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In this verse he showeth the disproportion between them and the archangel; he was modest in a known good cause, but these are contemptuous, and given to railing in matters of which they are wholly ignorant. Two faults are charged upon them in this verse:—(1.) Pride, in condemning things without knowledge; (2.) Wickedness, in abusing the knowledge they had.
But these, οὕτοι, the seducers spoken of in the context, speak evil, βλασφημοῦσι, take liberty to belch out their reproaches of the things they know not. What are those things? Some say, the dignities before spoken of; others, the mysteries of the Christian faith. For the former opinion, that clause may be alleged, ver 8, τὰς δόξας βλασφημοῦντας, ‘speaking evil of dignities;’ and so it will imply that they were ignorant of the nature of angels, with whom they pretended so great a familiarity as to know their courses, services, conjugations;138138 ‘Συζυγίας.’—Vide Irenaeum. or else of the nature of church ordinances, they taking upon them to speak so reproachfully of the offices which God hath set in the church; or of the nature of civil power and magistracy, they allowing themselves in such intemperate language. But for the latter opinion, the universal particle in the text, ὅσα μὲν οὐκ οἴδασι, ‘Whatsoever things they know not;’ so Peter’s phrase is general, 2 Peter ii. 12, ‘But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things they understand not.’ The scope of both these apostles being to set out these deceivers as ignorant and brutish sensualists, and yet under a pretence of great and more curious knowledge than others had, wherefore they were called Gnostics. For my part, I shall interpret the clause generally of their ignorance in all truly spiritual matters, which was bewrayed in that they did deliver their sense in matter of magistracy and church ministries with some impudence and reproach. But what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. Before I come more particularly to open the words, let me tell you there is some difference about that clause, as brute beasts; to what part of the sentence is it to be 265referred? if to the former part, thus, what they know naturally as brute beasts, then the sense will be that knowledge which they have in common with the beasts. Man is in part an angel, in part a beast; in his reason and upper part of the soul he resembleth an angel, and in his appetite and senses a beast. What they know by their senses and brutish desires, that will be the sense, if you allow of this first reference. If to the latter part, thus, in those things as brute beasts they corrupt themselves, then it will suit with the parallel place in Peter, 2 Peter ii. 12, ὡς ἄλογα ζῶα φυσικὰ, ‘as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed;’ and it will imply that they degenerated into beasts, notwithstanding that natural knowledge wherewith they were endowed. But to speak my own thoughts in this matter; the former reading is more agreeable to the posture of the words in the original, ὅσα δε φυσικῶς ὡσ ἄλογα ζῶα ἐπίστανται, ‘what they naturally as brute beasts know,’ in those things they are worse than beasts, corrupting and defiling themselves by the excesses of the sensual appetite: as in eating and drinking, and the use of the woman in common copulation, as if there were no law, nor limited use of those things, which yet they might discern in the beasts themselves, and the dictates of their own consciences.
This being premised, I come to explain the words. What they know, φυσικῶς, naturally. There is a threefold light:—(1.) Sense or instinct; (2.) Reason; (3.) Grace; and accordingly as a man is furnished he may be said to be πνευμάτικος, spiritual, or furnished with the light of grace, or ψυχικὸς, which we translate natural, 1 Cor. ii. 14,—it signifieth one that hath nothing but the light of a reasonable soul. Lastly, φυσικὸς, merely natural, which signifieth one guided by the blind motion and instinct of nature, without reason, counsel and choice, as the beasts are. So it is said here, ‘what they know naturally,’ that is, what they understand by natural inclination, or the mere judgment or perception of sense, to be good or evil, in those things they corrupt themselves, φθείρονται, are corrupted. So Erasmus; but the word is not simply passive, but after the form of the conjugation Hithpael among the Hebrews, which infert passionem in se, it implieth such a passion as we cause to ourselves. But how do they corrupt themselves? sinfully or penally? I answer—Both ways; sinfully they corrupt and defile themselves, and so draw down punishments both upon their souls and bodies, 2 Peter ii. 12, ‘They shall perish in their own corruption.’
Obs. 1. Having made this way, I come to the observations; and in the first place observe, that truth is usually slandered out of ignorance; because men do not understand the ways and things of God, therefore they do condemn them. In the apostles’ days, ‘the doctrine of the cross’ was accounted ‘foolishness’ by those that knew least of it; and afterwards the Christian religion was condemned because it could not be heard; Simul ac desinunt ignorare, desinunt odisse, so Tertullian in Apologia—when they knew it, they could not hate it. It is the devil’s cunning to keep us at a distance from truths, and therefore burdeneth them with prejudices, that we may suspect rather than search, and condemn that out of ignorance and upon vulgar clamour which upon knowledge we could not choose but love and profess; and 266it is man’s perverseness and pride to speak evil of things above his reach, and to disprove that which he has not attained unto or cannot understand. Nazianzen speaks of some ignorant people that condemned learning, because they had not the happiness to attain to it; ἵνα τὸ κατ᾽ αὐτοὺς κρύπτηται, saith he, Orat. xx.; that their own deficiency being the more common, might be less odious; or to instance in a higher case, Papists and carnal men scoff at imputed righteousness, assurance of salvation, and the testimony of the Spirit, because they are things they are utterly unacquainted with. Well, then, when we declaim against things, we should speak out of advised knowledge, not rash zeal. See John iii. 11, ‘We speak that which we know, and testify that which we have seen:’ zeal, as it must have a right aim, so a solid ground to proceed upon. It is a vain thing to begin at the affections, and to hate before we know: Prov. xviii. 13, ‘He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is a folly and shame to him.’ If you light right, it is but a happy mistake and stumble: Quid iniquius quam ut oderint homines quod ignorant, etiamsi res meretur odium—Tertul. ut supra. When the affections outstart the judgment, men grow obstinate in their ignorance, and will not know what they have a mind to hate: Malunt nescire quia jam oderunt, as Tertullian goeth on. Bash prejudices engaging men in opposition, they will not own the truth when represented to them; having hated it without knowledge, they hate it against knowledge, and so are hardened against the ways of God, which is the case of many who in a blind zeal have appeared against the public ministry and ordinances; and being engaged, are loath to strike sail, and lay down their defiance, when sufficient conviction is offered.
Obs. 2. Observe again, blockish and stupid men are most bold in reproaching. A fool’s wrath falleth very heavy, because it falleth with all its weight, there being nothing to restrain and stop it: Prov. xxvii. 3, ‘A stone is heavy, and sand is weighty, but a fool’s wrath is heavier than them both.’ When the mind is void of judgment, it is more overcome and carried out in the way of a naughty passion. Usually we find it, the weakest spirits are most violent, there being nothing of judgment to counterbalance affection; men are all flame and rage. Liquors, when they run low and are upon the dregs, they grow more tart and sour; so it is usually with the dregs of men, for when they are weak and run in low parts, their opposition is most troublesome. What ado in the ministry have we with young heady professors, that have more heat than light! and how troublesome are those wild sectaries, that have only knowledge enough to prate a little against the undoubted ordinances of Jesus Christ! for there being nothing of knowledge and civility to restrain them, they easily give vent to the excesses of their passion, by clamour and evil-speaking.
Obs. 3. From the second part of the charge, observe, that men of corrupt minds are usually sensual, and sensual men are usually men of corrupt minds; an unsound heart is best sheltered under unsound doctrine, and carnal delights blunt and weaken the edge and intension of the mind, so that they are very liable to mistakes. Therefore, on the one side, we should labour to keep the mind right and sound in 267the faith; fish stink first at the head; when the judgment is poisoned, the taint is soon conveyed to the affections. On the other side, ‘add to your knowledge temperance,’ 2 Peter i. 6. The apostle joineth these, because many times men of the greatest parts are overcome by appetite; and some say that temper of body which is fit for wit and scholarship is much inclined this way. Solomon, so famous for wisdom and knowledge, was enticed by women. Oh! let not fleshy lusts betray you. That is the best knowledge that endeth in temperance, or begets a holy moderation in the use of sensual pleasure; if we can not govern our affections, we ‘know nothing as we ought to know;’ nay, otherwise, your knowledge will be corrupted by your affections: many errors take their rise and beginning from evil manners and filthy lusts.
Obs. 4. Observe again, that wicked men, left to themselves, do but abuse and corrupt that natural goodness and knowledge which they have in them. Natural abilities are soon depraved with evil habits. He that had but one talent is called a ‘wicked and slothful servant,’ Mat. xxv. 26; slothful for not growing better, and wicked for growing worse. Naturally we are blind, and we cannot endure to be enlightened, 2 Peter iii. 5. Yea, rather, we put the finger in nature’s eye, and then there cometh on judicial blindness, Rom. i. 28; we suffer lusts to blow out the candle of reason, and then we are justly left to the power of vile affections. Certainly they do not flatter us that say there is a power in nature as to conversion and turning to God. We are so far from improving ourselves, that we ‘corrupt ourselves in what we know naturally,’ and suffer brutish lusts to blind the mind and harden the heart.
Obs. 5. Once more observe, sin where it reigneth turneth a man into a brute beast: Ps. xlix. 12, ‘Man being in honour, abideth not; he is like the beasts that perish:’ the meaning is, he abode not in the honour of his creation; hence compared to wolves for their cruelty, dogs for their filthiness, to horses and mules for the rage of lust, to a wild ass’s colt for wildness and dulness of understanding; see Jer. v. 8, Ezek. xx. 23, Job xi. 12, Rev. xxii. 15. You may see here to what sin will bring you; with Nebuchadnezzar we outgrow the heart of a man; what he did through that deep melancholy that fell upon him by God’s judgment, Dan. iv. 32, we do spiritually. If we had the head of a horse, or the face of a swine, or the hoofs of an ass, how should we be looked upon as monsters: but to have the hearts of the beasts is worse; to be like them in the inward man is more monstrous in the sight of God. Consider this, sin maketh a beast of you; nay, it maketh you worse than the beasts: ‘The ass knoweth his owner,’ &c., Isa. i. 3; they are serviceable to their benefactors, but thou art a rebel against God that made thee, and hath kept thee all thy days. The sluggard is put to school to the ant, Prov. vi. The beasts know their stint and measure; a horse or a dog will not be drunk, &c. Shall I speak one word more? Sin doth not only make a beast of you, but a devil of you: John vi. 70, ‘One of you is a devil;’ the devils said, ‘What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou son of David?’ and wicked men, ‘What is the Almighty? depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.’268
Obs. 6. Again observe, it is a sign of a man turned beast to follow the passions and lusts of corrupt nature. Why? For then the government of reason is renounced, and all is yielded up into the hands of lust and appetite. In men reason should have the chief governance, and exercise a coercion and restraint over our affections; but now, when we yield up ourselves to the passionateness of lust, and are transported with violence of it, it answereth to that rage which reigneth in the beasts. I shall take occasion here to show you how many ways a man turneth beast.
1. By an addictedness to sensual pleasures and delights. It is the beasts’ happiness to enjoy pleasures without remorse; they have no conscience, they are not called to an account, &c. Now he is not worthy the name of a man, saith Tully, that would willingly spend one whole day in pleasure. We may take pleasures sometimes, but they should not take us; that is, we should not be vehemently addicted to them.
2. When, in the use of these delights, we keep neither modesty nor measure, this is but like swine to wallow in our own filthiness; a beast can do no more; nay, many a beast would not do so much.
3. When men live by appetite rather than reason and conscience, feeding without fear, and nourishing the body, but taking no care to refresh the soul. This should humble many that think highly of themselves; they do but carry a beast’s heart under a man’s shape: while they are wholly given up to sensual delight, pampering the body, when in the meantime the precious but neglected soul may justly complain of hard usage.
Obs. 7. In the last place observe, that sensuality doth but make way for corruption: you may counterpoise the temptation to the sin with the punishment; usually secret sins and sweet sins meet with a heavy punishment: secret sins, that do not betray us to shame, may yet beget horror when we think of what will ensue; and sweet sins, that entice our affections, to prevent them we may counterbalance one affection with another, delight with fear. Well, then, to check the brutish rage of sensual inclinations, say, This will tend to my corruption, and perishing for ever: ‘They that sow to the flesh shall reap corruption,’ Gal. vi. 8. Carnal pleasures turn to an ill account in the issue: so Rom. viii. 13, ‘If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.’ The Lord fenced Eden with a flaming sword; so is the garden of carnal delights fenced with the wrath of God: we run a great hazard to enter in. Say, then, Shall I for a superfluous cup adventure to drink a cup of wrath unmixed? for pleasures here, forfeit the pleasures at God s right hand for evermore? for a little wanton dalliance, lose the embraces of Christ when he cometh out to receive the saints to himself at the last day? God forbid.
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