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283

XXIII

THE LORD KNOWETH HOW TO DELIVER

"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. And many shall follow their lascivious doings; by reason of whom the way of the truth shall be evil spoken of. 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. 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 judgement; and spared not the ancient world, but preserved Noah with seven others, a preacher of righteousness, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 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; 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): the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment unto the day of judgement."—2 Peter ii. 1-9.

This second chapter contains much more of a direct description of the heretical teaching and practices from which the converts were in danger, and is full of warning and comfort, both alike drawn from that Old Testament prophecy to the light of which St. Peter has just been urging them to take heed. The chapter has many features and much of its language in common284 with the Epistle of St. Jude. But the opening of the chapter seems a suitable place to call attention to a difference of motive which is manifested in this Epistle and in that. They resemble one another greatly in the illustrations which they have in common, but St. Peter makes a twofold use of them: while showing that the ungodly will assuredly be punished, he comforts the righteous with the lesson that, be they ever so few, even as the eight who were saved at the Deluge, or as Lot, with his diminished family, at the overthrow of Sodom, the Lord knows how to deliver His servants out of trials. Of this latter side of the prophetic picture St. Jude shows us nothing. The evil-doings of the tempters must have waxed grosser in his day, and he is only concerned to preach the certainty of their condemnation. The unbelievers in the wilderness, the angels who sinned, the Cities of the Plain, the error of Balaam, and the overthrow of Korah are all cited in proof that the wicked shall not escape; but he has no word about the deliverance of those whose souls are tortured by the wicked doings of the sinners among whom it is their lot to live.

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. It is as though the Apostle would say, Be not unduly dismayed. The lamp of Old Testament prophecy shows that yours is a lot which has befallen others. As Israel of old was God's people, so the Church of Christ is now. And among them again and again false prophets arose, not only those of Baal and Asherah, not only those who served the calves at Dan and Bethel, but those who called themselves by Jehovah's285 name, and of whom He says to Jeremiah, "The prophets prophesy lies in My name; I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake I unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart" (Jer. xiv. 14). The picture is exactly repeated for these Asian Churches. False teaching had attached itself to the true, used its language, and professed to be at one with it, except in so far as it was superior. For the history of corruptions in the faith repeats itself, and—

"Wherever God erects a house of prayer,

The devil always builds a chapel there."

It is the most perilous aspect of error when it parades itself as the truest truth. Hence the name by which St. Peter calls this dangerous teaching: "destructive heresies." They beguile unstable souls to their ruin. Their exponents choose the name of Christ to call themselves by, but cast aside the doctrine of the Cross both in its discipline for their lives, and as the altar of human redemption. And the men to whom St. Peter alludes were either among the teachers, or put themselves forward to teach; and there was a danger lest their authority should be recognised. They accepted Christ, but not as He loves to be accepted. He has called Himself Lord and Master, and has paid the price which makes Him so; but by their interpretations both of His nature and His office these men in very deed renounced and deserted His service, ignored their relation as His bondservants, and in this way denied the Master that bought them. Soon they chose other masters and became the slaves of the world and the flesh. Thus they entered on the path that leads to286 destruction, and soon it will come upon them. They who destroyed others shall themselves be destroyed. The lords whom they serve have all their empire in this life; and when the end thereof comes, it comes all too soon, and is a dread overthrow of everything they have set store by. On their lot the lamp of prophecy sheds its light: "How suddenly do they perish and come to a fearful end."

And many shall follow their lascivious doings; by reason of whom the way of the truth shall be evil spoken of. St. Jude, who had seen the results of such teaching, says these men turned the very grace of God into lasciviousness; they perverted the teachings of the Gospel concerning the freedom which is in Christ, and their phraseology they made to have a Pauline ring about it. Did he not teach how Christ had made men free? Had they not heard from him that men should cast off trust in the bondage of the Law? In this wise they taught a doctrine of lawless self-indulgence, which they extolled as the token of entire emancipation and of a loftier nature on which the taint of sins could leave no defilement. In the blindness of their hearts, self-chosen blindness, of which they boasted as knowledge, they gave themselves over to the flesh, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

St. Peter knows that baits of this sort appeal to the natural man; that there is within the citadel of the heart a traitorous weakness which is ready to betray it to the enemy. So, with prophetic foresight, he laments, Many shall follow after them. And such sinners do not sin unto themselves: their falling away brings calamity on the whole Church of Christ. It did so then; it does so still. The faithful cannot escape from the obloquy which is due to the faithless; and the287 world, which cares little for Christ, will readily point to the evil lives which it sees in the renegade brethren, and draw the conclusion that in secret the rest run to the same excess of riot. Evil-speaking of this kind became abundantly common in the first Christian centuries, and furnishes the object of many Christian apologies.

And in covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you. St. Paul in writing to Timothy gives a comment which throws much light on these words. He tells of men who consent not to sound words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, thus denying the Master that bought them. He speaks of them as bereft of the truth, supposing that godliness is a way of gain; and he adds, "They that desire to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare, and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Tim. vi. 3-10). From the first days of the Church's history we see, from the instances of Ananias and Sapphira, and of Simon, with his offer of money to the Apostles, that both among the disciples and the would-be teachers covetousness made itself very apparent. The communistic basis on which the society was constituted lent itself to the schemes of those who desired to make a gain of their Christian profession. In the time when St. Peter wrote the evil had spread. Teachers were discovering that, by a modification or adaptation of the Christian language and doctrines, they could draw after them many followers. These were the feigned words to which the Apostle alludes, and the contributions of their288 satisfied hearers were proving a gainful merchandise. The Gnostic teachers were of various sorts, but of all alike the language was boastful as coming of superior insight; great, swelling words they spake, having men's persons in regard because of the prospects of advantage. The evil was a sore one, and is so wherever it finds entry. And later ages have also known somewhat of its mischief. It is the wisdom of all Christian communities so to order themselves that their teachers and guides may be safe from this temptation. For such teachers do not stop at small beginnings of error, but prophesy smooth things, and close their eyes at evil; nay, in this case they seem to have encouraged sensual living, as though it were an indication of the freedom of which they boasted.

Whose sentence now from of old lingereth not, and their destruction slumbereth not. In thought the Apostle reads the book of prophecy. It is as if he said, "It is written in the prophetic word." And when the overthrow of the sinners comes to pass, those who behold it may say, "Thus is the prophecy fulfilled." The doom of such sinners is sure. They may seem to live their lives with impunity for a while, as though God's eternal law were inoperative; but the issue is certain. None such escape. God's mills grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small. And the lot of such men is destruction. Of illustrations the Apostle chooses three, applying each to a different vice of these teachers of error. These men were proud; so were the angels that sinned, but their pride was only a prelude to their fall. These men were disobedient; so were the antediluvian sinners, and would neither hearken nor turn, and so the Flood came and swept them all away. These men were sensual;289 so were the dwellers in the Cities of the Plain, and their overthrow remains still a memorial of God's wrath against such sinners. Verily the sentence of all such men is written from of old.

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 judgement. To each of the three instances which St. Peter adduces the reader is left to supply the unmistakable conclusion, "Neither will He spare the sinners of to-day." The sentences are all the more solemn from their incompleteness. Some have thought that the reference in this verse is to the narrative found in Gen. vi. 3; but that account is very full of difficulties, and there is no mention of a judgement upon those who offended. It seems more sound exposition to take the Apostle's words as spoken of him concerning whom Christ has told us (John viii. 44) that he was a murderer from the beginning and stood not in the truth, and of the condemnation of whose pride St. Paul speaks to Timothy (1 Tim. iii. 6). For him and for his fellow-sinners the Gospel teaches us (Matt. xxv. 41) that eternal fire was prepared, and an apostle (James ii. 19) says that "the devils believe and shudder," it must be in apprehension of a coming judgement. All that St. Peter here says is implied in these Scriptural allusions to Satan and his fall; and it is more prudent to apply to them the highly figurative language of the Apostle here, which is exactly after his manner, than to seek for fanciful interpretations of the Mosaic story. We may rest assured by the way in which these things are spoken of, though but dimly, by Christ and His Apostles, that they formed a portion of Jewish religious teaching and constituted part of the faith of St. Peter290 and his contemporaries, though there is but little mention of the fallen angels in the Old Testament.

And spared not the ancient world, but preserved Noah with seven others, a preacher of righteousness, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly. Here the Apostle points to a consolation for the converts amid their trials. The ungodly do not escape, be their multitude ever so great. A world full of sinners is involved in one common overthrow. Nor are the righteous forgotten, though their number be but few. The lamp of prophecy sheds much light here. Amid all God's dispensations toward Israel, His faithful ones were the remnant only; but these were saved by the grace of the Lord, they were brought out from the destruction, and not forsaken, and had a promise that they should take root downward and bear fruit upward. The words in which St. Peter describes the chief person of the few saved in the Deluge appear intended to point out that feature in Noah's history which most resembled the lot of the Asian Churches. They were now, as he was of old, God's heralds in the midst of a naughty world; and to bring to their minds the thought of his long-sustained opposition and mockery could hardly fail to nerve them to stand fast. What lot could be more desperate than the Patriarch's? For a hundred and twenty years by action and by word he published his message, and it fell on deaf ears; yet God was guarding him (ἐφύλαξεν) through it all, and words could not express more complete safety than when the early record tells us, ere the Flood came, "The Lord shut him in."

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.291 These cities stood in a land fair enough to be likened to the garden of the Lord. To Lot himself their fertile fields had been a temptation, and by yielding thereto he brought on himself a plenitude of sorrow; and the sacred record counts his deliverance rather to the faith and righteousness of Abraham than to himself. God remembered Abraham, and brought Lot out of the overthrow. One of the fairest parts of His world God condemned for the wickedness of them that inhabited it. Nature was defaced for man's sin, and still lies desolate as a perpetual homily against such ungodly living as often comes of wealth and fulness of bread. After such a state were these false teachers seeking while they made their gain of their disciples; and in the later times of which St. Jude speaks, having fostered all that was carnal within and around them, in those things which they understood naturally, there they cast themselves away.

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). The thrice-named righteousness of Lot is perhaps thus set down because of the struggle which it must have been to maintain the fear of Abraham's God among such sinful surroundings. Lot was in the land of the enemy, and his deliverance is pictured as a very rescue: he was saved, yet so as by fire. He had gone down into the plain with thoughts of a life of abundance, and it may be of ease, a contrast to the wandering life which he had hitherto shared with Abraham. Instead of this he found anguish and distress of mind, which no amount of temporal prosperity could alleviate; and to this would be added self-reproach. It was of his292 own choice that he was dwelling among them. The Apostle paints his misery in the strongest terms. He was distressed; and of the sights and sounds on every side, and never ceasing, he made a torture to his soul. It was no mere offence to him that these things were so: it was very anguish to see men setting at defiance every law human and Divine. To behold the evils of a lascivious life waxing rampant in the midst of the Christian Churches, and countenanced by those who assumed the office of teachers, must have been an agony to the faithful akin to that with which Lot tortured himself. St. Peter would strengthen the drooping hearts of the brethren; and no greater comfort could there be found than this which he offers, taking the lamp of prophecy and shedding its rays of hope into the dark places of their lives.

The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation. Already he has given the lesson (i. 6) that true godliness must have its root in patience. It is a perfect trust, which rests securely on the Father's love, and willingly waits His time. The hearts of the faithful ones must have found solace in the thought which he here joins to his former teaching. The trials they endure are grievous, but "The Lord knows" is an unfailing support. The floods of ungodliness make His servants many a time afraid; but when they feel that there, as amid the raging ocean, the Lord ruleth, they are not overwhelmed. They are protected by Omnipotence; and the tiny grains of sand, which check the fierce tide, are an emblem of how out of weakness He can ordain strength. Hence there comes a knowledge to the struggling saint which makes him full of courage, whatever trials threaten. The world has its wrathful Nebuchadnezzars, whose threats at times are293 as a fiery furnace; but he is proof against them all who can say and feel, "The Lord knows." I am not careful nor disturbed; my God, in whom I trust, is able to deliver me, and He will deliver me. The Lord knoweth the way of the godly, and His knowledge means safety and eternal deliverance.

And to keep the unrighteous under punishment unto the day of judgement. The unrighteous—yes, over them too God keeps ward. They cannot hide themselves from Him, and through their conscience He makes life a continuous chastisement. They may seem to men to walk on heedlessly, but they have hidden tortures of which their fellows can take no count. Even the offender against human laws, who dreads that his sin will be found out, carries in his bosom a constant scourge. Fear hath torment (κόλασιν ἔχει), and this it is of which the Apostle speaks. And if the dread of man's judgement can work terror, how much sorer must their alarm be who have the fiery indignation of the wrath of God in their thoughts and stinging their soul. Such men are kept all their life long under punishment. Yet in this constant anguish we trace God's mercy: He sends it that men may turn in time. His blows on the sinful heart are meant to be remedial; and those who disregard His chastisements to the last will go away, self-condemned, self-destroyed, despisers of Divine love, to a doom prepared, not for them, but for the devil and his angels.

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