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Ver. 12. These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots.
In the former verse the apostle setteth them forth by examples, in this by similitudes. Let us go over the expressions apart, as the text offereth them. These are spots in your feasts of charity, σπιλάδες. The word also signifieth rocks, but is fitly here rendered spots, for it is in Peter, σπῖλοι καὶ μῶμοι: 2 Peter ii. 13, ‘Spots they are and blemishes.’ So he called them, as being in themselves defiled and to others disgraceful; or because defiling with their presence and infecting by their example. In your feasts of love or charity. These were suppers used in the primitive times, either to manifest their brotherly union, or for the comfort and refreshing of the poor, in obedience to Christ’s injunction, Luke xiv. 12, 13, though little observed for the ends for which they were at first appointed, divisions being hereby nourished, 1 Cor. xi. 21, each faction by themselves taking their own supper, and 274the poor excluded, 1 Cor. xi. 22. Some dispute the lawfulness of them, it being an addition to the Lord’s Supper, taken up in imitation of the heathens, and blasted by God’s providence in the very beginning, never approved, and, it seemeth, but slightingly spoken of. ‘Your love feasts,’ saith our apostle. However, they might be law fully used. Tertullian showeth a lawful use of them in his time, Tert. in Apol., cap. 39, Coimus in coetum ut ad Deum quasi manu faustâ, &c. We meet together, saith he, that by a holy conspiracy we may set upon God by a force that is welcome to him, where prayers are made, and the scriptures opened, and after this meeting a supper, begun with prayer: Non prius discumbitur quam oratio ad Deum praegustetur; editur quantum esurientes cupiunt, bibitur quantum pudicis est utile; and their discourses were such as did become the ears of God, and after washing they sang a psalm, and so soberly departed. Now these sensual persons did defile the love feast, the infamy of their lives being a scandal to the meeting, and the church fared ill for their sakes; for Peter maketh them to be spots, not only for their disorderly carriage at the meeting itself, but because of their constant course: 2 Peter ii. 13, ‘They count it pleasure to riot away the daytime.’ Partly by their indecent words and actions, when the Christians were met together, giving up themselves to excess: 1 Cor. i. 21, ‘Some are drunken;’ and libidinous practices, for this was frequent in the meetings of the Gnostics.
Obs. Observe hence, that sensual persons are the spots of a Christian society. They are not only filthy in themselves, but bring a dishonour upon the whole church whereof they are members: Heb. xii. 15, ‘Take heed lest any root of bitterness spring up amongst you, whereby many may be defiled.’ Now what that root of bitterness is he showeth, ver. 16, ‘Lest there be any fornicator or profane person, as was Esau, who sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.’ When any root springeth up, or breaketh out into a scandalous action, the whole society is defiled; therefore when such are discovered, they are to be cast out, for otherwise we should turn a church into a sty. ‘Their spot is not as the spot of his children,’ Deut. xxxii. 5. They have no God’s mark, but Satan’s. Calvin observed that nothing doth mischief to the church so much as remissness and kindness to wicked men. Partly as they do infect by the taint of their evil examples, and partly as they bring infamy upon the body; therefore cut off these ulcerous members. Again, we learn that the purest churches have their spots. In Christ’s family there was a devil: John vi., ‘One of you is a devil.’ You would be scared to see a devil come among you. Every malicious sinner is a devil, and every sensual sinner is a beast. Such may now and then creep into the church, but they should not be allowed there. They that put off the nature of man are unfit for the communion of saints. These are spots to be washed off. Holiness is the church’s ornament: Ps. xciii. 5, ‘Holiness becometh thy house, O Lord, for ever.’ Again, they that are in a church should be the more careful; you defile yourselves else, and the society whereof you are members. Yea, your miscarriages reflect upon Christ himself. Carnal Christians carry up and down in the world the picture of the devil, and put Christ’s name upon it, and so expose it to scorn 275and derision in the world. It was an old complaint of the Gentiles, mentioned by Cyprian in his book De Duplici Martyrio; the words are these: Ecce qui jactant se redemptos a tyrannide Sathanae, qui praedicant se mortuos mundo, nihilo minus vincuntur a cupiditatibus suis, quam nos quos dicunt teneri sub regno Sathanae. Quid prodest illis baptismus, quid prodest Spiritus Sanctus, cujus arbitrio dicunt se temperari? &c.—So in Salvian’s time the heathens were wont to upbraid the Christians thus: Ubi est catholica lex quam credunt? Ubi sunt pietalis et castitatis exempla quae discunt? Evangelia legunt et impudici sunt; apostolos audiunt et inebriantur; Christum sequuntur et cupiunt, &c.—they talk of a holy Christ, and yet are unjust, unclean, wrathful, covetous; of a meek, patient Christ, and yet are rapacious and violent; of holy apostles, and yet are impure in their conversations. Our author goeth on thus: Sancta a Christianis fierent si sancta Christus docuisset, aestimari a ciultoribus potest iste qui colitur, quomodo bonus magister cujus tam malos esse videmus discipulos?—if their Christ were a holy, meek Christ, they would be better. Now judge you whether such wretches be not spots both to Christ and the church, a disgrace to head and members. Therefore all church members should be more watchful and circumspect than others, lest they give occasion to those that watch for their halting to speak evil of the way of God.
The next clause is, when they feast with you. The word signifieth, to feast liberally together. This is added to show that they perverted the nature of the meeting, and made that an action of luxury which was at first an action of charity. In the feasts of the godly there was moderation and temperance, but these were blithe and jocund, filling their paunches at the charge of the church. What we translate ‘feasting with you,’ others read ‘feasting upon you;’ and 2 Peter ii. 13, ‘Sporting themselves with their own deceivings, while they feast with you;’ that is, by carnal gospelling and subtle devices justifying their own intemperance. Whence note:—
Obs. That it is an odious filthiness to make religion serve our bellies, and to turn charity into luxury. This is here charged upon them, and often practised in the world: Rom. xvi. 18, ‘They serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly;’ Christ hath the name, but the belly the respect. So Phil. iii. 19, ‘Whose God is the belly.’ When men aim at nothing but their own ease and pleasure, they set the belly in God’s stead. Among the Papists, religious houses are but so many sties of filthiness, and the charity of well-meaning persons diverted to feed the luxury of a few ‘slow-bellies.’ Well, then, those that live upon church maintenance should be the more sober and temperate, though a double portion will well become them that take double pains; yet you should take heed of luxury, that you may not be corrupted with ease, that you may have enough for charity, that you may silence the clamours of the world; your temperance and sobriety should be known to all men. Paul giveth such an account of his life as will shame most ministers when they think of it: 2 Cor. xi. 27, ‘In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness;’ and Paul had his enforced fasts, his voluntary fasts, not withstanding his great pains. Our lives should carry some proportion; 276we do not always suffer persecution, but we should still have a weaned heart in the fullest estate that doth befall us. Certainly maintenance would be more cheerfully given if well used.
Feeding themselves without fear, ποιμαίνοντες ἑαυτοὺς, feeding themselves as a shepherd doth his sheep. It noteth their excess, eating beyond all measure, and without respect to that communion that should be among saints. They fed themselves, not others; their own bodies, not others’ souls: Ezek. xxxiv. 2, 3, ‘Ye feed yourselves, but the flocks have ye not fed.’ Whence note:—
Obs. That at our meetings and feasts we should have respect to Christian communion; not only take in meats, but give out gracious discourses and instructions. Christ, when he sat at meat, raised their thoughts to a better banquet: Luke xiv. 15, ‘Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.’ When the body is fed, let not the soul be neglected; the word of God is χίλος ψυχῶν, the food of souls; it should not be wholly banished from our tables. At every meal the devil usually bringeth his dish. When our hearts are warmed with the use of the creature, he setteth our corruptions a-working, and we are ready to censure, or to brawl, or jest in an unseemly manner. It is but reason that Christ should set his dish upon our tables also; and it being a solemn time of coming together, we should take occasion to quicken each other to the love of God, and an affectionate remembrance of our Creator, by whose bounty we enjoy what is set before us, that the spiritual appetite may be refreshed as well as the bodily.
Here is yet another word in this clause, ἀφόβως, without fear. The meaning may be either without fear of God, or without fear of the church, or without fear of the snare in the creature. If you take the first sense, ‘without fear of God,’ you may either understand it of his presence or judgments.
1. Of his presence; they had no dread of him before whom the assembly was met. Note thence, it is sinful to sit down at meat without thoughts of God. You shall see it is said, Exod. xviii. 12, that ‘the elders of Israel did eat with Moses’ father-in-law before the Lord, that is, in his presence. When thou art eating bread, thou art before the Lord. As ‘the eyes of all things look up unto him for meat in due season,’ Ps. cxlv. 15, so are God’s eyes upon us, upon our carriage and behaviour; therefore still retain a dread of his presence; the fear of God is a grace that is never out of season: ‘Be thou in the fear of God all the day long;’ not only in the morning, when immediately employed in acts of worship, but in thy shop, at thy meals. As the lungs are in continual exercise, whether we are sleeping or waking, so are some graces. Who is it that giveth us ‘food and gladness’? Acts xiv. Shall we forget God when he remembereth us most? The Lord forbid; when his creatures are in our hands, let his eye be in our thoughts: Deut. viii. 10, 11, ‘When thou hast eaten, and art full, beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God;’ it will be a good curb to our loose and vain affections.
2. Without a fear of his judgments. Thence note, that riot and voluptuous living bringeth a brawn upon the heart, and men that are given up to a luxurious course grow secure. They that did ‘drink wine in bowls,’ did ‘put far away the evil day,’ Amos vi. 3; that is, all thought and sense of approaching judgments. When Jerusalem was 277grown riotous, she grew careless; and therefore God biddeth the prophet to ‘eat his bread in trembling,’ Ezek. xii. 18. Well, then, avoid immoderation in carnal pleasures, as you would avoid security and hardness of heart. We lose our tenderness by bathing and steeping the soul in these delights; epicures are ‘past feeling,’ Eph. iv. 19; and the wanton is said to be ‘dead while she liveth,’ 1 Tim. v. 6. ‘Wine and women take away the heart,’ Hosea iv. 11, as they do extinguish every spark of conscience, and abate of the vigour and tenderness of our affections. It was and it is the opinion of libertines that it is perfection to get the victory of conscience, and to live as we list, without any trouble and sense of danger. Possibly such a thing may be aimed at here: it is the perfection of sinning, I confess, to do evil, and then choke the conscience with carnal pleasures, that we may not fear evil.
You may expound it ‘without fear of the church’ then assembled; in such an holy meeting they were not awed from riotous practices. Whence note:—
Obs. That sensuality maketh men impudent, partly because where spiritual sense is gone, shame is gone; partly because when the bodily spirits are warmed with wine and meat, men grow bold and venturous; Solomon saith, Prov. xxiii. 33, ‘The drunkard’s heart shall utter perverse things.’ In such a case men take a liberty to speak or do anything that is unseemly. I do not exclude this sense, because Peter in the parallel place maketh them all along presumptuous and sensual, 2 Peter ii. 10-14.
You may expound it, ‘without fear of the snare in the creatures.’ Whence observe:—
Obs. In the use of pleasures and outward comforts there should be much caution. When Job’s sons feasted, he falleth to sacrifice, ‘lest they should have sinned against God,’ Job i. 5. It is good to be jealous of ourselves with a holy jealousy, lest unawares we meet with a snare in our cup or dish. At a feast there are more guests than are invited; evil spirits haunt such meetings, they watch to surprise us in and by the creature; and therefore we should watch, especially if we be ‘given to appetite,’ then ‘put a knife to thy throat,’ as Solomon saith: that which is sweet to the palate may wound the soul, and gluttony may creep upon good men before they are aware; as Austin confesseth, that he was far from drunkenness, but crapula nonnunquam surrepit servo tuo—sometimes he would eat too much; but, saith he, Lord, thou hast now taught me to use my meat as my medicine, to repair nature, not to oppress it; a holy course and to be imitated. Christians, you may think it needless that we should speak to you about your meat and drink, as if the light of conscience were pregnant and active enough to warn you in such cases. Oh! but you cannot be too cautious; the throat is a slippery place, and a sin may get down ere you are aware. Christ did not think it needless to warn his own disciples of excess: Luke xxi. 34, ‘Take heed to yourselves, lest ye be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness,’ &c.
The next clause is, clouds they are, without water, carried about of winds. Here now comes in a heap of similitudes to express their vain arrogancy and ostentation in professing themselves to be far above what indeed they were; though they were inapt to teach, and to every good work reprobate, yet they gave out as if they were illuminate 278men, and of a higher attainment than others. The first similitude is in these words, νεφέλαι ἄνυδροι, clouds without water. Aristotle called barren and light clouds such as are carried up and down with the winds, ὀμίχλας; and to these are the seducers likened, because, though they seem to look black and promise rain, yet they do not give us one drop, one wholesome notion that may occasion more light in. the understanding, of saving doctrine, or any further relief for the poor thirsty conscience, or any more forcible excitement to the practice and power of godliness. The apostle Peter, 2 Peter ii. 17, hath two similitudes—‘wells without water,’ and ‘clouds carried about with a tempest;’ but here they are contracted into one. If you will have the Holy Ghost’s own comment upon this similitude, see Prov. xxv. 14, ‘He that boasteth of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain.’ That which is observable is:—
Obs. 1. That the word of God is like a moistening rainy cloud: Deut. xxxii. 2, ‘My doctrine shall distil like the dew, and my speech like the small rain.’ Among the Hebrews the same word signifieth to teach and to rain. Well, then, let us, as parched ground, wait for the droppings of God’s clouds. In this time of drought, when you go abroad into the fields, you shall see the grass burned and turned into stubble, and the earth gaping for a refreshing, and with a silent eloquence begging for the influences of the heavens; every chap is a mouth opened to swallow up the clouds as soon as they fall, or a cry to the God of heaven for a little rain. Just so should you come to wait upon God in the word: ‘My soul desireth after thee as a thirsty land,’ Ps. cxliii. 6. Oh! for a little refreshing from the presence of the Lord in his ordinance. Promise yourselves also that from the word which you would from rain, Isa. lv. 10, 11; this is the means by which the grace of God soaketh into the heart to make it fruitful.
Obs. 2. False teachers are clouds without rain; it is the proposition of the text; partly because they make show of more than they have; they ‘boast of a false gift,’ Prov. xxv. 14. There is a great deal of show to affect the minds of the simple, but little of substance and truth; like boxes in the apothecaries’ shop, that have a fair title, but no medicine in them; much pretence of light and spirit, and when all comes to all, there is nothing but pride and boldness: Aperiunt fontes doctrinae, sed non habent aquam scientiae—they will adventure to rain when they have but a few heat drops, a few poor fragments of truth, which, being disguised and transformed into some strange conceits, are cried up for rare mysteries and attainments. However, thus much we learn from them, that it is seducer-like to promise more than we can perform, and to be much in the pretence when we have little of real and true solid worth. Partly because they do not that good to others which they promise to do. Satan will always be found a liar; it is the property of his instruments to beguile men into a false expectation. Papists cry up their masses and indulgences, which yet do not one pennyworth of good. Preachers that study pomp and edification142142 Qu. ‘not edification’?—ED. come with much fancy and appearance; but, alas! these airy notions are too fine for the conscience. Seducers pretend to some heights of discovery, as if they would carry you into the third heaven, but you are where you were at 279first; they promise you ‘hidden manna,’ rare discoveries of Christ; but is your heart the better? Two things they never do, which may be explained by two properties of rain, namely, refreshing the earth, and making it fruitful.
1. Refreshing the earth. Do they offer any doctrine that will give the conscience solid comfort and relief in distress? Here you will find them barren clouds. The locusts ‘tormented the dwellers on earth,’ Rev. ix. 5; they tickle the fancy for a ‘while, but when you come to die, and are serious, you must return to the old truths to find rest for your souls, Jer. vi. 16; your fancies then are like ‘the brooks of Teman, consumed out of their place;’ when Pharaoh was under any trouble, Moses and Aaron must be sent for, his magicians could not satisfy him nor ease him.
2. To make the earth fruitful. Do you find holiness improved by their notions? 2 Peter ii. 19, ‘They promise liberty, when you are the servants of corruption;’ they promise a new way of mortification, but still your bondage under your lusts is increased.
Obs. 3. Again, in the third place, false teachers are light, easily driven up and down in various motions;’ carried about of winds,’ it is said in the text, sometimes with this opinion and sometimes with that, as light clouds yield to the motion of the winds; the winds are their corrupt passions, lusts, and interests: Eph. iv. 14, ‘Be not tossed about with every wind of doctrine.’ περιφέρόμεναι, carried round the card and compass. When the chain of truth is once broken, man is at large, and being taken off from his bottom, left loose to strange contrary winds. We see many scrupulous persons, that at first made conscience of all things, afterward grow so loose as make conscience of nothing.
Obs. 4. Again, they are as ‘clouds driven with a tempest;’ so Peter. They do not yield rain, but breed factions, and schisms, and turbulent commotions; light clouds are driven with great violence. Well, then, ‘Mark them that cause divisions and offences.’ Rom. xvi. 17; they are not what they seem to be; you will find in the end that you get nothing by dancing after their pipe.
We go on with the verse. Trees whose fruit withereth, twice dead, plucked up by the roots. This is the second similitude; here are four properties of evil trees reckoned up by way of gradation.
The first is, trees whose fruit withereth. Let us first look to the grammatical interpretation of these words, and then the sense and accommodation of them. Δένδρα φθινοπωρινὰ: the Vulgar readeth arbores autumnales.143143 ‘Letifer autumnus.’—Juvenal. In autumn things begin to decay, and trees lose both fruit and leaves; and so would some explain it, like trees that lose their leaves in harvest-time, and bring forth no fruit; some go another way, making it an allusion to a particular experiment of young plants, who, if they flower at autumn, husbandmen take it for a sure sign that they will die. But similitudes are taken from things usual and known; I suppose, therefore, the apostle useth the word in its native and original signification. It is derived, παρὰ τῷ φθίνεσθαι τας ὀπώρας, from corrupting fruits; and the meaning is, they bring forth no fruit but what is rotten and withered; and so it is applied to these seducers, 280whose lives were not full of good fruits. They pretend much, but what fruits do you find? More holiness, true mortification, strictness, piety to God, or equity and mercy to men? Nay, rather all manner of brutishness, disobedience to civil powers, neglect of God, abuse of gospel, contempt of their betters, &c.
Obs. I. Observe, corrupt doctrine produceth corrupt fruits. Principles have an influence upon the life and conversation; our Saviour directeth us to this way of scrutiny and trial, Mat. vii. 16, ‘By their fruits you shall know them.’ How can that be, since they do easily counterfeit a holiness? it is said before, they come ‘in sheep’s clothing.’ I answer—Pretences will not last long; observe then narrowly, and you will find the wolf breaking out. Ay! but may not a good way be promoted by men of an ill life? Ans. Look to the fruits of the doctrine; if it hath no influence upon strictness, but be only curious, and tend to foment pride, malice, envy, sedition, and turbulent practices and contempt of superiors, certainly it is naught, whoever brings you that doctrine, whatever holiness they pretend in other things.144144 See Dr Hammond, Pract. Cat., pp. 142, 145. On the contrary side, ‘the wisdom that is from above is full of good fruits,’ James iii. 17, mercy, justice, piety, strictness, meekness, &c. The Lord sealeth the integrity of faithful teachers by guiding them to holiness, and by his judgments suffereth hypocrites and seducers to discover their filthiness and shame, that they may be ‘manifested to the congregation,’ Prov. xxvi. 26. Holiness hath been the usual badge of truth, and the professors of it, when watched, have been in no point liable to exception, but ‘in the matter of their God,’ Pliny could find no fault with the Christians, but that they worshipped one Christ, whom they owned for a God, and had their hymnos antelucanos, their morning meetings and songs of praise to him. One of the notes by which the inquisitors of the Waldenses descried them was that they were sobrii et modesti vultu et habitu, of a sober deportment and modest garb. But may not seducers put on a demure garb, as Swenckfield prayed much, lived soberly, but his doctrine tended to looseness, destroyed the person of Christ, &c.? I answer, as before—You must consider the aim of the doctrine, which is not always to be discovered by the life of the first broacher of the error. Satan may ‘transform himself into an angel of light ‘to set on a design of darkness; paint will in time wear away—cito ad naturam ficta reciderunt suain: 2 Tim. iii. 9, ‘They shall proceed no further, for their folly shall be made manifest to all men;’ they begin with great shows at first to gain credit and entrance, but a discerning eye may find the deceit, and in due time God will discover them to the congregation. Well, then, try ways and persons by this note.
1. Ways. Men do not easily teach point-blank contrary to their manners: surely the devil would not assist to bring holiness in fashion, and promote Christian practice. Observe the fruits and evils both of their lives and doctrines: in two cases it is a sure note:—(1.) When there is a fair compliance between principles and practices; if neglect of God, mutinous practices, fraud, injustice, contempt of civil dignity, be the very aim and design of the doctrine, and accordingly men live, this is of the devil. (2.) If it be so generally, and in the 281most zealous of this way. Some men are of a reserved temper, not disposed to gross and sensual wickedness, and so can counterfeit the better; and possibly so much of truth as they do retain in the midst of their errors may somewhat operate to sanctification; and, on the other side, a true way may be prejudiced if we should look to one or two; a street is not measured by the sink and channel, but if it be usual, and for the most part so, then their principles are corrupt. (3.) We may not be always enticed to a course of looseness or gross wickedness; if it be to a dead, powerless course, or formality, if it weaken the life and power of godliness in you, from such turn away, 2 Tim. iii. 5, your love to God, and delight in God, and converse with him in the Spirit, is forcibly lessened; fear the influence of such an opinion.
2. You may judge persons by it, especially yourselves. Wherever there is grace there will be fruits of grace, and corrupt fruits show a naughty tree. If the ‘clusters be clusters of Sodom, and the grapes grapes of Gomorrah,’ it showeth the vine was of that race and kind: Eph. v. 9, ‘The fruit of the Spirit is righteousness, goodness, and truth.’ The apostle instanceth in such fruits as concern civil commerce, partly because by these we adorn our profession, and set it off to others; partly because here we have a frequent trial, these graces being of a daily use and exercise.
But I would rather apply it by way of exhortation to those that profess the truth, to honour it in their lives. Let your manners be orthodox, lest you expose the ways of God to suspicion: Mat. iii. 8, ‘Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance,’ ἀξίους μετανοίας, beseeming the change of your minds.
Obs. 2. The next evil property is ἄκαρπα, without fruit, and in the application it implieth that they bring no honour to God, no good to others, neither are they wise for their own souls. To be barren and unfruitful under a profession of Christ, is a sign of great hypocrisy; he that ‘hid his talent ‘is called ‘a naughty servant,’ and, because of his unprofitableness, cast into ‘utter darkness,’ Mat. xxv. A vine is good for nothing if it be not fruitful, not so much as to make a pin in the wall. Now God compareth Israel to an empty vine, Hosea x. 1, because they poured out all their strength, and time, and care upon their own interests. Well, then, ‘Be not barren and unfruitful in the knowledge of Jesus Christ,’ 2 Peter i. 8. Grace is an active thing; where it is it will show itself; garden trees must not be like the trees of the forest. If you would be fruitful:—
First, You must be planted with ‘a right seed;’ a wild vine will yield but wild grapes. The ‘trees of righteousness’ are ‘of God’s own planting,’ Isa. lxi. 3; and when you are grafted into the noble vine, Christ Jesus, then are you laden with clusters, like the vine of Eshcol: John xv. 25, ‘In me ye shall bring forth much fruit.
Secondly, There must be good husbandry and culture: Isa. v. 2, 3; Ps. xcii. 13, 14, ‘Planted in the courts of God,’ &c.; that is, the kindly soil. Good fruit needeth the manure of ordinances, wild plants grow and bear of their own accord.
Thirdly, This fruit must be ripe, not buds and blossoms, but fruit; you must not be almost, but altogether; there must be not only the 282flowers and leaves of profession, but the solid works of godliness. It is said here, ‘trees without fruit,’ but it is not said here, ‘trees without leaves;’ see John xv. 4. There are branches in the vine that are only pampinarii.
Fourthly, Fruit is for the owner. The profit of trees returneth to the husbandman and master; see John xv. 8, and Phil. i. 11. The spiritual life beginneth in God, and its tendency is to him. God must have the glory of all, but you shall not be without the comfort of it: Rom. vi. 22, ‘Ye have your fruit to holiness, and the end everlasting life.’ The grave is but a winter, it taketh off your leaves and verdure for the present, the sap and life remaineth in the roots.
The next evil property, taken from trees and applied to men, is δὶς ἀποθανόντα, twice dead. If you apply this to the trees, they may be twice dead, either in regard of fruit, as a barren thing is said to be dead, as ‘the deadness of Sarah’s womb.’ Rom. iv. 19; or, in regard of substance, rotten and like doaty trees, growing worse and worse; or ‘twice dead,’ by a Hebraism, ‘very dead,’ as double is put for much. But now, if you look to the reddition of this similitude, these seducers are ‘twice dead,’ both in regard of their natural estate, ‘dead in trespasses and sins,’ and their apostasy, or decay of that life which they seemed to have by the grace of the gospel, wilful defection making their case incurable, Heb. vi. 5, 6, 2 Peter ii. 20.
Obs. 1. Now, in this description you may observe a gradation:—(1.) ‘Whose fruit withereth;’ (2.) ‘Without fruit;’ (3.) ‘Twice dead.’ First bad fruit, and then leaves, and then rottenness. Note, that deceivers and hypocrites ‘grow worse and worse.’ You have it from the apostle Paul also, 2 Tim. iii. 13, ‘But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.’ They deceive others, and the devil deceiveth them. The two states are not at a stay; wicked men grow worse and worse, and godly men grow better and better. Observe, then, which way is your progress and growth. The glory of the Lord, in Ezekiel, departed by degrees: first from the holy place, then from the altar of burnt-offering, then the threshold of the house, then the city, then the mountain which is on the east side of the city; it stood hovering there, as loath to be gone. So the Spirit of God doth not all at once depart from men, but by degrees. First men suspect duties, then dispute against them, then shake them off, and then come to beastliness and profaneness. Or, if you will, take the gradation thus:—First, God is cast out of the closet, private intercourses are neglected; then out of the family; then out of the congregation, and public ordinances seem useless things; and then blasphemies and a profane vertiginous spirit ensueth. First, men begin to wrangle, and sceptically to debate matters of religion, and within a while to oppose the truth: ‘The beginning is foolishness, and the latter end is mischievous madness,’ Eccles. x. 13.
Obs. 2. Again, I observe, men that fall off from the profession of the truth are twice dead. To natural they bring on judicial hardness; when they seemed to make some escape from the misery of nature they relapse into it again, and then their chains are doubled; as a prisoner that hath once broken prison, if taken again, is laden with irons. Two ways do natural men come to be twice dead—by custom 283in sinning, and by a revolt from God after they had given their names to him. By custom in sinning, for by that means they are hardened in their way, and ‘given up to a reprobate mind,’ so as to lose all sense of sin, Rom. i. 26-28; and by revolt from God; those that will, after trial, forsake him, no wonder if God leave them to their own choice, to be held under the power of the devil, by a dark and foolish heart.
There is one clause yet remaining, ἐκριζωθέντα, plucked up by the roots, and then trees are past all hope of springing and sprouting again; and so it fitly noteth their incurable apostasy. In this latter clause is set forth:—(1.) Their being deprived of all spiritual communion with Christ and his mystical body. (2.) Their incapacity to bring forth fruit. (3.) Their readiness for burning and destruction. Note:—
Obs. That barren and corrupt trees shall utterly be rooted out of God’s vineyard; they shall not have a visible abode and standing there. Now this is brought to pass partly by their own act: 1 John ii. 19, ‘They went out from us because they were not of us; for if they were of us, they would have continued with us;’ they separated themselves from the communion of the faithful, to which they did never truly belong, both from the doctrine professed in the church, and fellowship with them in the use of ordinances. Partly by God’s act, an act of judgment on his part: Rom. xi. 20, ‘For unbelief were they broken off.’ Partly by the act of the church, by which scandalous sinners are taken from among them: 1 Cor. v. 13, ‘Put away from among yourselves that wicked person.’ Well, then, let us walk so that this heavy judgment may never be laid upon us; let us get a real union with Christ, for then we can never be broken off: you can no more sever the leaven and the dough than Christ and a believer,145145 Qu. ‘You can no more sever Christ and a believer than the leaven and the dough’?—ED. &c. Walk with the more caution: ‘Be not high-minded, but fear;’ it is dreadful to be cast out of the true church; the finger that is cut off from the hand is also cut off from the head. That censure, if rightly administered against us, should be matter of great sorrow and humiliation to us, &c.
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