Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
encountered from without, were others - more insidious and dangerous - arising from within. Of these, false teachers, corrupters of doctrine, and preachers of licentiousness in the name of the holy Saviour, are denounced as proofs of the power of sin, and as signs of a coming judgment.
I. THE WAYS IN WHICH PROFESSING CHRISTIANS DENY THEIR MASTER.
1. Some take an unscriptural and dishonouring view of his nature, and deny him by denying his claims to Divine dignity and authority. From the early Gnostics onwards there were those who assailed Christ's account of himself, and his inspired apostles' account of him. It is well known that many of the early heresies related to the Person of Christ, and that early Councils were occupied with defining dogmatically the Divine and human natures. By way of opposition and correction, it may be said that to errors of the kind referred to we are indebted for our precious heritage, the Nicene Creed, in which orthodox doctrine was finally and sufficiently fixed. Still, the general determination of truth is no bar to the continuance of sin and error; and there has been, perhaps, no age in which there have not arisen either individuals or communities who have denied their Master.
2. Some repudiate Christ's rightful authority. There are many who have not the theological interest which would lead them to discuss Christ's nature, who nevertheless resent the claim advanced on his behalf to be the Legislator and Judge of human society. The Church, on the one hand, the individual reason on the other, may be put into competition with the Lord Christ.
3. Some deny Christ by practically disobeying his precepts. To such as these Jesus referred when he asked, "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" Profession of allegiance only renders real rebellion the more hateful to our Lord.
II. THE UNREASONABLENESS AND GUILT OF THOSE WHO THUS DENY THEIR MASTER.
1. In view of the claim established by redemption, such are guilty of base ingratitude. The introduction of the clause, "the Master that bought them," gives point to the condemnation. They who deny Christ deny One who lived, suffered, and died for them, and whom accordingly they ought to regard and treat with a tender and reverential gratitude. They are like enfranchised slaves turning round upon their liberator, speaking of him with scorn and derision, treating him with neglect and indifference, if not with hatred and hostility.
2. In view of their own profession of subjection and indebtedness to him, there is gross inconsistency.
3. In view of the doom declared against deniers of Christ, their conduct is the uttermost degree of infatuation. They bring upon themselves swift destruction. The time shall come when they who deny him shall be denied by him. - J.R.T.
I. THE DOCTRINES OF FALSE TEACHERS. They are not definitely denoted, but one word probably indicates them all: "heresies" (verse 1) - self chosen doctrines, developing into endless varieties.
1. Self-indulgence of intellect.
2. Self-indulgence of passion. They are similar to the corresponding sins with which Paul and Jude deal in their Epistles.
II. THE CONDUCT OF FALSE TEACHERS. More is said here, much more, of their conduct than of their error. Their conduct is described:
1. In its relation to their teaching. That conduct is
(1) cunning (verse 1);
(2) treacherous (verse 3);
(3) daringly insolent (verse 11);
(4) coveteous (verses 14-16);
(5) deluding (verse 19), promising liberty: O Liberty, what crimes have been wrought in thy name!
2. In its relation to their own life. it is
(1) bitterly disappointing (verse 17);
(2) enslaved and enslaving (verse 19);
(3) degraded and yet ever degrading (verse 22).
III. THE PUNISHMENT OF FALSE TEACHERS.
1. It is sure (verse 3). Lingereth not, is not idle, slumbereth not; justice is sleepless.
2. It is in harmony with God's past dealings. The apostle cites other ages and other worlds. Their punishment is in harmony with God's dealings
(1) with angels;
(2) with the ancient world - Noah, Sodom, Gomorrah.
IV. THE CHIEF SIN OF FALSE TEACHERS. Its central evil is "denying even the Master that bought them."
1. In itself most guilty. Peter's memory burnt that lesson into him.
2. Leads to terrible woe (verses 1-21). "The man who turns his back on well-known ways of righteousness, and leads others from those ways, is of all men in the most pitiable and terrible condition. - U.R.T.
I. OBJECTS OF PUNISHMENT.
1. On account of their anti-christian character. "But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction." The connection of thought seems to be the following: There were prophets that" spake from God;" but there arose false prophets also among the people, i.e., in ancient Israel; as in that which was typified by ancient Israel, viz. in the New Testament Church, there were to be false teachers. Where, then, those teachers are, there is generally an imperfect condition of religious society which gives rise to them. Under similar conditions, similar manifestations may be expected. The false teachers rising up among them ("of your own selves shall men arise," Acts 20:30), these would have the opportunity of (literally) bringing in by the side of, i.e., by the side of the authoritative teachings, their heresies. The authoritative teachings they would not openly seek to combat; for that might lead to their being silenced, even in their speedy ejection from the Christian communities. Their policy would rather be to keep up connection with the Christian circle, and to bring in a spurious Christianity, having resemblance in form, but denial in substance. The authoritative teachings were of a saving nature; what these would seek to bring in would be heresies of destructions, i.e., not put forward with the professed intent to destroy, but from their nature fitted to conduct men to destruction. Their heresies would be soul-destroying; for they would "deny even the Master that bought them." The language is altogether remarkable. Christ is regarded as having paid the purchase money, which is not here mentioned, but is to be under stood, according to 1 Peter 1:19, of his precious blood. By that buying he has become Possessor and Master, i.e., with the right to command. The startling thing is that he is represented as the Master, through purchase or redemption, of the heretical workers of destruction. Nothing could more signally set forth the world-wide character of the atonement. The Master that bought them they, having once acknowledged, were to deny, to put away from them, to supplant by a counterfeit Christ. But it is dangerous to deny Christ; by doing so, in the counter-working of providence, they would only "bring upon themselves swift destruction." It is true that Christ represents the Divine slowness to wrath. Peter knew that every denial does not bring instantaneous destruction. It is only when it has been made abundantly clear that the denial is the settled habit of the mind, that swift, or rather sudden, destruction descends.
2. On account of their sensuality followed to the prejudice of Christianity. "And many shall follow their lascivious doings: by reason of whom the way of the truth shall be evil spoken of." It was to be an aggravating element in their punishment, that they were to be successful in spreading immorality. Sensuality is the charge which Peter brings up again and again. They were to allow themselves illicit gratification; and their example would be followed by many. This would be greatly to the prejudice of Christianity; for it would lead to its being misrepresented as pointing out the way of truth, i.e., the way of life, corresponding to the truth. Men outside, unable to distinguish between what properly belonged to it and what did not properly belong to it, would very naturally say of it, from what they saw in its professed representatives, that it encouraged licentiousness.
3. On account of their mercenary character. "And in covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose sentence now from of old lingereth not, and their destruction slumbereth not." Money is needed for the purchase of illicit pleasure. Covetousness was to surround the false teachers as an atmosphere. Continually breathing it, they were as teachers to use feigned words - not bound fast to the truth, but artfully adapted to man's prejudices. The end of teaching is to do good; it was to be to the disgrace of the false teachers that they were to have as their end to make merchandise of those over whom they obtained influence. But these teachers, who were to add to their other faults their being mercenary, would not go unpunished. Peter, in impassioned language, represents punishment as already on the way to them. "Their sentence now from of old lingereth not, i.e., the sentence against such has gone forth from of old, and, not delaying, it will in its course overtake them; and" their destruction slumbereth not," i.e., not delayed by sleep, as it were, it will follow hard on the sentence. Let them not think, then, that they will escape.
II. ANCIENT EXAMPLES OF PUNISHMENT.
1. Stated conditionally.
(1) The fallen angels. "For if God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment." This was the most ancient example that there was to go back upon. Peter does not say what the sin of the angels was. Jude is more informing, and suggests that they did not place the right value on their own principality, on their proper habitation. There was something else that they placed before what they had, and, reaching after it, they fell from their high estate. God, it is said here, spared them not when they sinned, near though they were to him, but cast them down to Tartarus. This is, strangely, a word connected with heathen mythology, and is to be understood of that division of Hades which is the place of preliminary punishment, as distinguished from Gehenna, which is the place of final punishments. In Tartarus God "committed them to pits of darkness." There was an irony in the appointment. They loved not the brightness in which there was no feeling of being wailed in; and so they were cast down to be wailed in on every side by gloom. In Tartarus they are waiting judgment; and if they are imprisoned in gloom before judgment, what must their state after judgment be! There is no relieving of the picture here as in the other two examples that follow.
(2) The Flood. The dark background. "And spared not the ancient world." This ancient example comes home to us, as relating to our own flesh and blood. It is the most disastrous thing that has happened in the history of the race; it was so extensive stud overwhelming in its sweep. God spared not the ancient world. Men multiplied on the earth for sixteen or seventeen centuries, and then the Flood swept them away as though they had never been. The darkness relieved. "But preserved Noah with seven others, a preacher of righteousness, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly." The antediluvians were ungodly, i.e., had lost a salutary impression even of the existence of God, and had cast off Divine restraints. They did eat and drink; they lived a life within the world of sense. There was one notable exception. This was Noah, who is here styled "a preacher of righteousness," i.e., in the midst of the prevailing ungodliness he had so much of the fear of God on his mind as to credit and proclaim, by word and act, that, if they did not repent of their ungodliness, the righteousness of God would be manifested against them in their destruction by water. And so God preserved Noah, and seven others on account of their connection with him, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly.
(3) The overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah. The dark background. "And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them with an overthrow, having made them an example unto those that should live ungodly." The description in Genesis is, "The Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities." Peter marks punitiveness in the completeness of the work of destruction. God turned the cities into ashes, and thus punitively overthrew them, i.e., so that they were obliterated as cities. Nor was this an exceptional procedure. God dealt thus with the cities because of their ungodliness, and he dealt thus with them that the ungodly of after-times might know what to expect from ungodliness. The darkness relieved. "And delivered righteous Lot, sore distressed by the lascivious life of the wicked (for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their lawless deeds)." There is not brought into view the fact that Lot made choice of Sodom from considerations of worldly advantage, and without considering religious privileges. He was to blame for being in Sodom, and yet, though he should never have been there, he is called righteous Lot, i.e., one who strived to live according to Divine rule. He was righteous in the midst of those who had no regard for law either human or Divine, as seen especially in their sensual behaviour. This had a wearing-down or wearing-out effect on righteous Lot. That righteous man, dwelling among them, was forced to see and hear things which tormented his righteous soul, and so he was worn out. When one has put himself in a wrong position, it is often difficult to get out of it. But because Lot did not allow his godly sensibilities to be blunted, God, with a certain sharpness, effected for him a deliverance.
2. Conclusion drawn.
(1) The bright side. "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation." Peter has been dwelling on the bright side, so as to throw the thought out of form; he now puts the bright side into the conclusion. Noah and Lot were godly; their temptation lay in their being in the neighbourhood of the ungodly. But the Lord found ways and means of delivering them; the one deliverance involving the preservation of the human family, and the other deliverance signifying rectification of position. The Lord that delivered Noah and Lot out of their temptation will deliver all that, like them, are godly out of their temptation, whatever it is, when he sees it to be for his glory.
(2) The dark side. "And to keep the unrighteous under punishment unto the day of judgment." Three classes have been instanced of the unrighteous, i.e., those not right toward God. The Lord found ways and means of checking them; so all like them will be checked. The time will come when God will place them under punishment, to be kept under it unto the day of judgment. Let us, then, be warned off the rocks on which men long ago perished and are perishing still.
III. OBJECTS OF PUNISHMENT.
1. On account of sensuality. "But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of defilement." This is connected with the thought of punishment. The teachers are now thought of as already present. The evil had already commenced, though it had not reached its height. They are singled out for punishment on account of their walking after the flesh in the lust whose object is that which defiles.
2. Or, account of lawlessness.
(1) The lawlessness described. "And despise dominion. Daring, self-willed, they tremble not to rail at dignities." They arc next singled out for punishment on account of their lawlessness. There is the same association in Jude. They "despise" (Jude's word means "set at naught") dominion or lordship (especially in Christ). In their objection to be ruled they go great lengths ("daring"), making self their rule ("self-willed"). In their presumption and self-assertion they tremble not - though it should make them tremble - to rail at dignities (adopting Jude's expression). The reference seems to be to dignities belonging to the heavenly world. They pay no regard, in what they say, to rank bestowed by God.
(2) The lawlessness condemned. "Whereas angels, though greater in might and power, bring not a railing judgment against them before the Lord." Here Peter seems to assume acquaintance with what Jude says. Michael the archangel, with all self-restraint, and having regard to the original dignity of Satan, in contending with him simply said, "The Lord rebuke thee." Peter brings forward the angels (good) generally as greater in might and power than men are, and asserts that they do not retaliate upon the railers in what they bring up before the Lord.
(3) The lawlessness punished. "But these, as creatures without reason, born mere animals, to be taken and destroyed, railing in matters whereof they are ignorant, shall in their destroying surely be destroyed, suffering wrong as the hire of wrong-doing." Here Peter flashes out against the false teachers. He thinks of irrational brutes, born with nothing higher than an animal nature, to be taken and destroyed. They are also irrational in railing in matters beyond them, and shall have a similar fate. In their destruction as responsible beings they shall surely be destroyed, getting their reward in wrong inflicted on them for wrong done by them (in railing).
3. On account of luxurious living. "Men that count it pleasure to revel in the daytime, spots and blemishes, reveling in their love-feasts while they feast with you." The reference is to luxurious living. Such living shows itself chiefly in banquets whose natural time is the night. To regard banqueting in the daytime with peculiar zest was the sign of a very diseased state of mind. It was a more serious thing to connect luxurious living with the love-feasts. That made the false teachers spots of dirt, blemishes, at those holy gatherings at which they were present, while they feasted with Christ's people.
4. On account of sensuality. "Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; enticing unsteadfast souls." There was the sensual look, apparently, even at the love-feasts. This was accompanied by restlessness in sin, reflected also in the eye. Those to whom the bait was held out, and who became their prey, were souls not yet established in faith and the pursuit of pure pleasure - men, according to the after-representation, only a few paces from heathenism.
5. Or, account of covetousness.
(1) How their covetousness is regarded. "Having a heart exercised in covetousness; children of cursing." Here, again, greed follows on sensuality. Spiritual gymnastic is needed to counteract the greed of the heart; gymnastic was employed by these teachers to the increase of the greed of the heart. As greed increased, the blight came down on their spiritual nature. The ripe result was that, in the ravenousness of greed, they became "children of the curse." That is the Hebrew way of saying that the curse found its way deep into their nature.
(2) Comparison with Balaam. "Forsaking the right way, they went astray, having followed the way of Balaam the son of Beer, who loved the hire of wrong-doing; but he was rebuked for his own transgression: a dumb ass spake with man's voice and stayed the madness of the prophet." Balaam, forsaking the right way, went astray. It was wrong for him ever to think of going to Barak, who wished him to curse Israel. "Thy way," he was told, "is perverse before me." He was swayed from the right way by loving the hire of wrong-doing. "And God's anger was kindled because he went." He was rebuked for what was not forced upon him, but was his own transgression. It was a telling rebuke to be stayed in his mad journey by the dumb animal speaking with man's voice. Like Balaam, these men were prostituting their powers in the service of gain, and would not fare better in the end.
6. On account of false promises.
(1) Comparisons. "These are springs without water, and mists driven by a storm; for whom the blackness of darkness hath been reserved." Under strong feeling, Peter seizes on natural imagery to describe the false teachers. To a traveler in a desert nothing can be more grateful than the appearance of a well; but, when he comes up to it, and finds it without water, he receives a bitter disappointment. In a protracted drought the farmer keenly scans the face of the sky; a misty cloud is hailed by him, and he watches its changes and course, but it is driven past by the storm-wind, and not a drop of rain descends. So those false teachers held out promises which they did not fulfill; and in another natural appearance he sees their end foreshadowed - a meteor seen for a little, and then passing into the blackness of darkness.
(2) Sensual promises. "For, uttering great swelling words of vanity, they entice in the lusts of the flesh, by lasciviousness, those who are just escaping from them that live in error." Their words are regarded as swollen out beyond the ordinary size, while they are filled with emptiness. It is in a sensual condition of mind that they use their swollen words. The bait they hold out is sensual gratification. "Their guilt is exhibited as aggravated by the fact that the persons whom they plied with the vile bait of sensual indulgence were those least fit to resist it; not men who were established in the new faith, but men who had but recently broken off from the ranks of heathenism, or who had as yet got but a few paces, as it were, in the process of separating themselves from their old pagan life" (Salmond).
(3) Promising liberty, while themselves bound. "Promising them liberty, while they themselves are bondservants of corruption; for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he also brought into bondage." In swollen language they promised liberty: but were they themselves free? No; they were the bondservants of destructive lusts. When their lusts were destroying them, and they could not cease gratifying them, what was that but bondage?
7. On account of their apostasy.
(1) Last state worse than the first. "For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state is become worse with them than the first." Peter thinks of them, in conclusion, as punished in their moral degradation. They were once the prey of the miasmata - the defilements - of the world. There supervened a blessed time of escape. This was when they had knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (the name being appreciatingly dwelt upon). The word is used which means "appreciative knowledge;" and it would seem to be implied that there was reality in their spiritual experience. But the time came when they were again entangled in the miasmata of the world, and overcome by them. In that case they were the worse for the experience through which they had come. We cannot have conviction of sin and appreciation of Christ, and put away from us that experience, without our bringing evil into our nature far beyond what we were capable of in our former state. Judas was a worse man that he had come into such nearness to Christ, than he would otherwise have been. Therefore let us be careful how we treat visitations of the Spirit, solemn experience.
(2) Preferable evil state. "For it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered unto them." The false teachers again are represented as having known the new life of Christianity, as having turned to the holy commandment delivered to them. Better that they had remained in heathenism than, after knowing the new life, to turn back from the holy commandment upon which it depends. Therefore let us be careful how we treat Christian rules of conduct. There is a sacredness about them which is not to be trifled with.
(3) Proverb explanatory of relapse. "It has happened unto them, according to the true proverb, The dog turning to his own vomit again, and the sow that had washed to wallowing in the mire." This double proverb is not explanatory of the last state being worse than the first, but simply of the being again entangled and overcome. Though they knew the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they were not beyond temptation to sensuality. Their relapse took place in their giving the old nature the ascendency. The comparisons employed are not complimentary. The false teachers are compared to the dog and the sow - animals abhorred in the East. They have returned to the filth of heathenism as the dog to its vomit, as the sow that had washed to its wallowing in the mire. Therefore let us be careful not to give in to the old nature. - R.F.
I. THE NECESSITY FOR PREACHERS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
1. This appears from a consideration of man's nature. Human beings are constituted with moral capabilities and with faculties to be employed in a moral life. Intelligence, conscience, and will are the prerogative of men among the inhabitants of this earth. And even the most degraded, those most nearly allied in habits to the brutes, are susceptible of elevation in the scale of moral life. He who examines, fairly and completely, the nature of man must admit that he is made for righteousness.
2. And the requirement of God corresponds with the nature of man. God calls men to righteousness, holds them responsible to himself, as the righteous Governor and Judge, for obedience or disobedience to his commands.
3. Yet it is not to be questioned that the ideal of human character and conduct has not been reached, that unrighteousness has prevailed amongst men, that in the highest sense "there is none that doeth righteousness" - none who has no failings to acknowledge, none who has a perfect obedience to present.
II. THE IMPORT OF THE PREACHING OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
1. The standard of righteousness has to be maintained. It would be base indeed on the part of the preacher were he to substitute an inferior standard for the Law of God, were he to accommodate his teaching to the corrupt nature and the ungodly life of the sinful. The Law, which is holy, just, and good, must he upheld in all its purity and in all its rigidity. And this may he done with the assurance that the conscience, even of the iniquitous, will in all likelihood acknowledge that the right is a higher and better standard than the agreeable or the customary, however human infirmity may have practically adopted and followed the latter. Every minister of religion is bound to insist upon a scriptural rule of right, to apply the laws of morality to all parts of human nature, to all relations of human society.
2. The violators of the Law of righteousness have to be rebuked. Probably the reference in the text is especially to this aspect of the preacher's service. It is not enough to say, "This is what men should be and do!" It is necessary to address to the disobedient the remonstrances, the rebukes, the warnings, which are authorized by the Word of God. Expostulation, reproach, and admonition are not the most agreeable or the most easy parts of a preacher's work; yet they are indispensable, and are often most valuable in their effects. Many faithful preachers have, like Noah, to lament that their rebukes and warnings seem to have been in vain; yet they have the satisfaction of having done their duty and delivered their soul.
3. The restoration of righteousness by means of the Divine Mediator has to he proclaimed. There is a righteousness which is by the Law; but there is also a higher righteousness which is by faith in Christ unto those who believe, and this is exactly adapted to the needs of sinful men, who upon repentance and faith may become "just with God." It is the privilege and the delight of the Christian preacher to exhibit the beauty and appropriateness of this spiritual righteousness, and to invite men to use those means by which they may secure this for themselves.
III. THE METHODS OF THE PREACHING OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
1. The most natural and obvious method is by the utterances of the living voice, the organ by which, according to the constitution imposed upon man, truth is communicated and impression produced by the rousing of deep and divinely implanted emotion.
2. Yet there are other means of preaching righteousness, for which some may be qualified who are not gifted with effective speech. The press affords in these days an outlet for much consecrated Christian energy, and most important is it, when gifted authors are found endeavouring to lower by their writings the standard of human morality, that Christian thinkers and writers should wield their pen, in all departments of literature, in the service of righteousness and of God.
3. In any case righteousness may be, and should be, preached in the impressive and effective language of the life.
IV. THE RESULTS OF THE PREACHING OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
1. Such preaching must be witness of condemnation against those who refuse it.
2. But to those who accept and obey the Divine message it is the means of salvation and of life eternal. - J.R.T.
I. THE DISTINCTION IN HUMAN CHARACTER DRAWN BY THE LORD AND JUDGE OF MANKIND. Men discriminate often upon unsound principles, always with insufficient data. They are guided very much in their estimate of their fellow-men by such considerations as social position and social acceptableness. They cannot take into their deliberation the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hence the inadequacy of all human attempts to create a moral distinction among men. Now, according to St. Peter, our Divine Ruler distinguishes men into
(1) the godly, or those animated by true piety, by a reverence for God's Law, and a responsive appreciation of God's love; and
(2) the unjust, or those who have no respect for the law of rectitude, human or Divine.
II. THE CORRESPONDING DISTINCTION OF TREATMENT ON THE PART OF THE LORD AND JUDGE OF MANKIND.
1. The godly are not exempted from temptation, but are delivered out of it. In illustration of this principle of the Divine government St. Peter refers to Noah, whose lot was cast in a generation of sinners and scoffers, but who was preserved from yielding to the evil solicitations to which he was exposed; and to Lot, who, though vexed with the lascivious life and lawless deeds of his wicked neighbours, was yet delivered from participation in their guilt and their doom. Certain it is that Divine providence allows the purest and the best to come into constant contact with the bond - slaves of sin, doubtless in order that their virtue may be tested and their character strengthened. But never does God abandon those who confide in his care, and who comply with his conditions of safety. The means by which he protects and delivers his own are known to himself, and he makes use of them in his own time. Thus, however formidable may be the temptations to which the godly are exposed, a way of escape is made for them, and they are delivered from the hand of the enemy.
2. The unrighteous cannot escape just retribution. It does not matter how high is their station, in what esteem they are held by their fellow-creatures, what is their power and their skill. All who defy and all who forget God must surely learn that they are subject to the control of infinite justice, administered by omnipotence. The apostle, in the context, adduces illustrations of retributive righteousness, and reminds his readers that the rebel angels were cast into Tartarus, that a flood was brought upon the ancient world of the ungodly, and that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were turned into ashes. For all impenitent sinners there is punishment, even here and now; and the Scriptures reveal the approach of a day of judgment in which God shall render to every man according to his works, and in which those who have exalted themselves against the holy Supreme shall awake to "shame and everlasting contempt." - J.R.T.
I. THE SINNER'S ILLUSION AS TO HIS WORK AND HIS WAGES. Life is represented as a bondman's service, and in any case the representation is appropriate and just. But experience of human character and history leads to the conclusion, which coincides with the teaching of revelation, that men constantly engage and continue in the service of sin under a double illusion.
1. They imagine the work which they undertake to be easy and agreeable. By many devices the tyrant sin disguises the evils of his service, and induces his victims to continue in it to their souls' injury and ruin. The pleasures of sin are for a season, and they who indulge in them are like those who eat of the fair apples of the Dead Sea, which turn to ashes in the mouth.
2. They imagine the reward of the service to be liberal and satisfactory. As Balaam lusted for the gold which was to be his hire, as Judas clutched the thirty pieces of silver which were the price of his Master's blood, so the bondmen of ungodliness deceive themselves with the imagination that the reward they will partake will enrich and satisfy their nature. Whether it be wealth or pleasure, power or praise, they set their hearts upon it, and it becomes to them as the supreme good. In such an illusion years of sin and folly may be passed.
II. THE SINNER'S AWAKENING TO A SENSE OF THE REALITY AS TO BOTH THE WORK AND THE WAGES OF SIN.
1. The service is, sooner or later, found to be mere slavery. The chains may be gilded, but they are chains for all that. The dwelling may have the semblance of a palace, but it is in fact a prison. The master's speech may be honeyed, but it is the speech of a tyrant, cruel and relentless. 2, The hire of wrong-doing is not payment, but punishment. "The way of transgressors" is found to be "hard." "The wages of sin is death."
APPLICATION. Let these considerations lead the sinner to forsake the tyrant's service, repudiate the tyrant's claims, and fling back the tyrant's hire. - J.R.T.
1. In denouncing the delusions promoted by false teachers, St. Peter passes from invective to irony. He exhibits in this verse, not merely the impiety, but the very absurdity, of sinners, who, themselves enslaved to sin, are so unreasonable as to offer freedom to their dupes and victims! The language which he uses gives an insight into religious truths of the highest practical importance.
I. THE TRUE CHRISTIAN IS FREE FROM SIN, AND IS IN BONDAGE TO CHRIST. There was a time when he was the captive, the thrall of error, perhaps of vice or of crime. From that bondage Divine grace delivered him. But, in renouncing the serfdom to sin, he became the Lord's freedman. Yet the highest use the Christian makes of his freedom is to submit himself to the holiest and the kindest of Masters. Even apostles felt it an honour to subscribe themselves bondservants of the Lord Christ. The will of the Saviour is the law of the saved.
II. THE FALSE CHRISTIAN IS FREE FROM CHRIST, AND IN BONDAGE TO SIN, He whose religion is only a name may call himself Christ's, but in fact he has renounced the yoke that is easy and the burden that is light; he has given himself over to work the will of the tyrant who has usurped the throne which is by right Divine the proper inheritance of the Son of God. He may boast his liberty, but the boast is empty and vain.
III. THE PROMISE OF LIBERTY ON THE PART OF SIN'S SLAVES IS FALLACIOUS AND VAIN. In politics it has always been common for those bound by their own lusts and vanity to make loud professions of liberty, and to invite men to partake of its delights. These were the men of whom Milton said they
"Bawl for freedom in their senseless mood,
I. IT IS THE WAY DESIGNED BY A RIGHTEOUS GOD. There is nothing that more signally distinguishes the true God from the deities of the heathen than his inflexible righteousness. His character is righteous; his works and the administration of his moral government are righteous; the laws which he promulgates for the direction of his subjects are righteous. "Righteous and true are thy ways, O thou King of the ages!"
II. IT IS A WAY CONSTRUCTED BY A RIGHTEOUS SAVIOUR. The execution of God's righteous plans for man's salvation was by him entrusted to his own Son. In Christ God appears before men as "a just God and a Saviour." The mediatorial dispensation in all its provisions is distinguished by righteousness; it is a revelation of righteousness as much as of love.
III. IT IS A WAY WHICH AVOIDS THE PATHS OF UNRIGHTEOUSNESS. This, it may be objected, is tautological. But it is well to insist upon the fact that there can be no fellowship between light and darkness; that however professed travelers in the narrow way may disgrace their profession by unrighteous conduct, the religion of Christ can tolerate no such practices. Other religions may require only verbal assent or ceremonial conformity, but Christianity demands righteousness of life and, what is more, righteousness of heart. "Except your righteousness," says the Founder of our faith, "exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven."
IV. IT IS THE WAY TRODDEN BY RIGHTEOUS MEN. The interest and attractiveness of a road depend in no small measure upon those who are its habitual frequenters. Judged by this test, the way of righteousness has attractions far beyond any other. It is the path which has for centuries been trodden by the great and good. The stimulus and encouragement afforded by the noblest and the best society are there enjoyed.
V. IT IS THE WAY WHICH LEADS TO THE NEW HEAVENS AND THE NEW EARTH WHEREIN DWELLETH RIGHTEOUSNESS. AS is the road, so is its termination, its destination. If righteousness has a hard battle to fight for existence here on earth, it is comforting and inspiriting to be assured that the state to which we are advancing is one where unrighteousness is altogether and for ever unknown.
1. Seek and find this way.
2. Having entered upon it, turn not back, but persevere even unto the end. - J.R.T.