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Here the apostle cometh to reckon up their sins, and he doth it by examples which are suited so that they may imply both the sin and the punishment. Three are produced in this verse: that of Cain, to note their malice and cruelty; that of Balaam, to note their covetousness and seduction; that of Korah, to note their faction and sedition 269against magistracy and ministry, as Korah and his accomplices rose up against Moses and Aaron.
Woe unto them. It is prophetically spoken, not execratorily; as a threatening or denunciation, not as a curse. For they have gone in the way of Cain. Cain’s example is produced, because he was the first and chief of them that departed from the true church and pure service of God: Gen. iv. 16, ‘Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt,’ &c. Tertullian saith, he was the devil’s patriarch, the first root of the carnal seed, or of the ‘seed of the serpent,’ in whom persecution began. Now Cain’s way was a way of murder; he slew his brother because he was more righteous and godly than himself, 1 John iii. 12, and so they go in his way that have an envy and hatred against their holy brethren, which many times proceedeth so far as violence, persecution, and murder. This instance is fitly applied to these seducers; for, if the Targum of Jerusalem say true, besides the particular grudge which Cain had against Abel about the acceptance of his sacrifice, there was a dispute which happened between them in the field concerning the providence of God, and the last judgment, and world to come. Non est judicium, nec judex, nec saeculum aliud, nec merces bona pro justis, nec poena pro impiis: nec Dei misericordia creatus est mundus, nec ejus misericordia regitur, eo quod suscepta est oblatio tua cum beneplacito, mea vero non—Targ. Hieros.139139 Vide Nieremberg. Strom, i. cap. 17, et Glassium, lib. i., Philol. Sacra, p. 60, et Christolog. Mosaicae Dissert. 5, p. 165. So were these seducers exasperated against the orthodox, not only because of the greater presence of God among them, but also because of difference of judgment about Christ, the world to come, and providence, with other wholesome doctrines by which godliness is maintained. Again, Cain slew Abel; so were these Gnostics ready to break out into all violence against those that dissented from them, and stirred up the Jews to persecution against the Christians. Cain after this murder was haunted with his own ghost, and trembled wherever he came; so doth Cain’s end attend Cain’s curse, such quakings and fears of conscience following them wherever they went. It is said, ‘The Lord set a mark upon Cain,’ Gen. iv. 15: what this mark was is much disputed; most say it was a continual trembling and quaking throughout his body. Vide Aug., lib. xii. contra Faust., cap. 12; Chrysost. Hom. 19, in Gen. And the Septuagint render that, Gen. iv. 12, ‘Thou shalt be a vagabond upon the earth, στένων καὶ τρέμων ἔση ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, ‘Thou shalt be groaning and trembling upon the earth:’ and the word Nod, the name of the place where he sojourned, is by interpretation agitatio, commotio, ‘quaking or trembling:’ ὁ σὸς τρόμος νόμος γυγνέσθω τοῖς ὓστερον, and Basil Seleuc. apud Neiremb. Stromat., i. p. 23; which, if so, our wicked Quakers may see who was their patriarch. Now. from this first instance observe:—
Obs. 1. That the practice of wicked men now, and the practice of wicked men from the beginning is still the same. Cain’s club, as Bucholcer speaketh, is still carried about in the world, stained with the blood of Abel;140140 ‘Multi adhuc sunt qui clavum sanguine Abelis rubentem circumferunt.’ see Gal. iv. 29, ‘But as then, he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the spirit, even so it is 270now.’ So it was then, so it is now. so it will be while the spirit of the devil worketh in the world; we have the same original sin which they had in former times. For a long time a disease runneth in the blood, and is continued in a line and family; but after some generations it is worn out; but this filth will still run as long as there is a channel of carnal generation to convey it. Again, we have the same devil to tempt us; whoever is converted, he will never turn Christian to be sure; and there are the same provocations and occasions to exasperate men’s corruptions. Well, then, let us not be over troubled; ‘there is no new thing under the sun,’ the same devil that rageth now hath been ‘a murderer from the beginning,’ John viii. 44; the same devil that deceiveth now was ‘a liar from the beginning.’ Are there those now that separate from all churches of Christ? There were Donatists in former times. Are there now that deny the Godhead of Christ? There were Arians then. Are there now ranters, familists? And there were Gnostics then. Are there bloody enemies of the truth? Every age can yield its Cains. Again, if we would better know the state of our times, let us blow off the dust from our old precedents; the devil doth but play over the old game; and though the scene be shifted and furnished with new actors, the plot is the same.
Obs. 2. Observe again, heretics and libertines usually turn persecutors; for it is said here, ‘They go in the way of Cain.’ Satan, that is a liar, is also a murderer; a false way cannot subsist without the props of blood and cruelty,—witness the Circumcellians, the Priscillianists, the Arians, the Donatists, the tragedies at Munster. An erroneous opinion is touchy, and therefore efferates the minds of men against those that oppose it. Believe not seducers, then, when they come in sheep’s clothing; it is but that they may get a power to play the wolves the better: and when libertines, increase, let magistrates look about them, there are, clouds gathering together towards a dismal storm; and though they seem to be meek and full of love, while their party is contemptible, yet when they grow considerable they appear in their colours. Again, let us bless God for the peace we enjoy; there are swarms and droves of locusts abroad, but blessed be God that there is a restraint upon them, that there is a spirit of perversity mingled with their counsels. I tell you, the great danger of the latter times is from libertines; many fear, a second deluge of antichristianism, but that is not so probable as the seditious insurrections of sectaries. What sad havoc will be made of the people of God when once those bloody-minded wretches get power! The ‘latter times,’ καιροὶ χαλεποί, ‘perilous times,’ 2 Tim. iii. 1. Why? From what sort of men will the danger arise? Not from the antichristian, or Popish party, so much as from a libertine party, from Quakers, ranters, anti-scripturists, familists, &c. The antichristian party carrieth things by power and worldly greatness; but this party there described is a ‘creeping’ party, that gets into houses, ‘leadeth captive silly women,’ ver. 6. The antichristian party abuseth the sword of the magistrate; but this is a ‘traitorous party,’ heady, high-minded, ver. 4, a party rising up against magistracy. The antichristian party are stiff and obstinate in their old forms; but this is a party of seekers, looking for new discoveries, holding nothing certain in religion, ‘ever learning and never 271coming, εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν, to the acknowledgment of the truth,’ ver. 7. In short, the party there described are a party that deny civil reverence, natural affection, and are contemptuous despisers of the true and holy servants of Christ; and all this carried on under a pretence and form of godliness. This is the party from whence I fear such danger and disturbance, if the Lord put not a hook into their jaws, or do not awaken the magistrate to look to the safety, not only of Christ’s interests, but his own. Cursing Balaams will soon prove bloody Cains, and wicked seducers tyrannous oppressors.
The next part of the description is, and run greedily after the error of Balaam for reward. His story begiuneth Num. xxii., and his tragedy you have Num. xxxi. 8.141141 Balaam cursed Israel for hire against his own conscience; so did these pervert the truth. Balaam had linguam venalem, oracles to sell; so they adulterated the doctrine of the gospel out of covetousness and filthy lucre. Simon Magus, out of whose school the Gnostics came, would, you know, buy and sell the Holy Ghost, Acts viii. Now, after this error, it is said, ‘they ran greedily,’ ἐξεχύθησαν, ‘were poured out,’ it is a metaphor taken from a river overflowing the banks, or from a thing poured out from a bucket, with a full current.
Now from hence observe:—
Obs. 1. That the devil enticeth his slaves to divers sins; as to the malice of Cain, so to the covetousness of Balaam.
Obs. 2. That men are usually carried into errors by the bait of gain and worldly profit: 2 Peter ii. 3, ‘Through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you;’ that which is the ‘root of other evils’ is often the root of heresies or sect-making. Souls are a precious commodity. Christ thought them worthy of his own blood, but seducers count them cheap ware; for their own gain and worldly interests they care not how they betray souls; yea, Christ himself is sold by them, as Judas ‘purchased a field with the reward of iniquity,’ Acts i. 18. Oh! then beware of covetousness, it is a great snare: a covetous man the devil hath him upon the hip, and how far, or whither he will carry him, he cannot tell. Balaam had many good gifts; God is said to have ‘put words into his mouth,’ Num. xxiii. 26; he asked counsel of the Lord, loath to go, yet covetousness by degrees wrought upon him.
Obs. 3. From the word ἐξεχύθησαν, men sin with full bent of heart, and are carried out violently against all restraints of conscience; as Balaam, notwithstanding the checks and disappointments which he met with in the way, ‘the dumb ass forbidding the madness of the prophet,’ 2 Peter ii. 16, yet was still hurried on by the violent impulsions of his own lust and greedy desire of reward; so the apostle speaketh of some that ‘work uncleanness with greediness,’ Eph. iv. 19. The motions of lust are rapid and violent; we are in earnest when we do the devil’s work: a stone runneth down hill with a swift motion, because of its propension and tendency that way. Oh! when shall we learn to serve God as we have served Satan? Our work is better, our wages better, and our Master best of all. When shall we pour out our hearts in prayer as we do in sin? In the business of religion we act with a great deal of dividedness and partiality; our evil 272works are merely evil, but our good by no means can be purely good.
Obs. 4. Again observe, that covetousness is a violent, headstrong lust; you would think uncleanness is most violent, as having a rage and a passionateness in it; it is so; but covetousness is more strong, as engaging not only the lighter part of the affections, but the will itself: 1 Tim. vi. 19, ‘He that will be rich,’ &c. Fits of lust are ear nest for the present, but this is the constant and more deliberate bent of the heart towards that which is evil; watch the more, that your feet be not taken in this snare.
The last instance is, perished in the gainsaying of Korah. This is produced to note their factious practices. You have the story of him, Num. xvi. Being overcome with ambition he would take upon him the priesthood. He and his accomplices made head against Moses and Aaron, but he perished in the attempt; and so will these likewise that rise up against magistracy and ministry, as surely as if it were already accomplished; and therefore, though they were not as then born, yet they are said to perish when Korah perished. From hence note:—
Obs. 1. That ambition breedeth faction, hence Korah gainsaid; Diotrephes loveth the pre-eminence, and therefore troubled the church, 3 John 10. All stirs begin first in our own lusts; men are discontented with their estate, would be higher, and therefore break rank. Lactantius observeth of the troubles of his age, thus—Fuerunt quidam nostrorum vel minus stabilitâ fide, vel minus docti, vel minus cauti; qui dissidium facerent unitatis et ecclesiam dissiparent, sed ii quorum fides fuit lubrica, cum Deum nosse se et colere simularent augendis opibus et honori studentes, affectabant maximum sacerdotium, et a potioribus victi, secedere cum suffragatoribus suis maluerant quam eos ferre praepositos, quibus concupiebant ante praeponi, &c. (Lactant. de Vera Sapientia, lib. iv. cap. 30.) It is an excellent thing to be contented with our own station; Jesus Christ was chadal ischim: Isa. liii. 3, ‘The leaving-off of men,’ or contented to be in the lowest rank. If God hath denied thee any condition in the world which thou affectest, thou art not worthy of it, or it is not fit for thee, &c.
Obs. 2. Observe, ambition, that carrieth men against ministry, carrieth them against magistracy also. Korah and his companions rose up against Moses and Aaron. The church and commonwealth are like the soul and the body; the one fareth the better for the welfare of the other; and seditious spirits will brook no restraint; let them alone in the church, and they will soon disturb the state also. But of this before, ver. 8.
Obs. 3. Once more. The levelling humour is no new thing in the church of God; their plea was, Num. xvi. 3, ‘All the Lord’s people are holy,’ or saints, and why should any be set over them? Let us beware, then, of that parity which some affect; there must be rule and superiority, or all will come to nought. God made the world to consist of hills and valleys, and in church and state there must be governors and governed, teachers and taught. It is Koran’s sin to invade offices without a call, and to destroy that order which God hath established.273
Obs. 4. Again, observe, schisms and factions in the church bring destruction in the end. Those that made a cleft in the congregation, the earth cleaved to swallow them up. Christ saith, ‘Woe be to that man by whom offences come,’ Mat. xviii. 7. It is sad to take offence, but worse to give it; all the mischief that ensueth will be reckoned to your score. Surely men would be more tender in this point if they did but think of the punishment that sensibly overtaketh the disturbers of a well-ordered society.
Obs. 5. Again, observe, the scripture speaketh of things to come as already past; for it is said, ‘These perished,’ &c. So Rev. xiv. 8, ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen.’ What is threatened is as certain as if it were already accomplished. So also for promises; you have the mercy if you have the promise; by God’s word all things were created and do subsist. Let it be, was enough to make a world; when God saith it shall be, is not the thing sure, though unlikely? Hath God’s word lost anything of its creating power? God counteth our work done when but intended: ‘Abraham offered,’ &c., Heb. xi. 17. Well, then, let us be able by faith to see the ruin of wicked men when they reign most.
Obs. 6. Lastly, observe, wicked men may read their destruction, in the destruction of others that sinned before them. They transgress the same law, and God is as tender of it as ever; and there is the same providence to take vengeance, which is as mighty as ever; and they act out of the same lusts, which God hateth as much as ever: sin, is not grown less dangerous now in the latter days. Surely, then, a man. would think the old world should grow wiser, having so many precedents. Pride may see its downfall in Nebuchadnezzar, sedition in Korah, rebellion in Absalom, violence in Cain, painted adulterousness in Jezebel, disorders in worship in the fall of the Bethshemites and the breach made upon Uzzah, the usurping of sacred offices without a call may see its danger in the leprosy of Uzziah. There is scarce a sin of pestilent influence of which we have not some example, which is set up like a mark in the way, in effect saying, Take heed, enter not here; it will prove your ruin and destruction; or, Look upon me and be godly.
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