For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but the one who now restrains it will continue until he is taken out of the way.
I. THERE IS A MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS. By this expression the apostle probably means a mystery the character of which is lawless.
1. We may expect to meet with new mysteries. While time and inquiry resolve some mysteries, they bring upon us fresh ones. We are not to expect to be able to understand all the forces and influences with which we are surrounded. It is enough that we are in the hands of God who knows all, and trusting in Christ who can lead us safely through the darkness.
2. New mysteries may be characterized by new lawlessness. The answer to our inquiries may be very unsatisfactory in revealing only evil. There are strange novelties which are obscure in all points but their moral character, and that is plainly evil. If so, we may hope for no good from them, and need not further interest ourselves in them.
3. All lawlessness is mysterious. How did it originate? How is its existence possible? Why does not God sweep it away? These questions have perplexed men in all ages. We bow before them in helpless, pained wonder.
II. THERE IS A RESTRAINT ON THE MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS.
1. Its full power is not yet revealed. There are those who treat all sin with unbecoming levity, because they do not yet see its terrible fruits. They are playing with a torpid adder, that may awake at any moment and inflict a fatal wound. No one knows what hidden possibilities of harm lurk in the deep caverns of undeveloped sin. There are volcanoes in the hearts of some quiet men which may burst into destructive fires.
2. Human means may be used to restrain the mystery of lawlessness. Government, law, society, healthy habits of the majority, keep it down for a time.
3. God holds the mystery of lawlessness in check. He is supreme over its wildest raging. "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh." God restrains the superabundant wrath of man (Psalm 76:10).
III. THE HIDDEN MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS WILL BE REVEALED. The volcano must break into eruption some day. Evil cannot slumber forever. Hypocrisy will tire of its meek, innocent demeanour. The harvest of sin will have to be reaped. Let not any man put his confidence in the secretness or slowness of the processes of evil. The more they are hidden now, the worse will be the appalling outburst of them when the restraint under which they groan at present is released. The longer the wild horses are held in by the leash, the fiercer will be their mad gallop when they break loose.
IV. CHRIST WILL CONQUER THE MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS. Evil will not long be rampant. One fearful rebellion and then a tremendous defeat.
1. Christ is to be the Conqueror of it. He came to destroy the works of the devil. We could not effect this great work. He, our Saviour, does it for us.
2. Christ is to come again for this object. When the mystery is revealed, Christ's "manifestation" follows.
3. Christ conquers with a breath. His first work was difficult, involving his death. His last work will be divinely simple, and yet sublimely successful. - W.F.A.
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work
I. LAWLESSNESS WILL PRECEDE IT. On this subject St. Paul leaves no room for doubt. He speaks of a certain particular growth and spirit of evil which must have full scope and play before the Advent. Nor does he leave us in any uncertainty as to the direction in which we must look for the rise of that state of things which will bring down upon itself God's latest, surest, and direst judgment. He selects for it a particular name, not one of the common names for sin in the Scripture, but a name which he only uses twice or thrice in all his writings, and which has always a very definite and precise meaning. Our English version renders this word in one verse as "iniquity," and in the next verse "the wicked one;" but in the original the word is substantially the same in both verses — in the one "the mystery of lawlessness doth already work;" and, in the other, "then shall the lawless one be revealed." St. Paul's statement is that already, when he was writing this letter eighteen hundred years ago, there was at work in the world, if not in some degree even in the Church, a spirit of lawlessness, which was, however, kept in check by some definite impediment, which he had evidently explained by word of mouth to the privileged Thessalonians. He, perhaps, does not refer to the strength of civil and national government, as it was then exhibited in the great Roman Empire, as exercising a salutary, though rough, control over the tendencies of fallen nature toward insubordination and anarchy; but, he distinctly says, there will come a time when the controlling power will be weakened or withdrawn, and then lawlessness will come to the surface and front of the world; and will set up its own law, which shall be that of menace, intimidation, and violence; or else these same things under more numerous and more subtle nomenclatures, and in full blown insolence, shall bring matters to that pass, that nothing less than the intervention and interposition of the Divine Lord and Judge can restore tranquility and harmony to the dislocated and disorganized earth.
II. THE LAWLESS WILL THEN BE REVEALED. St. Paul seems to prepare us, in passing from lawlessness to the lawless one, for a sort of incarnation of lawlessness — principle, power, or person, sitting, as it were, in the very temple of God, "showing himself that he is God," and yet, in reality, deriving from Satan all "the powers and signs of lying wonders" by which he deludes the unhappy victims who are not fortified and preoccupied by the devout love of the truth. Why should it be a thing incredible with you that the Empire of Unrule shall at last have a personal head in whom the final discomfiture by the Advent of the great Lord shall manifest itself so that "he who runs may read"? But the thought profitable to us all is this — "lawlessness" is the predicted characteristic of the last age. May I not ask, Is it not now abroad on the Continent of Europe? Is it not abroad in one integral portion of what we still fondly term "the United Kingdom"? Is it not abroad in the family and the Church — in the workshop and the study — in the literature of a "science falsely so called" — and in the lurking places of political fanatics, who "count not their lives dear to them" if they can only but embitter an existence or topple down a throne? It is working everywhere with ingenious industry among the time honoured institutions of society itself. Frightful outbreaks of lawlessness have startled us again and again, until they have almost ceased to startle. Soon the newspaper will be fiat and dull which records not one of them — assassinations and attempted assassinations of rulers crowned and uncrowned, despotic, constitutional, or democratic — it matters not. "The foundations of the earth are indeed out of course." The reign of lawlessness is begun, though a few years, or a few tens of years, may yet intervene before the actual unveiling of the lawless one.
(Dean Vaughan.)I. THE "MYSTERY OF INIQUITY" is the power unseen, unknown except by its effects, which is ever working in the world for evil — working against the law and will of God, corrupting what has been well done and well begun by man, causing misery in the natural world in all that man has to do with, through the mischief which it works in the moral and spiritual world, in the heart and soul of men.
1. Try to trace evil back to its origin, and you soon see that your search is vain. God did not create this to be the bane of His handiwork. Are we then to conclude that evil is an independent being, self-subsisting, with a will and deadly energy of its own?
2. Here, then, is part of the "mystery of iniquity"; and another part is the mystery of its working. See how we are born to evil, as surely as the sparks fly upward. Alongside the primeval blessing, "Increase and multiply," there has sprung up a countervailing curse on all our race in the increase and multiplication of sin. The seeds of evil are propagated from parent to child, each little one bringing into the world as his spiritual inheritance a propensity to evil, which mingles with all his propensities to good — a fresh contribution to the already abundant growth of evil; a mere germ at first, but unfolding speedily, growing with the growth of the child as the worm in the bud, and strengthening beyond his strength.
3. So active, so subtle, so successful, is the "mystery of iniquity" in its working; and what is it in its consequences? (Genesis 3:17; Romans 5:12). How mysterious are the chastisements which fall upon us! We may be sure our sin will find us out; though it be long, yet it will not tarry. Still more mysterious is the working out of the consequences of the parent's sin upon the children, perhaps even unto the third and fourth generations. The children suffer in body — they are a prey to the same virulent hereditary disease, they drag a blighted existence; or their minds are left untrained, unguarded, a seed plot for every sinful thought that may alight upon them; they are left to drudge in indigence.
II. Great, therefore, without doubt, is the "mystery of iniquity"; but, thanks be to God, still GREATER, INFINITELY GREATER, IS THE "MYSTERY OF GODLINESS" — the secret, unseen, unmeasured power which lies in the inspiration, guidance, comfort of His good Spirit, which is within us all, and is freely, abundantly poured out on all who truly seek it. Already it has bruised the serpent's head, it has shown us the way by which we may avoid the fascination of its basilisk eyes, and by which, even when it has fastened its fangs upon us, we may recover from its deadly sting.
(W. G. Humphrey, B. D.)
I. THE MYSTERY OF INIQUITY.
1. Its characteristics.(1) It is a mystery, something whose approaches are not open as those of a fair antagonist, but subtle and secret. The term is with two exceptions used in a good sense of some part of the hidden purposes of God's love, long concealed, but at length revealed. Thus we read of "the wisdom of God is a mystery" — the "mysteries of the kingdom" — "the mystery of godliness," etc. When, therefore, we find a word so consecrated to the deep things of God here applied to a principle of evil we are prepared for something extraordinarily dark and perplexing. This at once proves that the prophecy cannot apply to Mohammedanism, heathenism, or infidelity, or any avowed enemy of God's truth.(2) It is an iniquitous principle, and is expressly referred to Satan. It is not the contrivance of man (ver. 9).(3) It springs out of the bosom of the Church, and its workings are found within the precincts of that Church (ver. 4).
2. Trace the working of this fearful system.(1) In primitive times the Church was persecuted — who would have believed that in a brief lapse of time the Church herself should become a bloody persecutor? What could have effected such a frightful change but the working of Satan?(2) For what did the primitive Church endure affliction? It was because they abhorred idolatry. Who, then, would have believed it possible that the children of the martyrs would worship the Virgin Mary instead of Diana, and St. Catherine, St. Agnes, etc., instead of the Muses and the Graces? What but the "mystery of iniquity" could have accomplished this?(3) Take the stupendous miracles wrought by her first founders; miracles so unquestionable that none ventured to impugn them. How shall their credibility be assailed? By questioning or denying them? No; by base imitation and the multiplication of spurious miracles and lying wonders (ver. 9). As surely as pure Christianity is founded on true miracles, so surely is the whole superstructure of the mystery of iniquity raised upon false ones.
3. The deepest scheme of Satan's malignity is that he has worked the machinery of the Church against herself, and availed himself of Divine ordinances and spiritual institutions, as so many channels of destruction to souls. It is true that there are some parts of the Christian machinery that Satan never attempts to use if he can avoid it.(1) Take, e.g., the Holy Scriptures. Wherever the mystery is fully developed the Word of God is withheld from the people. In Protestant countries, where the popular voice calls for the Bible, the priests are ashamed to withhold it, and there Satan draws weapons against the truth even from Scripture itself.(2) So with preaching; that is suppressed wherever the mystery fully works. But if men will preach, then even this shall be made a proclamation of error, and monks and friars shall publish the merits of saints, etc., instead of the merits of Christ, and their ministry shall arouse a dormant Church to deeds of blood.(3) But take the Christian ministry — how simple its origin and obvious its Scriptural duties. And what has Satan made of it? He has transformed the preaching, teaching, praying servant of the Church into an arrogant, sacrificing order with mysterious powers inventing the mystery of the confessional. Of all the transformation of the mystery that of priestcraft is the worst.(4) Nor have the sacraments escaped. To the simple element of water in Baptism superstition has added oil, and even spittle, and divers ceremonies and exorcisms, and has attached to the mere performance of the office necessary grace making it the instrument of regeneration, substituting the outward form for the inward power. But of how much further corruption has the other sacrament been the subject? What so simple and touching as its primitive institution? Could it have been believed possible to convert it into the Roman mass, with its denial of the cup and consequent destruction of communion, its consecrated wafer, said to contain the body, blood, etc., of Christ, its pompous ceremonial and idolatrous worship? What but Satanic working could have produced so deplorable a defection from truth?
II. THE PERIOD OF ITS DEVELOPMENT.
1. The Evangelical prophet affirms that this mystery did already work; its ambitious purposes restrained by the dominance of the Imperial power. Yet it worked — it diffused itself through the Christian Churches as a baneful principle, corrupting the faith of some and the practice of others, at once introducing Judaizing teachers and heathen vices preparing the way for the successful corruption of the great apostasy "when he that now letteth shall be taken out of the way." The seeds of every corrupt principle and false doctrine, which has since disturbed and divided the Church, were sown by the great enemy under the very eyes of the apostles.
2. We must content ourselves with a birdseye view of the rise and progress of this baneful power, observing its marvellous tenacity of life under the most adverse circumstances.(1) The conversion of Constantine closed the Pagan dynasty of Rome, and while this event seemed to favour the progress of the gospel it opened the door for the aggrandization of the priesthood, which ultimately led to the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome.(2) Scarcely had the man of sin been well seated on the eminence which marked him out as Antichrist than the Northern barbarians swept all before them in Europe, but amidst the general wreck the Popedom survives and converts the invaders to its creed.(3) Then arose Mohammedanism, which paralyzed the Eastern Church and leaves Rome without a rival worthy of the name.(4) The dark ages succeed, and the mystery reigns undisturbed during a period of spiritual and intellectual stagnation.(5) But soon a formidable enemy appears in Luther, and men fondly hoped that the reign of Antichrist was at an end. Sad delusion! Loyola appeared in the conflict, and luxurious Rome became ascetic and missionary, and won abroad what it had lost at home.(6) Time rolls on. Protestantism becomes lukewarm and worldly minded; it makes no conquests, and the ancient mystery undermines its influence. Suddenly a new enemy appears in revolutionary and atheistic France, and Romanism seems to have received its death blow. Not so; within half a century of her destruction the Archbishop of Paris announces the exhibition of a drop of the Saviour's blood and a drop of the Virgin's milk.(7) Never since the Reformation has this mystery pursued its war against light and liberty more rigorously than it has recently.
III. HOW AND WHEN SHALL IT BE SUBDUED AND DESTROYED? Not until the Saviour's Advent (ver. 8). Some vainly hope that its overthrow will be accomplished by the cultivation of the human intellect and the diffusion of secular knowledge. Why then did not the talent and philosophy of atheistical France accomplish this? Have we forgotten that that dark Jesuit fraternity has embraced some of the most learned and intelligent of men. What then is to be done?
1. Let every man look to his own soul and pray to be preserved from the working of this mystery.
2. Let all true Protestants combine in spirit and effort to uphold the only one system which can effectually grapple with the system of iniquity.
(Dean Close.)I. THE ACTUAL NATURE OF SIN: "Iniquity." The new revision will prove somewhat clearer than the old version upon this passage.
1. A crime which must be reckoned according to fixed law. The word is "lawlessness." So "iniquity" means inequality, or that which is not up to the standard.
2. A crime which is inherent in personal free will. "That wicked" is the lawless one: a person, nor a community.
3. A crime which is the vitiating force of our humanity: "already." It poisons and corrupts the age.
II. THE INEXPLICABLE PECULIARITIES OF SIN. "Mystery of iniquity." This verse need not be wasted on the Pope; all sin is Antichrist (1 John 4:8).
1. Its origin. We found it in the universe we entered: where did it come from?
2. Its power. It crushes barriers of the mightiest resistance.
3. Its omnipresence. It urges its way in at our purest moments.
4. Its gloom. It shadows every life and every age it touches.
III. THE TREMENDOUS ACTIVITY OF SIN: "Doth work." The verb is the one which gives us our word "energy."
1. Perpetuating itself. No effort needed to keep it alive.
2. Propagating itself. Myriads of new shoots and species every year.
3. Intensifying itself. Malignity of spirit in old poisonous plants; greater responsibility comes from greater light in this age of ours.A proper consideration of this text will throw illumination upon several others in the Bible:
1. "This abominable thing that I hate" (Jeremiah 44:4). Sin is the one element of disturbance.
2. "The plowing of the wicked is sin" (Proverbs 21:4). The warmth of even honest industry quickens poison in the blood.
3. "The ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12). All sin in the system is absolutely fatal; it works.
4. "The latter end is worse" (2 Peter 2:20). Relapses find men weaker to contend with corruption.
5. "There is no hope: no" (Jeremiah 2:26). Sinners are, positively helpless.
6. "A falling away first" (ver. 3). Things in the world are going to grow worse before they are better.
7. "Come, Lord Jesus." The whole cure is on the way (ver. 8; Revelation 22:20).
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)I. THE MYSTERY OF GODLINESS is a mystery of —
1. Light.(1) Its author is "the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world." In the character, life, death, resurrection of Christ you will find no shade of what is false or insincere.(2) So with His revelation. If it be dark it is with excess of splendour; but throughout there is an utter absence of unreality.(3) No man can understand it but he who has been made sincere and true by the Spirit of God. "The light shineth in darkness, but the darkness comprehendeth it not." But there is light within when the veil is removed from the heart, and the light that is "in the face of Jesus Christ" beams upon the soul.
2. Love.(1) It springs from a love that cannot be guaged, and exhibits a love that cannot be spanned. "Herein is love." The mystery of mysteries is that God "spared not His own Son," etc.(2) The love of Jesus is past finding out. "Greater love hath no man than this," etc. Therefore St. Paul prayed that the Ephesians might "know the love of Christ that passeth knowledge."(3) Christ's whole religion is a religion of love. "The love of Christ constraineth us." "Love one another."
3. Wisdom.(1) Christ is "the wisdom of God," and "in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."(2) His religion is the most exquisite contrivance, and exhibits the most perfect adaptation to accomplish the purpose of its Author. How wondrous the wisdom that has brought the sinful creature back into fellowship and favour with the Holy Creator.
4. Holiness. Its grand end and aim is to accomplish holiness in the redeemed; hence it is emphatically the mystery of godliness. "Be ye holy for I am holy."
II. THE MYSTERY OF INIQUITY is a mystery of —
1. Darkness. Romanism is a perversion of the truth. It has a show and mask of retaining the truth, but only to make it subservient to its dark purposes; so that there is not a single Divine truth in the whole compass of Christianity which has not its parallel caricature. Thus if the wondrous transparency and purity of the "mystery of godliness" is an evidence of its Divine derivation, the wondrous "deceivableness of unrighteousness" in the "mystery of iniquity" is an evidence of its derivation from the prince of darkness. Truth must be from above, and error and falsehood from beneath.
2. Despotism and oppression. The object of the whole economy of Popery is the exaltation of the priesthood. The mysterious leaven which was working in the apostle's day, and ultimately produced this was —(1) On the part of the laity, that carnal mind which loves to indulge its pleasures and passions while it wants the conscience quiet.(2) On the part of the clergy the leaven was a love of power and aggrandisement, that mighty principle that cast down angels from heaven, and our first parents from paradise. So Rome has distorted the mystery of godliness so as largely to obscure its loving aspect. Jesus, instead of being the Mediator, requires to be propitiated. Man is enslaved by means of a sacerdotal system that makes him continually seeking a salvation but never finding it; continually working out a salvation he can never accomplish, hanging in the scales of doubt and vibrating between fear and hope. Thus man is kept submissive under his taskmasters; and inasmuch as Rome teaches that sins are never fully forgiven in this life, its devotees are kept in bondage to their latest breath. According to the principles of Rome a man should give himself up to his ghostly director as completely as a staff is wielded by a man's hand, or as wax is moulded by him who uses it. God only knows what are the fearful scenes of oppression and cruelty that are concealed beneath the mantle of Popery.
3. Subtlety. Of all the systems that ingenuity ever elaborated there is none that can compare with Romanism. Only the prince of darkness is equal to the task. There is more than human subtlety and art in it. Though the structure has been built in different ages, and the elements brought from many quarters, yet it so marvellously coheres, and is so wondrously propped by a thousand subsidiary principles that the only greater mystery in the universe is that "of godliness." It was Satan's last resource; he could not destroy Christianity, so he perverted it and made it subserve his own purposes.
4. Immorality. There are good Roman Catholics, and many have gone to heaven out of Rome; but that is because of the remnant of truth which defies perversion. The whole tenour of the system, however, is contrary to godliness. "The commandments of God are made of none effect through their traditions." Then they poison the springs of holiness by their system of casuistry which seems only intended to enable men to sin without being disturbed. The same effect is produced by their absolution, which stupifies the conscience without giving peace to the soul.Conclusion:
1. Let us adore and cherish the "mystery of godliness," share its power, and delight in its faith, and walk worthy of it.
2. Let us sympathize with, pray for, and endeavour to rescue the victims of the "mystery of iniquity."
I. II. III. IV. (Heubner.) (Bp. Jewell.)
II. III. IV. (Heubner.) (Bp. Jewell.)
III. IV. (Heubner.) (Bp. Jewell.)
(Heubner.) (Bp. Jewell.)