Adam Clarke Commentary
2 Thessalonians 2
He exhorts the Thessalonians to stand fast in the faith, and not to be alarmed at the rumors they heard concerning the sudden coming of Christ, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:2. Because, previously to this coming, there would be a great apostasy from the true faith, and a manifestation of a son of perdition, of whose unparalleled presumption he gives an awful description; as well as of his pernicious success among men, and the means which he would use to deceive and pervert the world; and particularly those who do not receive the love of the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12. He thanks God for their steadfastness; shows the great privileges to which they were called; and prays that they may be comforted and established in every good word and work, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17.
We beseech you - by the coming of our Lord - It is evident that the Thessalonians, incited by deceived or false teachers, had taken a wrong meaning out of the words of the first epistle, 1 Thessalonians 4:15, etc., concerning the day of judgment; and were led then to conclude that that day was at hand; and this had produced great confusion in the Church: to correct this mistake, the apostle sent them this second letter, in which he shows that this day must be necessarily distant, because a great work is to be done previously to its appearing.
Of the day of general judgment he had spoken before, and said that it should come as a thief in the night, i.e. when not expected; but he did not attempt to fix the time, nor did he insinuate that it was either near at hand, or far off. Now, however, he shows that it must necessarily be far off, because of the great transactions which must take place before it can come.
Be not soon shaken in mind - Απο του νοος· From the mind; i.e. that they should retain the persuasion they had of the truths which he had before delivered to them; that they should still hold the same opinions, and hold fast the doctrines which they had been taught.
Neither by spirit - Any pretended revelation.
Nor by word - Any thing which any person may profess to have heard the apostle speak.
Nor by letter - Either the former one which he had sent, some passages of which have been misconceived and misconstrued; or by any other letter, as from us - pretending to have been written by us, the apostles, containing predictions of this kind. There is a diversity of opinion among critics concerning this last clause, some supposing that it refers simply to the first epistle; others supposing that a forged epistle is intended. I have joined the two senses. The word σαλευθηναι, to be shaken, signifies to be agitated as a ship at sea in a storm, and strongly marks the confusion and distress which the Thessalonians had felt in their false apprehension of this coming of Christ.
As that the day of Christ is at hand - In the preface to this epistle I have given a general view of the meaning of the phrase the coming of Christ. Now the question is: Whether does the apostle mean, the coming of Christ to execute judgment upon the Jews, and destroy their polity, or his coming at the end of time, to judge the world? There are certainly many expressions in the following verses that may be applied indifferently to either, and some seem to apply to the one, and not to the other; and yet the whole can scarcely be so interpreted as to suit any one of these comings exclusively. This is precisely the case with the predictions of our Lord relative to these great events; one is used to point out and illustrate the other. On this ground I am led to think that the apostle, in the following confessedly obscure words, has both these in view, speaking of none of them exclusively; for it is the custom of the inspired penmen, or rather of that Spirit by which they spoke, to point out as many certain events by one prediction as it was possible to do, and to choose the figures, metaphors, and similes accordingly; and thus, from the beginning, God has pointed out the things that were not by the things that then existed, making the one the types or significations of the other. As the apostle spoke by the same Spirit, he most probably followed the same plan; and thus the following prophecy is to be interpreted and understood.
Except there come a falling away first - We have the original word αποστασια in our word apostasy; and by this term we understand a dereliction of the essential principles of religious truth - either a total abandonment of Christianity itself, or such a corruption of its doctrines as renders the whole system completely inefficient to salvation. But what this apostasy means is a question which has not yet, and perhaps never will be, answered to general satisfaction. At present I shall content myself with making a few literal remarks on this obscure prophecy, and afterwards give the opinions of learned men on its principal parts.
That man of sin - Ὁ ανθρωπος της ἁμαρτιας· The same as the Hebrew expresses by און איש ish aven, and בליעל איש ish beliyaal ; the perverse, obstinate, and iniquitous man. It is worthy of remark that, among the rabbins, Samael, or the devil, is called און ואיש בליעל איש ish beliyaal veish aven, the man of Belial, and the man of iniquity; and that these titles are given to Adam after his fall.
The son of perdition - Ὁ υἱος της απωλειας· The son of destruction; the same epithet that is given to Judas Iscariot, John 17:12; (note). The son of perdition, and the man of sin, or, as some excellent MSS. and versions, with several of the fathers, read, ανθρωπος της ανομιας, the lawless man, see 2 Thessalonians 2:8, must mean the same person or thing. It is also remarkable that the wicked Jews are styled by Isaiah, Isaiah 1:4, משחיתים בנים benim mashchithim, "children of perdition;" persons who destroy themselves and destroy others.
Who opposeth and exalteth - He stands against and exalts himself above all Divine authority, and above every object of adoration, and every institution relative to Divine worship, σεβασμα, himself being the source, whence must originate all the doctrines of religion, and all its rites and ceremonies; so that sitting in the temple of God - having the highest place and authority in the Christian Church, he acts as God - taking upon himself God's titles and attributes, and arrogating to himself the authority that belongs to the Most High.
The words ως Θεον, as God, are wanting in ABD, many others, Erpen's Arabic, the Coptic, Sahidic, Ethiopic, Armenian, the Vulgate, some copies of the Itala, and the chief of the Greek fathers. Griesbach has left them out of the text, and Professor White says, Certissime delenda; "They should most certainly be erased." There is indeed no evidence of their being authentic, and the text reads much better with out them: So that he sitteth in the temple of God, etc.
I told you these things - In several parts of this description of the man of sin, the apostle alludes to a conversation which had taken place between him and the members of this Church when he was at Thessalonica; and this one circumstance will account for much of the obscurity that is in these verses. Besides, the apostle appears to speak with great caution, and does not at all wish to publish what he had communicated to them; the hints which he drops were sufficient to call the whole to their remembrance.
And now ye know what withholdeth - I told you this among other things; I informed you what it was that prevented this man of sin, this son of perdition, from revealing himself fully.
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work - There is a system of corrupt doctrine, which will lead to the general apostasy, already in existence, but it is a mystery; it is as yet hidden; it dare not show itself, because of that which hindereth or withholdeth. But when that which now restraineth shall be taken out of the way, then shall that wicked one be revealed-it will then be manifest who he is, and what he is. See the observations at the end of this chapter (note).
Whom the Lord shall consume - He shall blast him so, that he shall wither and die away; and this shall be done by the spirit of his mouth - the words of eternal life, the true doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus; this shall be the instrument used to destroy this man of sin: therefore it is evident his death will not be a sudden but a gradual one; because it is by the preaching of the truth that he is to be exposed, overthrown, and finally destroyed.
The brightness of his coming - This may refer to that full manifestation of the truth which had been obscured and kept under by the exaltation of this man of sin.
Whose coming is after the working of Satan - The operation of God's Spirit sends his messengers; the operation of Satan's spirit sends his emissaries. The one comes κατ 'ενεργειαν του Θεου, after or according to the energy or inward powerful working of God; the other comes κατ 'ενεργειαν του Σατανα, according to the energy or inward working of Satan.
With all power - Πασῃ δυναμει· All kinds of miracles, like the Egyptian magicians; and signs and lying wonders: the word lying may be applied to the whole of these; they were lying miracles, lying signs, and lying wonders; only appearances of what was real, and done to give credit to his presumption and imposture. Whereas God sent his messengers with real miracles, real signs, and real wonders; such Satan cannot produce.
And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness - With every art that cunning can invent and unrighteousness suggest, in order to delude and deceive.
In them that perish - Εν τοις απολλυμενοις· Among them that are destroyed; and they are destroyed and perish because they would not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. So they perish because they obstinately refuse to be saved, and receive a lie in preference to the truth. This has been true of all the Jews from the days of the apostle until now.
God shall send them strong delusion - For this very cause, that they would not receive the love of the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness, therefore God permits strong delusion to occupy their minds; so that they believe a lie rather than the truth, prefer false apostles and their erroneous doctrines to the pure truths of the Gospel, brought to them by the well-accredited messengers of God; being ever ready to receive any false Messiah, while they systematically and virulently reject the true one.
That they all might be damned - Ἱνα κριθωσι· So that they may all be condemned who believed not the truth when it was proclaimed to them; but took pleasure in unrighteousness, preferring that to the way of holiness. Their condemnation was the effect of their refusal to believe the truth; and they refused to believe it because they loved their sins. For a farther and more pointed illustration of the preceding verses, see the conclusion of this chapter (note).
God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, etc. - In your calling, God has shown the purpose that he had formed from the beginning, to call the Gentiles to the same privileges with the Jews, not through circumcision, and the observance of the Mosaic law, but by faith in Christ Jesus; but this simple way of salvation referred to the same end - holiness, without which no man, whether Jew or Gentile, can see the Lord.
Let us observe the order of Divine grace in this business:
Therefore, brethren, stand fast - Their obtaining eternal glory depended on their faithfulness to the grace of God; for this calling did not necessarily and irresistibly lead to faith; nor their faith to the sanctification of the spirit; nor their sanctification of the spirit to the glory of our Lord Jesus. Had they not attended to the calling, they could not have believed; had they not believed, they could not have been sanctified; had they not been sanctified they could not have been glorified. All these things depended on each other; they were stages of the great journey; and at any of these stages they might have halted, and never finished their Christian race.
Hold the traditions which ye have been taught - The word παραδοσις, which we render tradition, signifies any thing delivered in the way of teaching; and here most obviously means the doctrines delivered by the apostle to the Thessalonians; whether in his preaching, private conversation, or by these epistles; and particularly the first epistle, as the apostle here states. Whatever these traditions were, as to their matter, they were a revelation from God; for they came by men who spake and acted under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; and on this ground the passage here can never with any propriety be brought to support the unapostolical and anti-apostolical traditions of the Romish Church; those being matters which are, confessedly, not taken from either Testament, nor were spoken either by a prophet or an apostle.
Now our Lord Jesus - As all your grace came from God through Christ, so the power that is necessary to strengthen and confirm you unto the end must come in the same way.
Everlasting consolation - Παρακλησιν αιωνιαν· The glad tidings of the Gospel, and the comfort which ye have received through believing; a gift which God had in his original purpose, in reference to the Gentiles; a purpose which has respected all times and places, and which shall continue to the conclusion of time; for the Gospel is everlasting, and shall not be superseded by any other dispensation. It is the last and best which God has provided for man; and it is good tidings, everlasting consolation - a complete system of complete peace and happiness. The words may also refer to the happiness which the believing Thessalonians then possessed.
And good hope through grace - The hope of the Gospel was the resurrection of the body, and the final glorification of it and the soul throughout eternity. This was the good hope which the Thessalonians had; not a hope that they should be pardoned or sanctified, etc. Pardon and holiness they enjoyed, therefore they were no objects of hope; but the resurrection of the body and eternal glory were necessarily future; these they had in expectation; these they hoped for; and, through the grace which they had already received they had a good hope - a well-grounded expectation, of this glorious state.
Comfort your hearts - Keep your souls ever under the influence of his Holy Spirit: and stablish you - confirm and strengthen you in your belief of every good word or doctrine, which we have delivered unto you; and in the practice of every good work, recommended and enjoined by the doctrines of the Gospel. It is not enough that we believe the truth; we must love the truth.
Antinomianism says: "Believe the doctrines, and ye are safe." The testimony borne by the Gospel is: Believe, love, obey: none of these can subsist without the other. The faith of a devil may exist without loving obedience; but the faith of a true believer worketh by love; and this faith and love have not respect to some one commandment, but to all; for God writes his whole law on the heart of every genuine Christian, and gives him that love which is the fulfilling of the law.
The reader will have observed that, in going through this chapter, while examining the import of every leading word, I have avoided fixing any specific meaning to terms: the apostasy or falling away; the man of sin; son of perdition; him who letteth or withholdeth, etc. The reason is, I have found it extremely difficult to fix any sense to my own satisfaction; and it was natural for me to think that, if I could not satisfy myself, it was not likely I could satisfy my readers. But, as something should be said relative to the persons and things intended by the apostle, I choose to give rather what others have said, than attempt any new mode of interpretation. The great variety of explanations given by wise and learned men only prove the difficulty of the place.
2 Thessalonians 2:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:6, 2 Thessalonians 2:7. Remember ye not, etc. - The apostle thought it part of his duty, as he made it a part of his preaching and doctrine, to forewarn his new converts of the grand apostasy that would infect the Church, even while he was at Thessalonica. From these verses it appears that the man of sin was not then revealed; his time was not yet come, or the season of his manifestation. The mystery of iniquity was indeed already working; the seeds of corruption were sown, but they were not grown up to maturity; the man of sin was yet hardly conceived in the womb; it must be some time before he could be brought forth; there was some obstacle that hindered his appearing. What this was we cannot determine with absolute certainty at so great a distance of time; but if we may rely upon the concurrent testimony of the fathers, it was the Roman empire. Most probably it was somewhat relating to the higher powers, because the apostle observes such caution; he mentioned it in discourse, but would not commit it to writing.
2 Thessalonians 2:8. Then shall that Wicked be revealed - When the obstacle, mentioned in the preceding verse, should be removed, then shall that wicked, etc. Nothing can be plainer than that the lawless, (ὁ ανομος ), as the Greek signifies, the wicked one, here mentioned, and the man of sin, must be one and the same person. The apostle was speaking before of what hindered that he should be revealed, and would continue to hinder it till it was taken away; and then the wicked one, etc. Not that he should be consumed immediately after he was revealed. But the apostle, to comfort the Thessalonians, no sooner mentions his revelation than he foretells also his destruction, even before he describes his other qualifications. His other qualifications should have been described first, in order of time; but the apostle hastens to what was first and warmest in his thoughts and wishes: Whom the Lord shall consume, etc. If these two clauses refer to two distinct and different events, the meaning manifestly is, that the Lord Jesus shall gradually consume him with the free preaching and publication of his word; and shall utterly destroy him at his second coming, in the glory of his Father, with all the holy angels. If these two clauses relate to one and the same event, it is a pleonasm very usual in the sacred, as well as other oriental writings; and the purport plainly is, that the Lord Jesus shall destroy him with the greatest facility, when he shall be revealed from heaven, as the apostle has expressed it in the preceding chapter.
2 Thessalonians 2:9-12. Whose coming is after, etc. - The apostle was eager to foretell the destruction of the man of sin; and for this purpose having broken in upon his subject, he now returns to it again, and describes the other qualifications by which this wicked one should advance and establish himself in the world. He should rise to credit and authority by the most diabolical methods; should pretend to supernatural powers; and boast of revelations, visions, and miracles, false in themselves, and applied to promote false doctrines.
2 Thessalonians 2:9. He should likewise practice all other wicked acts of deceit; should be guilty of the most impious frauds and impositions upon mankind; but should prevail only among those who are destitute of a sincere affection for the truth; whereby they might attain eternal salvation.
2 Thessalonians 2:10. And indeed it is a just and righteous judgment of God, to give them over to vanities and lies in this world, and to condemnation in the next, who have no regard to truth and virtue, but delight in falsehood and wickedness; 2 Thessalonians 2:11, 2 Thessalonians 2:12.
Upon this survey there appears little room to doubt of the genuine sense and meaning of the passage. The Thessalonians, as we have seen from some expressions in the former epistle, were alarmed as if the end of the world was at hand. The apostle, to correct their mistake and dissipate their fears, assures them that a great apostasy, or defection of the Christians from the true faith and worship, must happen before the coming of Christ. This apostasy all the concurrent marks and characters will justify us in charging upon the Church of Rome. The true Christian worship is the worship of the one only God, through the one only Mediator, the man Christ Jesus; and from this worship the Church of Rome has most notoriously departed, by substituting other mediators, and invocating and adoring saints and angels, nothing is apostasy, if idolatry be not. And are not the members of the Church of Rome guilty of idolatry in the worship of images, in the adoration of the host, in the invocation of angels and saints, and in the oblation of prayers and praises to the Virgin Mary, as much or more than to God blessed for ever? This is the grand corruption of the Christian Church: this is the apostasy as it is emphatically called, and deserves to be called; which was not only predicted by St. Paul, but by the Prophet Daniel likewise. If the apostasy be rightly charged upon the Church of Rome, it follows of consequence that the man of sin is the pope; not meaning any pope in particular, but the pope in general, as the chief head and supporter of this apostasy. He is properly the man of sin, not only on account of the scandalous lives of many popes, but by reason of their most scandalous doctrines and principles; dispensing with the most necessary duties; and granting, or rather selling, pardons and indulgences to the most abominable crimes. Or, if by sin be meant idolatry in particular, as in the Old Testament, it is evident how he has perverted the worship of God to superstition and idolatry of the grossest kind. He also, like the false apostle, Judas, is the son of perdition; whether actively, as being the cause of destruction to others; or passively, as being devoted to destruction himself. He opposeth - he is the great adversary of God and man; persecuting and destroying, by croisades, inquisitions, and massacres, those Christians who prefer the word of God to the authority of men. The heathen emperor of Rome may have slain his thousands of innocent Christians; but the Christian bishop of Rome has slain his ten thousands. He exalteth himself above all that is called God, or is worshipped - not only above inferior magistrates, but likewise above bishops and primates; not only above bishops and primates, but likewise above kings and emperors; deposing some, obliging them to kiss his toe, to hold his stirrup, treading even upon the neck of a king, and kicking off the imperial crown with his foot; nay, not only kings and emperors, but likewise above Christ and God himself; making even the word of God of none effect by his traditions - forbidding what God has commanded; as marriage, the use of the Scriptures, etc.; and also commanding or allowing what God has forbidden, as idolatry, persecution, etc. So that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, etc.; he is therefore in profession a Christian, and a Christian bishop. His sitting in the temple of God implies plainly his having a seat or cathedra in the Christian Church; and he sitteth there as God, especially at his inauguration, when he sits upon the high altar in St. Peter's church, and makes the table of the Lord his footstool, and in that position receives adoration. At all times he exercises Divine authority in the Church, showing himself that he is God - affecting Divine titles, and asserting that his decrees are of the same or greater authority than the word of God. So that the pope is evidently, according to the titles given him in the public decretals, The God upon earth; at least there is no one, like him, who exalteth himself above every god; no one, like him, who sitteth as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. The foundations of popery were laid in the apostle's days, but of which the superstructure was raised by degrees; and several ages passed before the building was completed, and the man of sin revealed in full perfection. The tradition that generally prevailed was that that which hindered was the Roman empire: this tradition might have been derived even from the apostle himself; and therefore the primitive Christians, in the public offices of the Church, prayed for its peace and welfare, as knowing that, when the Roman empire should be dissolved and broken in pieces, the empire of the man of sin would be raised upon its ruins. In the same proportion as the power of the empire decreased, the authority of the Church increased, and the latter at the expense and ruin of the former; till at length the pope grew up above all, and the wicked, or lawless one, was fully manifested and revealed. His coming is after the energy of Satan, etc; and does it require any particular proof that the pretensions of the pope, and the corruption of the Church of Rome, are all supported and authorized by feigned visions and miracles, by pious frauds and impositions of every kind? But how much soever the man of sin may be exalted, and how long soever he may reign, yet at last the Lord shall consume him, etc. This is partly taken from Isaiah 11:4, And with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked one; where the Jews put an emphasis upon the words the wicked one; as appears from the Chaldee, which renders it, "He shall destroy the wicked Roman." If the two clauses, as said in the note on 2 Thessalonians 2:8; (note), relate to two different events, the meaning is, "that the Lord Jesus shall gradually consume him with the free preaching of the Gospel; and shall utterly destroy him at his second coming in the glory of the Father." The former began to take effect at the Reformation; and the latter will be accomplished in God's appointed time. The man of sin is now upon the decline, and he will be totally abolished when Christ shall come in judgment. Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, Lactantius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose, Hilary, Jerome, Augustine, and Chrysostom, give much the same interpretation that has here been given of the whole passage. And it must be owned that this is the genuine meaning of the apostle; that this only is consistent with the context; that every other interpretation is forced and unnatural; that this is liable to no material objection; that it coincides perfectly with Daniel; that it is agreeable to the tradition of the primitive Church; and that it has been exactly fulfilled in all its particulars; which cannot be said of any other interpretation whatever. Such a prophecy as this is an illustrious proof of Divine revelation, and an excellent antidote to the poison of popery.
See the Dissertations on the Prophecies; and Dodd, as above.
2 Thessalonians 2:3. And that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition. Daniel 7:21. And the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them.
Daniel 7:25. And he shall speak great words against the Most High; and shall wear out the saints of the Most High. 2 Thessalonians 2:4. Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Daniel 11:36. And the king shall do according to his will; and he; shall exalt himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods.
Daniel 8:25. He shall also stand up against the Prince of princes. 2 Thessalonians 2:7. Only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. Daniel 7:8. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots. 2 Thessalonians 2:8. And there shall that wicked one be revealed. Daniel 7:25. And he shall think to change times and laws, and they shall be given into his hand. See Daniel 8:24. 1 Timothy 4:1. Giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils. Daniel 11:38. In his estate he shall honor the god of forces (Mahuzzim, gods who are protectors, that is, tutelary angels and saints.) 1 Timothy 4:3. Forbidding to marry. Daniel 11:37. Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women. 2 Thessalonians 2:8. Whom the Lord shall consume with the Spirit mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming. Daniel 7:11. I beheld then, because of his of the voice of the great words which the horn spake; I beheld, even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.
Daniel 7:26. And they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it unto the end.
Daniel 8:25. He shall be broken without hand.
After entering into great detail in his notes, he sums up in the following manner: - "Now as, in the prophecies of Daniel, empires governed by a succession of kings are denoted by a single emblem; such as, by a part of an image, a single beast, a horn, etc., of a beast; so in Paul's prophecy, the man of sin, and son of perdition, and the lawless one, may denote an impious tyranny, exercised by a succession of men who cause great misery and ruin to others; and who, at length, shall be destroyed themselves. It is true, the papists contend that one person only is meant by these appellations, because they are in the singular number, and have the Greek article prefixed to them. But in Scripture we find other words in the singular number, with the article, used to denote a multitude of persons; for example, Romans 1:17; ὁ δικαιος, the just one, by faith, shall live; that is, all just persons whatever: Titus 1:7; ὁ επισκοπος, the bishop must be blameless; that is, all bishops must be so: 2 John 1:7; ὁ πλανος, the deceiver, signifies many deceivers, as is plain from the preceding clause, where many deceivers are said to have gone out. In like manner the false teachers, who deceived Christ's servants to commit fornication and idolatry, are called that woman Jezebel, Revelation 2:20, and the whore of Babylon, Revelation 17:5; and in this prophecy, Revelation 17:7, the Roman emperors, and magistrates under them, are called ὁ κατεχων, he who restraineth. Farther, a succession of persons, arising one after another, is denoted by appellations in the singular number with the article; for example: the succession of the Jewish high priests is thus denoted in the laws concerning them, Leviticus 21:10, Leviticus 21:15; Numbers 35:25-28. As also the succession of the Jewish kings, Deuteronomy 17:14; 1 Samuel 8:11. From these examples, therefore, it is plain that the names, man of sin, son of perdition, lawless one, although in the singular number, and with the article prefixed, may, according to the Scripture idiom, denote a multitude, and even a succession of persons arising one after another.
"The facts and circumstances mentioned in these prophecies are, for the most part, so peculiarly marked, that they will not easily apply, except to the persons and events intended by the Spirit of God. And therefore, in every case where different interpretations have been given of any prophecy, the proper method of ascertaining its meaning is to compare the various events to which it is thought to relate with the words of the prophecy, and to adopt that as the event intended which most exactly agrees in all its parts to the prophetic description.
"According to this rule, though many different interpretations have been given of the prophecy under consideration, that, in my opinion, will appear the best founded which makes it a prediction of the corruptions of Christianity, which began to be introduced into the Church in the apostle's days, and wrought secretly all the time the heathen magistrates persecuted the Christians, but which showed themselves more openly after the empire received the faith of Christ, a.d. 312, and, by a gradual progress, ended in the monstrous errors and usurpations of the bishops of Rome, when the restraining power of the emperors was taken out of the way by the incursions of the barbarous nations, and the breaking of the empire into the ten kingdoms prefigured by the ten horns of Daniel's fourth beast. Now, to be convinced of this, we need only compare the rise and progress of the papal tyranny with the descriptions of the man of sin, and of the mystery of iniquity, given in the writings of Daniel and Paul.
"And first, we have shown in note 1, on 2 Thessalonians 2:7, that the mystery of iniquity, or the corrupt doctrines which ended in the errors and usurpations of the see of Rome, was working secretly in the apostle's days, as he affirms, 2 Thessalonians 2:7; and that the power of the Roman emperors, and of the magistrates under them, was that which then, and during the succeeding ages, restrained the mystery of iniquity in its working, and the man of sin from revealing himself. For, while the power of the state continued in the hands of the heathen rulers, and while they employed that power in persecuting the Christians, the corrupt doctrines and practices introduced by the false teachers did not spread so fast as otherwise they would have done. At least they were not produced to public view as the decisions of Heaven, to which all men were bound to pay implicit obedience. But, after the heathen magistrates were taken out of the way by the conversion of Constantine, and after he and his successors called the Christian bishops to meet in general councils, and enforced their assumption of Divine authority by the civil power; then did they in these councils arrogate to themselves the right of establishing what articles of faith and discipline they thought proper, and of anathematizing all who rejected their decrees; a claim which, in after times, the bishops of Rome transferred from general councils to themselves. It was in this period that the worship of saints and angels was introduced; celibacy was praised as the highest piety; meats of certain kinds were prohibited; and a variety of superstitious mortifications of the body were enjoined by the decrees of councils, in opposition to the express laws of God. In this period, likewise, idolatry and superstition were recommended to the people by false miracles, and every deceit which wickedness could suggest; such as the miraculous cures pretended to be performed by the bones and other relics of the martyrs, in order to induce the ignorant vulgar to worship them as mediators; the feigned visions of angels, who they said had appeared to this or that hermit, to recommend celibacy, fastings, mortifications of the body, and living in solitude; the apparitions of souls from purgatory, who begged that certain superstitions might be practised, for delivering them from that confinement: by all which, those assemblies of ecclesiastics, who by their decrees enjoined these practices, showed themselves to be the man of sin, and lawless one, in his first form, whose coming was to be with all power, and signs, and miracles of falsehood; and who opposed every one that is called god, or that is worshipped. For these general councils, by introducing the worship of saints and angels, robbed God of the worship due to him; and, by substituting saints and angels as mediators, in the place of Christ, they degraded him from his office as mediator, or rendered it altogether useless. However, though they thus opposed God and Christ by their unrighteous decrees, they did not yet exalt themselves above every one who is called God, or an object of worship; neither did they sit yet in the temple of God, as God, and openly show themselves to be God. These blasphemous extravagances were to be acted in after times by a number of particular persons in succession, I mean by the bishops of Rome, after the power of the Christian Roman emperors and of the magistrates under them, was taken out of the way. For the bishops of that see, having very early obtained from the Christian emperors decrees in their own favor, soon raised themselves above all other bishops; and, by a variety of artifices, made the authority and influence of the whole body of the clergy center in themselves; and claimed that infallible authority which was formerly exercised by general councils, of making articles of faith; and of establishing rules of discipline for the whole Christian community; and of determining, in the last resort, all differences among the clergy; and of anathematizing every one who did not submit to their unrighteous decisions. In this manner did the bishops of Rome establish in their own persons a spiritual dominion over the whole Christian world. But not content with this height of power, by dexterously employing the credit and influence which the ecclesiastics, now devoted to their will, had over the laity in all the countries where they lived, they interfered in many civil matters also; till at length they reared that intolerable fabric of spiritual and civil tyranny conjoined, whereby the understandings, the persons, and the properties, not of the laity only, but also of the clergy themselves, have for along time been most grievously enthralled, in all the countries where Christianity was professed.
"This height, however, of spiritual and civil tyranny united, the bishops of Rome did not attain till, as the apostle foretold, that which restrained was taken out of the way; or, till an end was put to the authority of the Roman emperors in the west, by the inroads of the barbarous nations; and, more especially, till the western empire was broken into the ten kingdoms, prefigured in Daniel's vision by the ten horns of the fourth beast; for then it was that the bishops of Rome made themselves the sovereigns of Rome and of its territory, and so became the little horn which Daniel beheld coming up among the ten horns, and which had the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things; to show that its dominion was founded on the deepest policy, and that its strength consisted in the bulls, excommunications, and anathemas, which, with intolerable audacity, it uttered against all who opposed its usurpations. And in process of time, the bishops of Rome having got possession of three of the kingdoms into which the western empire was broken, signified by three of the horns of Daniel's fourth beast being plucked up by the roots before the little horn, they call themselves the vicars of Christ, on pretense that Christ had transferred his whole authority to them. They also thought to change times and laws, as Daniel foretold; for, as the vicars of Christ, they assumed the power of saving and damning men at their own pleasure; and altered the terms of salvation, making it depend, not on faith and holiness, but on the superstitious practices which they had established; and sold the pardon of sins past, and even the liberty of sinning for the future, for money. Moreover, they openly made war with the saints who resisted their corrupt doctrines and practices, and prevailed against them, and wore out the saints of the Most High; for, by the cruel and bloody persecutions which they obliged the princes who acknowledged their authority to carry on against those who adhered to the pure doctrines and worship of Christ, they destroyed incredible numbers of them. Nay, by the terror of their excommunications and interdicts, they forced even the most powerful sovereigns to bend to their yoke: thus with their mouth did they speak very great things. At length they assumed the right of conferring kingdoms and of deposing princes, and actually deposed some, with the help of the potentates of their communion, who put their mandates in execution. Lastly, to render this exercise of their tyranny the more effectual, they arrogated the power of loosing subjects from their oaths of allegiance; whereby they made void the most sacred of all moral obligations, the obligation of allegiance. But this impious scheme of false doctrine, and the spiritual tyranny built upon it, agreeably to the predictions of the Prophet Daniel and of the Apostle Paul, began at the Reformation to be consumed by the breath of the Lord's mouth; that is, by the Scriptures put into the hands of the laity, and by the preaching of true doctrine out of the Scriptures.
"Upon the whole, I think every impartial person who attentively considers the foregoing sketch must be sensible that, in the bishops of Rome, all the characters and actions ascribed by Daniel to the little horn, and by Paul to the man of sin and the lawless one, are clearly united. For, according to the strong workings of Satan, with all power, and signs, and miracles of falsehood, they have opposed Christ, and exalted themselves above all that is called god, or an object of worship; and have long sat in the temple of God, as God, showing themselves that they are God: that is, they exercise the power and prerogatives of God. And seeing, in the acquisition and exercise of their spiritual tyranny, they have trampled upon all laws, human and Divine; and have encouraged their votaries in the most enormous acts of wickedness; the Spirit of God has, with the greatest propriety, given them the appellations of the man of sin, the son of perdition, and the lawless one. Farther, as it is said the man of sin was to be revealed in his season, there can be little doubt that the dark ages, in which all learning was overturned by the irruption of the northern barbarians, were the season allotted to the man of sin for revealing himself. Accordingly, we know that in these ages the corruptions of Christianity and the usurpations of the clergy were carried to the greatest height. In short, the annals of the world cannot produce persons and events to which the things written in this passage can be applied with so much fitness as to the bishops of Rome. Why then should we be in any doubt concerning the interpretation and application of this famous prophecy?
"At the conclusion of our explication of the prophecy concerning the man of sin, it may be proper to observe, that the events foretold in it being such as never took place in the world before, and, in all probability, never will take place in it again; the foreknowledge of them was certainly a matter out of the reach of human conjecture or foresight. It is evident, therefore, that this prophecy, which from the beginning has stood on record, taken in conjunction with the accomplishment of it verified by the concurrent testimony of history, affords an illustrious proof of the Divine original of that revelation of which it makes a part, and of the inspiration of the person from whose mouth it proceeded." See Dr. Macknight's Commentary and Notes, vol. iii., p. 100, etc.
With all this evidence before him, the intelligent reader will now be enabled to judge for himself, and to adopt for his own that opinion which appears to be the best supported by circumstances and facts. The labors of the above learned men have certainly narrowed the principal subjects of inquiry; and we may now safely state that, in this very obscure prophecy, the Spirit of God had in view either the Jewish or an apostate Christian Church, possessing great spiritual and secular influence and jurisdiction. That the words appear to apply best to the conduct of many of the popes, and the corruptions of the Romish Church, needs no proof; but to which of these Churches, or to what other Church or system, we should apply them, some men, as eminent for their piety as for their learning, hesitate to declare: yet I must acknowledge, that the most pointed part of the evidence here adduced tends to fix the whole on the Romish Church, and on none other.
Whatever may be intended here by the words mystery of iniquity, we may safely assert that it is a mystery of iniquity to deny the use of the sacred Scriptures to the common people; and that the Church that does so is afraid to come to the light. Nothing can be more preposterous and monstrous than to call people to embrace the doctrines of Christianity, and refuse them the opportunity of consulting the book in which they are contained. Persons who are denied the use of the sacred writings may be manufactured into different forms and modes; and be mechanically led to believe certain dogmas, and perform certain religious acts; but without the use of the Scriptures, they never can be intelligent Christians; they do not search the Scriptures, and therefore they cannot know Him of whom these Scriptures testify. The mystery of iniquity contained in this prohibition works now, and has worked long; but did it work in the apostles' times? Did it work in the Church at Thessalonica? Is it possible that the present crop should have been produced from so remote a seed? What does that most solemn adjuration of the apostle, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, mean? I charge you by the Lord, that this epistle be Read unto All the holy brethren. Why was such a charge necessary? Why should it be given in so awful a manner? Does it not absolutely imply that there would be attempts made to keep all the holy brethren from seeing this epistle? And can we conceive that less was referred to in the delivery of this very awful adjuration? This mystery of iniquity did work then in the Christian Church; even then attempts were made to hide the Scriptures from the common people. And does not this one consideration serve more to identify the prophecy than any thing else? Let him that readeth understand. See the notes on 1 Thessalonians 5:27, and at the end of that chapter (note).
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