, devoid from actual Godliness are worthless.
It appears the Epistle is very strongly worded (as were Jude’s, 2 Peter’s, and James’) because of the false teachers at issue. In Chapter 10 he writes, “[B]ut now they persist in imbuing innocent souls with their pernicious doctrines, not knowing that they shall receive a double condemnation, both they and those that hear them.” In Paul’s time the accursed teaching was legalism. In later times not soon afterward, it was antinomianism. “Shall we sin so grace may abound? By no means” (Rom 6:1)!
For this reason, I see no reason to take Clement’s suspect legalism as evidence that he taught another Gospel. However, the context set up in the beginning remains the context throughout the Epistle. “[I]f we do not serve Him, [it is] because we believe not the promise of God” (Chapter 11), Clement asserts. Obviously, the sort of “say the sinner’s prayer and you are saved forever” version of Christianity would have been abominable doctrine to him. We may be saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone!
Is Clement Teaching Perfection? In a word, no. In terms reminiscent of Paul in Rom 7 and Phil 3 he writes in Chapter 18, “For I myself, though a sinner every whir and not yet fleeing temptation but continuing in the midst of the tools of the devil, study to follow after righteousness, that I may make, be it only some, approach to it, fearing the judgment to come.” And so, good works do not merit us salvation, as we do not do the good we ought to do. Our salvation comes from God’s grace through a sincere faith in Jesus Christ, His atoning death on the cross, and His resurrection.