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Here are two other comparisons, the one taken from ‘raging waves,’ the other from ‘wandering stars.’ For the first, raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame, there is a great deal of variety among interpreters in the application or accommodation of this simili tude; some go one way, some another. Waves are not more various and uncertain in their motions than they in their expositions. Some apply it to their levity and inconstancy, some to their restless activity in sin, some to their turbulency, others to their pride and ostentation. In such uncertainty what shall we fix upon? Two things will direct us—the scope, and the force of the words. The scope of the apostle in all these similitudes is to show that these seducers were nothing less than what they pretended to be: clouds, but dry barren clouds; trees, but such as bore either none or rotten fruit; waves, that seemed to mount up unto heaven, and to promise great matters, as if they would swallow up the whole earth, but being dashed against a rock, all this 284raging and swelling turneth into a little foam and froth. So Calvin applieth it to the libertines, who scorn and disdain the common forms of speech, and talk of illumination and deification, so that their hearers seem to be rapt into the heavens; but, alas! they suddenly fall into beastly errors.
Obs. 1. From the scope observe, that spiritual boasters will certainly come short of their great promises. All is but noise, such as is made by empty vessels. In the latter times you are troubled with ‘boasters,’ 2 Tim. iii. 2, men that boast of depths, and seem to be wise and knowing above the ordinary sort, that will pretend to show you new ways a shorter cut to heaven, and rare discoveries of Christ and gospel light, &c.; but, alas! in the issue they leave you much more the servants of sin than you were before.
But let us a little examine the force of the words. The whole similitude alludeth to what is said of wicked men in general, Isa. lvii. 20, ‘The wicked are like a troubled sea that cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.’
Obs. 2. Observe, in the first place, that they are waves, which noteth their inconstancy: Gen. xlix. 4, ‘Reuben is as unstable as water.’ Water, you know, is movable, soon furled, and driven to and fro by the winds; so were these ‘carried about with every wind of doctrine,’ Eph. iv. 14. Note thence, that seducers are unsettled and uncertain in their opinions; so 2 Peter iii. 16, ‘Unlearned and unstable.’ If you ask why? Because they are not rooted and grounded in their profession, but led by sudden affection and interests rather than judgment; they are unstable because unlearned; such as do not proceed upon clear and certain grounds, and those whom they work upon are of no principle, ‘beguiling unstable souls.’ Well, then, discover them by their levity; you will never have comfort and certainty in following them who, like weathercocks, turn with every wind. Ecebolius is infamous to all ages, see Socrat. Scholast., lib. iii. cap. 2. He was professor of eloquence at Constantinople, under Constantius zealous of Christian religion, under Julian a Pagan, and when he was dead, he professed Christianity again; but then he came weeping to the church, πατήσατε μὲ τὸ ἅλας τὸ ἀναίσθητον—tread upon me, unsavoury salt, and cast me to the dunghill. Constantius Chlorus, though a heathen (both Sozomen and Eusebius give us the story) yet loved constancy and faithfulness in men as to their profession; he made proclamation that whosoever would not sacrifice should be discarded, and no more retained in pay with him; but when many false Christians had renounced their profession for gain and preserving their civil interests, he would not receive them, saying, πῶς γὰρ ἄν πότε βασιλεῖ πίστιν φυλάξουσι περὶ τὸ κρείττον ἁλοντες ἀγνώμονειν—how can they keep faith with their king and emperor that would falter in a higher matter, in the business of their God and religion, for a small and petty interest? Much to the same purpose there is a passage of Theodoric, king of the Goths, who loved a deacon who was of the orthodox profession, though he himself was an Arian; the deacon, to please the king the more, changed his religion, and professed Arianism also; but he beheaded him, saying, εἰ τῷ Θέῳ πίστιν οὐκ ἐφύλαξας, πῶς ἀνθρώπῳ φυλάξεις συνείδησιν 285ὑγιαίνουσαν—if thou hast not kept thy faith with God, how wilt thou preserve a good conscience in thy duty to men? The story is in Theodoret. Some are merely waves, rolling hither and thither in a doubtful uncertainty.
Waves of the sea. There you have their restless activity, they are always tossed to and fro: Jer. xlix. 23, ‘The Lord shall trouble Damascus, that she shall become like a fearful sea that cannot rest;’ so these cannot rest from evil: 2 Peter ii. 14, ‘Eyes full of adultery, that cannot cease from sin.’
Obs. Usually wicked men are of an unquiet spirit, restless in evil. They are acted by Satan, who is a restless spirit, and there is a great correspondency between their activeness in sin and the importunity of Satan’s malice: 1 Peter v. 8, ‘He goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. ‘Now you shall see the like diligence and readiness in his instruments; they walk the devil’s round: Mat. xxiii.15, ‘Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte,’ &c. Blind zeal leadeth on men with an incessant rage to poison others with their error, and draw them to their sect. Well, then, we may learn diligence from our enemies. Shall they be more busy to pervert the truth than we to propagate it? Dan. xii. 4, ‘Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.’ Once more, learn that it is a sign of a naughty heart to be restless in sin: Prov. iv. 16, ‘They sleep not unless they have done mischief, and their sleep is taken from them unless they cause some to fall.’
Raging loaves of the sea. There you have their turbulency; they fill all places with troubles and strifes.
Obs. Wicked seducers are usually of a turbulent and impetuous spirit. Why? Because they are urged by their own pride and vanity, and have lost all restraints of modesty, and are usually, as to their constitution, of violent and eager spirits. Well, then, be not borne down with impudence and rage; there may be daring attempts and much resolution in an ill cause; besides it is an hint to the magistrate to look to seducers betimes, for they are ‘raging waves.’
The next expression is foaming out their own shame, as a raging sea casteth up mire and dirt; or it alludeth to that scum and froth which the waves leave upon the rocks, and so it noteth the abominableness of their opinions and practices. Whence note:—
Obs. That though errors come in blushing, and with a modest dress, yet usually they go out of the world with a great deal of shame. They dash against the rock upon which the church is built, and what is the issue? They are covered with froth and foam: 1 Cor. iii. 13, ‘The day shall declare it;’ that is, time, whose daughter truth is: have a little patience, and you shall see that all that is but hay and stubble which is accounted gold. When worldly interests are unconcerned, and the heat of contention a little allayed, that men may have more clear discerning, and the world hath a little more experience of the fruit of false ways and opinions, there will not need any great confutation: evil men will sufficiently bewray their own filthiness. Guicciardini saith of the expedition of Charles the Ninth into Italy, that he came in like lightning, and went out like the snuff of a candle. 286So errors come in like a raging wave, as if they would bear all before them, but they go out like foam and froth, in scorn and infamy. Well, then, observe the fruitlessness of all Satan’s attempts: ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail against this rock,’ Mat. xvi. 18. By ‘the gates of hell,’ is meant strength and counsel, power and policy; for in the gates were their ammunition and seats of judicature. They that seek to slaver the church or deface the truth, which is the foundation of it, they do but spit against the wind, the drivel is returned upon their own faces. We often betray our trust and faith by our passions; we have not a holy greatness of mind to look above every trouble. Contend for God, but wait upon him; Satan may prevail a long time, but he can never carry it clearly from Christ: the Arians had a day of it, but they soon grew infamous for their cruelty and baseness.
We come now to the next similitude, wandering stars, ἀστέρες πλανῆται. It may be taken two ways—properly or improperly. (1.) Properly, for the stars which we call planets, or wandering, though indeed no stars wander less than they do; they have their name from the opinion and common judgment of sense, because they are not carried about the whole circuit of the heavens, but in a shorter orb and course. In themselves they have certain stated motions, and do keep the just points of their compass: ‘The sun knoweth his going down,’ Ps. civ. (2.) Improperly; there are a second sort of wandering stars, which Aristotle calleth ἀστέρας διαθέοντας, running and gliding stars; not stars indeed, but only dry exhalations inflamed, which glare much and deceive the eye with an appearance of light, but soon vanish and are quenched. Now these glancing, shooting stars do excellently express the quality of these seducers, who pretended great knowledge, being therefore called Gnostics, and gave out themselves for illuminate and profound doctors, but were various and uncertain in their motions, and soon extinguished and obscured. It is notable that the apostle ransacketh all the elements for comparisons whereby to set them forth: The air, ‘clouds without water;’ the earth, barren, rotten ‘trees;’ the water, there he compareth them to ‘raging waves;’ the fire, to ‘wandering stars,’ which are of a fiery nature. A fruitful fancy can make use of all the world, and a willing mind cannot want objects of meditation. But let us come to observe something from this similitude.
Obs. The guides of the Lord’s people should be stars, but not wandering, gliding stars. These seducers pretended to be ‘stars,’ and great lights of the church (which is the office of the ministers), but were indeed ‘wandering stars,’ and such as did seduce and cause to err.
First, Stars they should be:—(1.) In regard of the light of doctrine: Mat. v. 14, ‘Ye are the light of the world,’ that is Christ’s honour, John i. 9; but he taketh his own crown and puts it upon his servants’ heads. They are the light in a subordinate sense; stars, though not the sun; he is the original and fountain of all light, and we are used as a means to convey it to others. Thus John is called, John v. 35, ‘A burning and a shining light.’ He useth our service to dispel the mists of error, the night of profaneness, and the darkness of false worship. You had need prize those whom God hath set over you; they are light, and will you ‘quench the light of Israel’? 2 Sam. xxi. 17. 287(2.) In regard of the lustre of their conversations. It is said of all Christians, Phil. ii. 15, that they ‘should shine as lights in this world;’ they are the bright part of the world, as the stars are the shining part of heaven; as the star directed the wise men to Christ, so they must shine to light others by their example to him, as it is required of all Christians, much more of ministers, who are placed in a higher orb and sphere. Alas! we are but dim lights; we have our spots and eclipses, but this sets the world a-talking.
Secondly, They must not be gliding falling stars; that is charged upon these seducers. A false teacher and a falling star symboliseth in three respects:—(1.) It is but a counterfeit star; so is he an ‘angel of light; only in appearance, 2 Cor. xi. 14. A true Christian should covet more to be than to seem to be; to be ‘light in the Lord’ before he is a ‘light in the world.’ Hypocrites are all for appearance. (2.) In respect of the uncertainty of its motion. Falling stars are not moved with the heavens, but with the motion of the air, hither and thither, and so are no sure direction. So are they inconstant and unstable in the doctrines which they teach, running from opinion to opinion; vagabond lights, that seduce, not direct, as meteors mislead travellers out of the way. (3.) In regard of the fatal issue. A wandering star falleth to the ground, and becometh a dark slime and jelly; so their pretences vanish at length, and they are found to be those that were never enlightened and fixed in the firmament of God; counterfeits cannot last long; we see stars shoot in the turn of an eye, and Satan’s instruments fall from heaven like lightning,
Well, then, for a guide to heaven, choose a star, but not a wandering star. New light is admired, but it should be suspected rather. Usually we are rather for things new than excellent: homini ingenitum est magis nova quam magna mirari, saith Seneca. We gaze more on a comet than the sun. Check this itch; those that are various and given to changes are no lights for you; and if they be not burning and shining lights, avoid them. True stars have influences; they do not only enlighten and fill you with notions, but inflame and stir you to practice.
The last clause of the text is, to whom is reserved blackness of darkness for ever. Having described them in several metaphors, he cometh to speak again of their punishment, continuing the last metaphor, as some suppose, as glaring meteors after a while vanish into a perpetual night and darkness, and are no more seen and heard of; so these vanish, and are swallowed up of the horrors of eternal darkness. In this threatening three things are notable:—(1.) The dreadfulness of the punishment; (2.) The sureness; (3.) The suitableness of it.
1. The dreadfulness, in two circumstances:—(1.) The nature of it; (2.) The duration of it.
[1.] The nature of it, ὁ ζόφος τοῦ σκότους, ‘the blackness of darkness.’ It is a Hebraism for exceeding great darkness, called in the gospel τὸ σκὸτος τὸ ἐξώτερον, ‘outer darkness,’ as being, furthest from God, the fountain of life and glory, and so expressing that extreme misery, horror, and torment which is in hell. Hell is a dark and dismal region, where men lie deprived of the light of God’s countenance, tormented with presence of devils, and become the burden of their own 288thoughts, calling to remembrance their past sins, and having an active sense of their present pains, and dreadfully looking still for future judgment; but of this before.146146 See ver. 6, on those words, chains of everlasting darkness; and ver. 7, those words, eternal fire. Well, then, let us not begin our hell ourselves, by shunning God’s presence, by preferring carnal pleasures before the light of his countenance, by remaining in the night or darkness of ignorance or error, by darkening the glory of our holy profession through scandalous living, by sinning against conscience, and so providing food for the gnawing worm, or matter of despair to ourselves to all eternity. Briefly, let us beware of a dark and doubtful condition; it carrieth too great a proportion with hell; the more bondage we have, the more ‘fearful looking for of judgment,’ the more are we like the damned; as the more assured and possessed of God’s love, the more like the blessed; joy in the Holy Ghost is the suburbs of heaven.
[2.] The next thing is the duration, the blackness of darkness for ever. The torment prepared for the wicked is everlasting, ‘their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched,’ Mark ix. 44. This is the hell of hell, that, as the torments there are without measure, so without end; vivere nolunt, mori nesciunt. Here they might have life, and would not, and now would have death, and cannot: Rev. xx. 10, ‘Tormented for ever and ever.’ Woe, alas! it is for ever. Poor wicked wretches! whose bodies shrink at the prick of a pin or the flame of a candle, how will they endure those endless pains? When their restless thoughts shall have run through thousands of years, they must look for more: the pains of the damned are eternal; partly because of the greatness of the majesty against whom they have sinned. We are finite creatures, and so not fit to judge of the nature of an offence against an infinite God; the Lawgiver best knoweth the merit of sin, which is the transgression of the law, as a jeweller knoweth the price of a jewel, and can best give sentence in the case what he is to pay that hath lost or spoiled it. With man offences of a quick execution meet with a long punishment, and the continuance of the penalty in no case is to be measured with the continuance of the act of sin—Scelus non temporis magnitudine sed iniquitatis magnitudine metiendum est. Partly because man sinneth as long as he can; he sinneth in aeterno suo, as Aquinas, and therefore is punished in aeterno Dei. We would live for ever to sin for ever; in hell the desire of sinning is not extinguished or mortified.147147 Wicked men are not changed in hell; melted metal groweth hard again; the bad thief had one foot in hell, and yet dieth blaspheming; their judgments are changed, not their hearts; they would have dallied with God longer, grieved his Spirit here in the world longer, but that their candle went out, &c. Partly because they despised an eternal happiness, and therefore do justly suffer an eternal torment. Partly because they are in their final estate: ‘Peace upon earth,’ Luke ii. 14. Here God is upon a treaty with us, but there we are beyond a possibility of repentance and pardon. Partly because their obligations to God are infinite, and so their punishment riseth according to the excess of their obligations. Well, then, this representeth the folly of sinners, that will run the hazard of eternal torments for a little temporal satisfaction, as he cried out, For how short a pleasure have I 289lost a kingdom! when he had parted with his sovereignty for a draught of water. So you, out of a desire of present contentment, forfeit heaven, and run the hazard of the horrors of everlasting darkness; therefore, to counterbalance the violence of a temptation it is good to think of it, Can I dwell with everlasting burnings? If a man be sick in the night, he tumbleth and tosseth and telleth the hours, and wisheth it were day; oh! what will a man do that is held under an everlasting night and darkness? We are wont to think a sermon long, a prayer long; what will hell be, when conscience shall repeat over the passages of our lives, and remember us of the wrath of God that endureth for ever? Here sin is ever working, all the day it runneth in the mind, all the night it playeth in the fancy; we begin the morning with it, and end the day with it, and in the visions of the night it easily gets the start, and outrunneth reason and conscience; there the guilt of it will torment us day and night, and man is ever haunted with his own horrors, and the wrath of God inflicted upon him.
2. So much for the terribleness of the judgment; now, secondly, let us consider the sureness of it, τετήρηται, it is reserved. Hell torment is sure, prepared, kept for the wicked; so Mat. xxv., ‘Prepared for the devil and his angels.’ Heaven is prepared for the saints, and they for it. In one place it is said, ‘The kingdom prepared for you;’ in another, ‘Vessels of mercy aforehand prepared unto glory.’ So is hell fitted for the wicked, and they fit themselves for hell. God prepareth the saints and fitteth them, but endureth the wicked, and beareth with them whilst they ‘fit themselves for destruction;’ see Rom. ix. 22, 23. Carnal men may lord it abroad for a while, and ruffle and shine in worldly pomp, but ‘the blackness of darkness is kept for them. ‘
3. Observe the suitableness of the judgment to the sin; he saith darkness, not fire. Clouds that darken the truth are justly punished with ‘the mists of darkness for ever;’ see 2 Peter ii. 17. They that would quench the true light are cast into eternal darkness. God loveth to retaliate, that men may read their sin in their judgment here in the world, he may do it in mercy to the saints. Jacob, that came the younger for the elder, to blind Isaac, had the elder daughter given him instead of the younger. Asa, that put the prophet in the stocks, was diseased in his feet. But in hell he doth it for the greater horror to the wicked; they that chose left-hand blessings, Prov. iii. 16, are justly placed with the goats on the left hand, Mat. xxv.; he that denied a crumb could not receive a drop; they that cared not for God’s company are then banished out of his presence, and to those that loved darkness more than light is ‘the mist of darkness reserved for ever.’
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