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Here the apostle cometh to inform them who these mockers were of whom the apostles of the Lord spake. He describeth them by three notes:—
1. They separate themselves; (2.) Sensual; (3.) Not having the Spirit.
1. These be they who separate themselves, οἱ ἀποδιορίζοντες ἑαυτοὺς. The old English translation had it thus: ‘These are the makers of sects.’ The word signifieth those which determinate and pluck up the bounds which God hath set. The apostle meaneth those that, without any necessity and warrant from God, cut off themselves from the communion of the church.
2. Sensual, ψύχικοι, animal or soul-men that have nothing but a reasonable soul, which, being corrupted, mindeth only the things of the flesh, and so noteth fleshly corrupt men. Tertullian, when leavened with Montanism, called the orthodox psychicoi, because they did not, with Montanus, condemn second marriages. The word is notable. It will be some advantage to us to consider it a little more fully. It is three times used in scripture, as in 1 Cor. ii. 14, ‘the natural man,’ ψύχικος, who is opposed to πνευμάτικος, ‘the spiritual man.’ So in James iii. 15, ‘The wisdom that is from above is earthly, sensual, ψύχικὴ, devilish;’ and then in this place, the word, as I said before, properly signifieth those that have a soul, and ψύχη is elsewhere used for the sensitive soul; as where the apostle distinguished of ‘body, soul, and spirit,’ 1 Thes. v. 23, σῶμα, ψυχὴ, πνεῦμα, where, by πνεῦμα, spirit, he understandeth the intellectual or rational part; by ψυχη, soul, the mere animal or sensitive part, or that sensual appetite 327which we have in common with the beasts; by σῶμα, body, that which is commonly understood by it, the body, as it is the organ and instrument of the soul; and this is one reason why ψύχικοι cometh to signify sensual; the other is because man, being left to himself, to mere soul-light or soul-inclinations, can bring forth no other fruits than such as are carnal; for whilst men are destitute of sanctifying grace, sense and the flesh do reign in their full liberty and power. Well, then, these seducers were sensual, given up to brutish lusts and practices. They taxed others as carnal, and now none so libidinous, impure, and carnal as they.
3. Not having the Spirit. This is added not only to show that they were destitute of true grace and regeneration, but partly to rebuke their vain pretences. The Gnostics and other filthy seducers of that time did arrogate to themselves a singularity and peculiarity of the Spirit, as if all others were carnal, and they only had the Spirit; whereas indeed the contrary was true, they, giving up themselves to such filthy practices, showed that they had nothing of the Spirit in them; see Irenaeus, lib. i. cap. 9, sect. 6, 7; partly to show the incompatibleness of the Spirit with a fleshly and carnal life.
Notes from hence are these:—
Obs. 1. That separation or dividing ourselves from the fellowship of God’s church is sinful, or a work of the flesh. The apostle describeth carnal persons, and of them he saith, ‘They separate themselves;’ and accordingly the apostle reckoneth δίχοστασίας, αἵρεσεις ‘seditions, heresies,’ or sect-makings in the church, among the works of the flesh, Gal. v. 20. And with good reason; to leave the church is to leave God. Cain was the first separatist we read of, Gen. iv. 19, ‘He went out from the presence of the Lord.’ God is everywhere; how from his presence? The meaning is, from the church, where is the presence of his grace. Why should we run from the shepherds’ tents where Christ feedeth at noon? Cant. i. 9, 10. And as it is contrary to our love to God, so to our love to the saints, to which we are so solemnly engaged. The question of separation lieth much in the dark, but obligations to love are clear and open; see Eph. iv. 4-6. It is sad that many that pretend much to religion make no conscience of schism, and offending the brethren by withdrawing from them, as if Christ’s precepts of love were not to be stood upon, as certainly they are not by them who draw their liberty to the highest, and in indifferent matters take that course which will offend.
Obs. 2. Once more, it is little for the honour of Christ that his body is crumbled into small bits and portions. He prayed, ‘Let them be one, that the world may know that thou hast sent me,’ implying that our divisions and breaking into sects would breed suspicion of the gospel in the hearts of men, as if that great mystery of redemption by him were but a well-devised fable. Yet again, this running into parties and sects is our great hindrance and disadvantage; partly in spiritual things, for all duties of spiritual commerce and communion are forborn. It is said here, ‘These separate themselves,’ but, beloved, do ye ‘edify one another in your holy faith;’ implying that though others withdraw and omit all duty in this kind, those that continue in the body will contribute their mutual help and care to confirm 328and build up one another. A draft of wine is best preserved in the hogshead, and Christians in their societies; coals lying together keep in the heat; apostasy began in forsaking the assemblies, Heb. x. 23-25, and 1 John ii. 19. Partly as to our outward peace and welfare: separation sets others against us, and us against them; it exulcerateth men’s minds against you when you give out as if you were more pure and holy than others: Isa. lxv. 5, ‘Stand by thyself; come not near me, for I am holier than thou.’ Gracious singularity is many times envied and hated, but certainly peevish singularity draweth a just scorn upon itself. And it setteth you against others; men seldom separate but their hearts are much estranged from those from whom they separate; for religious ties, being once broken, are hardly made up again. Civil ruptures are not carried on with such vehemency, and are sooner closed again; but religion, being the highest bond and ligament, when it is once violated, the breach is the more irreconcileable.
Thus you see the evils of schism or separation; but because this is many times perversely charged, we must look a little more into the nature of it: the spouse had her veil rent, and God’s own people have been burdened with the imputation of schism and faction. It will concern us to state what separation is sinful. In general, such as dissolveth that union and love which should be among Christians, or an unnecessary, unjust, or rash departure from fellowship and communion with one another in the ordinances of Christ. This separation—
1. Supposeth that there was once a union. We cannot be said to separate from the world of infidels, as Pagans, Turks, Jews, with whom we were never united; as water, when the ice is dissolved, cannot be said to be separated, in the sense we now take it, from bodies heterogeneal, as straws, wood, &c., because never united with them but by accident; aggregation there is, but not properly a separation. Separation is a dissolution of union, as when one church separateth from another who are united in the same body as parts of the church universal, or one or more persons from the same particular congregations of which they are members. I only add to this proposition, that this union is to be understood not only of what it is, de facto, but what ought to be, de jure. Thus persons that ought to join themselves, but out of schismatical principles do not, nor never did, join themselves to the churches of Christ, may be guilty of this sinful separation, because there is a union required.
2. The fault and crime of the schism is not always in those that do actually separate and withdraw, but in those that cause it. A man threateneth death to his wife, hereupon she separateth; not she. but he maketh the separation. Borne obstinately continuing her corruptions, and threatening death to those that warn her, the cause of separation is in Rome, not in us. Strings in tune must not be brought down to strings out of tune, but the other set up to them: ‘Go not thou to them (saith God to the prophet), but let them return to thee.’
3. Though those that separate be the fewer, yet that nothing varieth the case. Noah and eight persons went into the ark, and left the world in infidelity; Lot got out of Sodom with one family; Elijah was left alone to contest with Baal’s priests. Not the greater, but the 329better part is to be regarded. Jacob’s family was fewer than the Canaanites, and Israel less than the rest of the world. God’s witnesses at the first may be but a very handful.
4. A separation from corruptions, and a separation from those that are corrupt, are two distinct things. A separation from corruptions is always enjoined, but not always from those that are corrupted. Those scriptures, Isa. liii. 11, and 2 Cor. vi. 17, speak of a fellowship with men in evil works; but now a separation from men that are corrupt is sometimes lawful: Rev. xviii. 4, ‘Come out of her, my people,’ &c.; and Jer. li. 9, ‘She would not be healed,’ &c. We may separate from such as separate from Christ, and continue obstinate in their corruptions. And sometimes it is not lawful, as when a church is reforming and purging out these corruptions, or they are not of such moment as that such a desperate remedy should be used. A limb is not to be cut off as soon as it acheth, but when it is rotten and likely to endanger the whole body; when evils are incurable, deadly, and contagious, and we can no longer maintain communion without sin. At first it is good to try all things.
5. There are several sorts of separation, as these distinctions will manifest. Separation is either partial or total, negative or positive, universal or particular.
For the first distinction, there is a partial separation, when we with draw from the communion of the church in some ordinances and not in others, as in the supper, but not in praying and hearing of the word.
The second distinction beareth thus:—There is a negative separation, as when men do not hold communion with some church, but yet do not join elsewhere, but continue waiting for the amendment of that church. Positive separation is when they embody in another church way, setting up altar against altar, and threshold against threshold.
The third distinction is to be understood thus:—There is a particular separation, whereby men renounce communion with the churches of such a kind and constitution, catholic or universal separation, by which men disclaim all churches extant in the world, as Seekers, and many loose and vagrant persons that are as yet to choose religion, or look for new messengers from heaven to resolve the questions that are now on foot.
Now the more unjust the ground is, the more aggravated is the sin by the degrees of it. If our separation be total and positive, and to deny all churches, of what constitution soever, argueth a high degree of pride and schism.
6. Faulty separation is that which is rash, sinful, and unjust; rash, without any real cause, merely for our better accommodation, or when we require that of the church which the scripture doth not require; unjust, without any sufficient cause, occasioning so many scandals and contentions for a trifle, and aggravating every discontent and dissatisfaction to the highest; sinful I call it, when the grounds are as carnal as the practice, as revenge, personal discontent—as many in the primitive times went over to the sects in stomach and discontent: so Tertullian is reported by some to do to the Montanists—or else corrupt 330aims to be in the head of a train or troop, Acts xx. 28. It is easy to abuse the innocent credulity of the people, and therefore some wicked spirits make it their work to ‘draw disciples after them;’ or it may be carnal fear of the severity of discipline or the censures of the church, or out of love of gain, 2 Tim. iv. 10, or affectation of novelty, or a higher way than ordinary Christians, or out of faction; in Corinth, ‘some of Paul, some of Apollos, some of Cephas,’ 1 Cor. iii. 22.
7. The only lawful grounds of separation are three:—(1.) Intolerable persecution; (2.) Damnable heresy; (3.) Gross idolatry.
(1.) Intolerable persecution.164164 Under this head is comprised sinful excommunication. See John ix. 34, and xvi. 2. When we are thrust out, Christ biddeth us to flee into another city. (2.) Damnable heresy. We cannot bid them God-speed, lest we be partakers of their evil deeds, 2 John 11. (3.) Gross idolatry, when we cannot communicate in their worship without sin.
8. The scandals of professors are ground of mourning, but not ground of separation, 1 Cor. v. 2. Church guides must do their office, discern between the precious and the vile, that the hearts of the righteous be not made sad; yet if not, you have no ground to separate, be cause God may own them for a church though they have many scandals among them; as in Corinth there was incest, heresy, profaneness, many that ‘never had repented,’ 2 Cor. xii. 21; yet ‘to the saints at Corinth.’ We may communicate with a church without sin when we have done our duty, that is, informed, warned, mourned. If the word and ordinances be kept pure for substance, though the persons be corrupt, you may communicate without sin. The Pharisees held the degree of doctors and expositors of the law, and so far were to be owned, though guilty of much personal wickedness, Mat. xxiii. 2, 3. The prophets lived in corrupt times, yet did they not separate from the assemblies of the church. Usually laziness is the ground of separation; they are loath to discharge their duty, to take pains, to convince, exhort, and warn their fellow members, or to call upon their pastors to ‘take heed to their ministry;’ and some pastors are loath to be at the labour to gain a rugged people to the obedience of the gospel, to use that frequent admonition and those serious ad dresses which are necessary for such a purpose, and to expose themselves to encounter those exasperations which the discharge of their duty will necessarily draw upon them, and therefore run into separate assemblies, where all things may be carried on more easily.
9. Lawful separation must not be sudden, till all due courses be tried: 1 Cor. xiii. 7, ‘Love beareth all things, endureth all things, hopeth all things.’ Certainly we should do much, endure much, ere we go off from the communion of any church. It must be with grief. When physicians cut off an arm or leg, they do not delight in it, but are driven to it of necessity. So when a judge condemneth a malefactor, he delighteth not in the punishment; in a civil war, though the cause be just, yet to delight in the executions that are done upon the enemy is not without sin: 1 Cor. xiii. 5, ‘Charity rejoiceth not in evil, 331but rejoiceth in the truth.’ Again, it must be with a mind to return when the evil is taken away.165165 ‘Ab ecclesia Romanâ non alio discessimus animo quam ut si correcta ad priorem ecclesiae formam redeat, nos quoque ad illam revertamur, &c.’—Zuinglius. See my Comment on James iii. 17.
10. For the degrees of separation take these rules:—If a few separated for a weighty cause, they should only withdraw, tarrying for the reformation of the church; but numerous bodies may go on to positive separation, for they ought not to be without ordinances, but boldly to profess the right way. Again, as long as a lower degree of separation will serve the turn, we should not go to a higher; it is a great weakening to the interest of Christ when we presently draw things to an extremity. In smaller differences we must observe the apostle’s rule, Phil. iii. 16. But enough of this matter.
Obs. 2. The next point is taken from the second sin mentioned in this verse, sensual. He chargeth it upon those that separate themselves. Those that separate from the assemblies of the faithful are usually sensual. Discipline is too strait for them that would live according to their own lusts. The raven that was sent out of the ark, finding carrion floating abroad, had no mind to be cooped up there, and therefore returned not; so these, finding more liberty abroad than in the congregations of the faithful, separate and inhaunt with such among whom they may have room for their lusts. Moreover, they lose the benefit of those that should watch over them; church communion is a good preservative against lusts: ‘Woe to him that is alone,’ Eccles. iv. 10. Stragglers are more easily surprised; they were scattered and became meat to the beasts of the field, Ezek. xxxiv. 5, 6. They that separate are the more easily perverted both in judgment and practice; they turn familists; now familism is but painted atheism; or antinomists, and antinomism is but sin licensed and privileged. Again, it is just with God to punish that pride wherewith separation is accompanied with brutish lusts. Usually unsanctified knowledge runneth into pride, and then the affections are not governed. Well, then, ob serve the providence of God in setting a mark upon those that separate; they are men of unbridled affections, and without yoke, and are usually given up to carnal pleasures; and wonder not if sensual persons cast off communion with the church, when they cast off communion with God himself; those that spent their days in mirth said unto God ‘depart from us,’ Job xxi. 14. Many now that are come to the height of pride and sin pretend to live to the height of the creature.
Obs. 3. The next note is, that sensual persons are evil persons. There are three ranks of sinners—those that are given to fleshly lusts, and they are the sensual; those that are given to the lusts of the eyes, and they are the worldly; those that are given to pride of life, and those are the proud, the ‘great spirits of the world.’ See 1 John ii. 16, and James iii. 15, with my comment there. Our work now lieth with the sensual, who seem to be the worst sort of sinners, and altogether unfit for any worthy action and exploit. To find them out, let us consider what sensuality is. It is an inordinate desire and delight in soft and delicate living; there is a due care of the body to keep it serviceable, and an allowed delight in the creature. He that created water created 332wine, creatures for our delight as well as our necessity, and false teachers have often set off themselves with the show of a severer abstinence: Col. ii. 21. It is possible that, by an undue rigour, the body may be used a little too hardly and disabled for better services, but yet we are more usually guilty of the excess than of the defect; pleasure is born and bred with us, and therefore hath a mighty force and enchantment upon the soul. The first years of human life are merely governed by sense, and for a great while all our business is to live and grow, and therefore most men miscarry by appetite and an undue liberty in meats, drinks, and sports. Now, to state the due bounds and limits which reason and religion hath set is very hard; different tempers and constitutions of body make rules uncertain. In the general, it is good to watch, lest pleasure become a master, and reason a slave. The two general limits are:—(1.) The health of the body; (2.) The welfare of the soul.
1. The health of the body must be regarded. Too much care for the body destroyeth it, as too much oil puts out the lamp: ‘Wine and women take away the heart,’ Hosea iv. 11; that is, the generousness and sprightliness of a man. The vigour of nature is abated, gallant and active spirits effeminated, and brave hopes drowned and quenched in the puddle of excess, and masculine agility and vivacity melted away in ease and pleasure. The Romans were wont to have their funerals at the gates of Venus’ temple.
2. The soul’s welfare is of chief consideration. We must take heed that the soul be not either disfitted for duty or disposed for sin.
[1.] Disfitted for duty; when the soul cannot lift up itself to God and divine things, and findeth less aptitude for his service, you are inordinate: Luke xxi. 34, ‘Let not your hearts be over-charged with surfeiting and drunkenness,’ fec. The heart may be overcharged when the stomach is not. When we are warned of surfeiting and drunkenness, we think of vomiting, staggering, reeling, faltering in speech or gait. O Christians! you are guilty of it when the heart is over charged, and driveth on heavily in holy things. When we are warned of adultery, we think only of defiling other men’s wives, or scattering our lusts promiscuously, as the beasts do; but alas! we are guilty of it when the inordinate use of a lawful wife doth quench our vigour and alacrity in our heavenly calling; si vinum ex apotheca tua, &c.—a man may drink too freely of his hogshead.
[2.] We must take care that the soul be not more disposed to sin. ‘Divers lusts and pleasures’ are fitly joined by the apostle, Titus iii. 3. If we do not watch over pleasures, the heart groweth more wanton and libidinous, the restraints of grace are weaker, and carnal motions more urgent and violent; the ‘heart is nourished,’ &c., James v. 5, the enemy put in strength and heart, 1 Peter ii. 11.
Well, then, let us beware of sensuality; other things defile a part, as covetousness the soul, but sensual lusts defile the soul and body too; they leave guilt upon the soul and dishonour upon the body, while it is made a strainer for meats and drink, and a channel for lusts to run in. Other lusts seem to gratify the ambition of man and to exalt him, but these debase him, and turn him out among the beasts. To renounce pleasures is the first thing you must do if you mean to do 333anything in religion, otherwise you lie open to every temptation. The water of the sanctuary could not heal the miry places, Ezek. xlvii. 11; which is usually applied to sensual hearts. Pleasures bring a brawn and a deadness upon the conscience, and a cloud upon the understanding. Daniel, that had the high visions of God, lived by pulse. John the Baptist, that had the most eminent gospel dispensation, Mat. xi., fed upon locusts and wild honey. Among the heathens he was counted the most accomplished man that spent more oil in the lamp than wine in the bottle.166166 ‘Πλεῖον ἐλαῖον οἴνου δαπάνησας.’ Certainly the baser a man is the more he affects carnal delights: Eccles. vii. 4, ‘The heart of a fool is in the house of mirth.’ That which wise men prefer is better than that which fools make choice of. Pleasures are the choice of fools; wise men know them to be baits and snares, that, if they be not watched, they soon put us out of frame, and unfit us for communion with God, Eccles. ii. 2. Once more, this sort of sins enslaveth, and by custom gaineth upon the heart more than others do, and bringeth us under a power which we cannot easily break, 1 Cor. vi. 12. Therefore use pleasures with care and caution, that when we take them they may not take us. God’s people, I suppose, are not so easily tempted to adultery and drunkenness, but beware of gluttony;167167 ‘Ebrietas longe est a me, domine; crapula autem nonuunquam surrepit servo tuo.’—Aug. Confes. the throat is a slippery place, and instead of supplying nature we feed lust. Be not too much in the use of carnal delights, lest you suffer this distemper of spirit to take root. Dives fared deliciously every day. There are times of abstinence, as well as liberal enjoyment in the creature. When our lives are but a diversion from one pleasure to another, nature groweth wanton and unsatisfied, and men live as if they were born to eat, drink, play, sport, and sleep, Luke xvii. 27. Lastly, take heed of soliciting lusts when you should quench them, Rom. xiii. 14.
Obs. 4. The next thing that we may observe is, that sensual persons have not the Spirit. These two are contrary, ‘flesh and spirit,’ Gal. v. 17; and they that cherish the one do necessarily banish the other, and as they enlarge the one they straiten the other. The Spirit is a free spirit, and sensual persons are very slaves; the Spirit is a pure spirit, and they are unclean; the Spirit is active, and they are gross and muddy, of a dull and and stupid nature; the Spirit worketh intellectual and chaste delights, and they are altogether for base and dreggy pleasures: such a perfect contrariety is there between them. More distinctly take it thus:—
1. Sensual men have little of the enlightening of the Spirit; their palate is better than their understanding: Eph. v. 18, ‘Be not drunken with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit;’ where the fumes of wine and the motions of the Spirit are compared as things incompatible. In marshy countries we do not expect a clear air; so sensual persons have seldom any clear and raised thoughts of God: men given to pleasures can taste meats and drinks, but not doctrines.
2. Sensual men have little of the quickenings and efficacy of the Spirit; the more they dissolve and melt away their precious hours and spirits in pleasures, the more do they grow sapless, dead, and careless, 334and lose all tenderness of conscience and liveliness of affection: they quench the vigour of nature, much more do they quench the Spirit; voluptuaries are said to be ‘past feeling,’ Eph. iv. 19.
3. They have little of the comforts of the Spirit. The comforts of the Spirit arise from meditating on the works of God, Ps. civ. 34; or tasting his love, 1 Peter ii. 3; or contemplating our great hopes, 2 Cor. iv. 18. Now carnal men can relish none of this; they cannot exercise love, or faith, or hope, that they may delight themselves in God, and have some lively tastes of eternal life. When the soul lieth under the dominion of carnal and dreggy pleasures, it is incapable of thinking upon God and his works, or relishing inward consolation; love is preoccupied.
Well, then, we should the more take heed that we be not sensual. Never had any sensual person any great measure and portion of the Holy Ghost in gifts or graces. The devil easily entereth into swine, but the Holy Spirit of God will not dwell there. A man is put to his choice which he will have—pleasures or the Spirit. It will be sad for you, if you ‘love pleasures more than God,’ 2 Tim. iii. 4, and prefer these dreggy delights before those masculine joys which will accrue to you by communion with God. If we were altogether to renounce delight, it would be more irksome. No; you are only called to exchange it. Which will you choose, then? to live at large and wallow in carnal contentments, or be employed in the serious and grave exercises of religion? Surely, one moment’s communion with God is better than all the mirth we can get by the pastime of an age.
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