Click here to learn more!
MISCHIEF-MAKERS AND MISCHIEF-MAKING
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
THE subject treated in this chapter is the mischievous influence of corrupting doctrine. And false doctrine is constantly treated in the New Treatment in view of the immoral associations which always attended it, as with the idolatries of older days. True doctrine works for righteousness; false doctrine works for licence. True prophets had been referred to in 2 Peter 1:21, and they suggest warnings against false prophets, and false teachers.
2 Peter 2:1. There were.—In the times of the true prophets there were false ones. It is always so. The good and the evil go together. False teachers.—Such as the Judaising teachers, who dogged the steps of St. Paul, or such as the Gnostic teachers—or teachers of what subsequently became known as Gnosticism, who roused the intense opposition of St. John. Apart from these there may have been pure time-servers, who were ready to deceive the people if they could secure their own gains, such as Simon the sorcerer. People.—Term specially used of the Jews, as the people of God’s choice (Matthew 1:21; John 11:50). Privily.—With the idea of subtlety; craftily, not merely secretly. The warning was needed because of the guilefulness of the false teachers; their plausibility. (For examples of false prophets, see 1 Kings 22:6; 1 Kings 22:11; 1 Kings 22:24; Jeremiah 28:0; Isaiah 9:15, etc.). Damnable heresies—R.V. “destructive.” “Sects” is better than “heresies.” The word “heresy” means “choice of a party,” and was used in later Greek for a philosophic sect, or school. St. Peter deals with classes rather than with persons. The Lord.—Here δεσπότην, Master. Bought them.—Compare 1 Peter 1:18. Some of the early false teachers denied our Lord’s humanity, and some His Divinity; but probably St. Peter had chiefly in mind entangling men in old legal Jewish forms, when they had been lifted into spiritual liberty and privilege.
2 Peter 2:2. Pernicious ways.—Lascivious doings (see Mark 7:22; Romans 13:13; 1 Peter 4:3; Jude 2 Peter 2:4; 2 Peter 2:8). The connection between false doctrine and immorality is fully recognised, but the apostle may have in mind self-willedness, swayed by self-seeking motives. Way of truth.—The service of Christ was at first known as “the way” (see Acts 9:2, etc.).
2 Peter 2:3. Through covetousness.—The preposition, ἐν, indicates that covetousness (unprincipled getting for personal advantage) was the element, the substratum, of their profession. Illustrate Simon the sorcerer. Feigned words.—Made-up tales. Their own manufactures, which rest on no authority. “A bombastic mysticism, promising to reveal secrets about the unseen world and the future, was a very lucrative profession in the last days of Paganism, and it passed over to Christianity as an element in various heresies.” (Compare “Cunningly-devised fables,” 2 Peter 1:16.) Damnation.—Destruction. “Judgment does not loiter on its way; destruction does not nod drowsily. Both are eager, watchful, waiting for the appointed hour.”
2 Peter 2:4. The angels.—No article—“angels.” Whether the antediluvian sinners or beings of another world, are meant, is disputed. There is no Old Testament record of, or allusion to, any fall of angels. Plummer thinks the reference is to statements in the book of Enoch, that certain angels sinned by having intercourse with women (see T. Moore’s poem, “The Loves of the Angels”). “Angels” may be a translation of “Sons of God” (Genesis 6:2). To hell.—Cast them into dungeons. Tartarus, ταρταρώσας, an unusual term.
2 Peter 2:5. Old world.—In the book of Enoch the Flood follows close upon the sin of the angels. Eighth person.—Noah and seven others. Preacher.—κἡρυκα, herald. One to whom a message is given to deliver. (Compare Jonah.)
2 Peter 2:7. Just Lot.—With special reference to moral sentiments. Filthy conversation.—The lascivious life of the wicked.
2 Peter 2:8. Righteous man.—Spiritual righteousness is not suggested; only moral righteousness. Lot’s character must be judged from his story as a whole. Vexed.—Tortured. Why, then, did he stay in the district? “Righteous” is a comparative term; and we must think of Lot in relation to the defective morality of his age, and in view of the licentiousness of those with whom he is here contrasted.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—2 Peter 2:1-8
The Essence of Heresy.—It has been satirically, but with much suggestive truthfulness, said that orthodoxy is “my opinion,” and heterodoxy is “other people’s opinion.” It should be carefully observed that, in Scripture, heresy is never regarded as a mere difference in intellectual standpoint, mental apprehension, or word setting. It is always regarded from its moral side, always seen as bearing a mischievous influence upon the character, or giving an unhealthy licence to the conduct. Heresy is anything and everything that helps a man to do wrong. By its fruits it is known. That opinion is wrong which works out into unrighteousness.
I. Heresy is not the reverent endeavour to understand revealed truth.—Revealed truth has to be understood and explained; it has to be understood, and set forth in fresh language-forms, for each age. And it is the gravest mistake to represent the new shapings of truth-forms in order to carry old truths to the minds of a new generation, as being heresy. The old forms become, in course of time, dead as mummies, and must be replaced by new forms, using the terms and connotations of each fresh generation.
II. Heresy is not the individual stamp which persons put upon revealed truth.—If it were, then every intelligent and independent-minded person would be a heretic; and progression in the apprehension of truth would be impossible. It is the genius given to individuals, that they can put life into old things by re-clothing them for presentation to our minds and hearts.
III. Heresy is every setting and shaping of opinion that gives incitement or support to moral evil.—Pharisaism is therefore heresy. Later Judaism was heresy. Heathenism was heresy. Gnosticism, on some of its sides, was heresy; because these things gave licence to moral evil. Still, everything that works for righteousness is orthodox, and everything that works for evil is heterodox.
IV. Heresy is that setting of opinion which has for its inspiration the covetous spirit.—The man is sure to go wrong in his thinking whose aim is getting for himself. See 2 Peter 2:3.
Examples of Divine Judgment.—Three instances of Divine vengeance, proving that great wickedness never goes unpunished—the special point to illustrate being that the Divine judgments are sure to come upon those who associate Christianity with licence, or with self-seeking. The three instances are here given in chronological order—Wanton Angels; Flood; Sodom and Gomorrah: while those in Jude are not—Unbelievers in the Wilderness; Impure Angels; Sodom and Gomorrah.
I. The example of the angels.—We must carefully dissociate the representations of modern poetry from the teachings of Scripture. Milton’s use of legendary matter carries no authority, and affords no explanation of difficult allusions in Holy Scripture. Moore’s “Loves of the Angels,” is a pure work of imagination. It was a common Jewish idea that the term “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2 meant the angels. But there can be no reasonable doubt of the fact that both St. Peter and St. Jude took their idea of fallen angels either from the book of Enoch (an apocryphal work of that age), or from the current traditions which were afterwards embodied in the book. It is certain that Holy Scripture carries no revelation at all in relation to the matter. “Not improbably the false teachers made use of this book, and possibly of these passages, in their corrupt teaching. Hence St. Peter uses it as an argumentum ad hominem against them, and St. Jude, recognising the allusion, adopts it, and makes it more plain; or both writers, knowing the book of Enoch well, and calculating on their readers knowing it also, used it to illustrate their arguments and exhortations, just as St. Paul uses the Jewish belief of the rock following the Israelites.” The sin of the angels was the self-willedness that found expression in self-indulgence. Instead of keeping their dignity as the servants of God, they asserted a dignity for themselves, in independence of Him. When that dignity of their own worked itself out, it showed itself as sensuality, and moral evil, upon which the judgments of God must come.
II. The example of sinners before the Flood.—It is singular to find St. Peter and St. Jude so deeply interested in the antediluvians, and we can only suppose that speculations concerning them, and their fate, were characteristic of the times. But it has been noticed that in the book of Enoch reference to the Flood immediately follows on reference to the sin of the angels. Those old-world sinners set themselves, in their self-will, against God; and the self-will did what it always does, worked itself out into immorality and violence, upon which the judgments of God must rest. The inference in each case is that the false teachers, who were corrupting the Churches, were self-willed men, teaching self-willed opinions, and the fruitage of their teaching was precisely what you might have expected it to be, a licence to self-indulgence and sin.
III. The example of the cities of the plain.—Pride, nourished by the idle life which a luxurious soil permitted, manifested itself in a masterful self-willedness, which found expression in immoralities of the most abominable and degrading character. Upon them the judgments of God, taking a most terrible and overwhelming character, were bound to fall. “The judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah forms a fitting complement to that of the Flood, as an instance of God’s vengeance, a judgment by fire being regarded as more awful than a judgment by flood, as is more distinctly shown in chap 2 Peter 3:6-7, where the total destruction of the world by fire is contrasted with the transformation of it wrought by the Flood.” The great sin of Pagan self-willedness was sensuality. The great horror of heathenism is sensuality. The great peril of the early Christian Church—under the influence of self-willed teachers—was sensuality. Christianity works ever towards the righteousness of moral self-restraint; and that is not Christianity which, in any sense or degree whatever, gives licence or incitement to moral evil. The judgments of God must come on all professing Christians who fail to “keep the vessels of their bodies in sanctification and honour.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
2 Peter 2:5. A Preacher of Righteousness.—That is, a preacher whose preaching, if followed, would surely work out into righteousness. There was in his day the necessity for a very extraordinary Divine judgment. The long-lived race proved to be so gigantic in its iniquities and abominations that its entire removal became necessary. But God never lets threatened judgments fall until He has given sufficient warning, and provided space and opportunity for repentance. Noah was to be the agent in giving the Divine warning to that sinful generation; and the opportunity for duly responding to the warnings was provided by the long delay of judgment. Noah was to warn by word. He is called “a preacher of righteousness.” He was to warn by act—building on persistently, day by day, at the Ark, and testifying thus his belief in the Divine threatenings. For one hundred and twenty long years he was to keep up his witness, and carry on his work. And we can only admire the loyalty and the faith which kept him quietly going on amid the jeers and scoffs of the thoughtless multitudes who watched his work, and listened to his word. Here is no common man. For one hundred and twenty years he held on his faith in God against all kinds of temptations. It would have been a little thing if, on receiving his commission from God, he had gone away, dwelt in a cave, nourished his faith in secret, and then, at the close of the time, come forth to declare his warnings. Here is the surprising thing: the man stood in the world’s eye all through those years. He lived among the people whom he warned. They might say of him and of his work what they pleased, but he went on gathering his material, shaping and fitting things together, letting his strange vessel grow in sight of all who cared to look. The hermit who lives for God in a secret cell is not so very admirable; commendations may well be kept for the man who lives for God in the market-place and in the street. The religion that is worth anything can stand the strain of commonplace, every-day life and relations. The man who cannot be godly in home and business cannot be godly anywhere. It is in his common life among men that the moral strength of a Noah is revealed.”—From “Revelation by Character.”
The Reception of Noah’s Preaching.—Now, Noah believed God’s Word, that He was about to destroy the inhabited parts of the world with a flood, if they did not repent. We are told that he preached righteousness to his neighbours, and told the world around him to repent of their wickedness, or destruction would come upon them. We can imagine how they scoffed and jeered. “What strange story have you to tell us? that we shall be destroyed by a flood? We will believe it when we see it. You want us to be religious, and so you try to frighten us, in order to make us give up our sins. Tell us something pleasing; we hate this melancholy message you bring us. Religion has gone out of fashion here. They found it was not profitable, and so they gave it all up. Everything has gone on as it was since the beginning of the creation, and we shall not trouble ourselves because of this message.” Noah preached; they laughed; it was all unheeded; no one returned from his evil way; no one believed the message which God sent by Noah to a guilty world. He turned from them with a heavy heart. But he felt also that, like a brave man, he had done his duty. He began to work at the Ark or great ship which God told him to build, and this showed his own faith in the message. The world around him, no doubt, thought him mad, but God comforted and supported him by making a covenant or solemn promise to him that he and all his family should be saved.… Death yawned about them, but Noah was supported by a faith in the truth, love, and faithfulness of a God who will save to the very uttermost all who come to Him for shelter, and who will bring those who trust in Him safely across the cold, stormy waters of death to the land where faith becomes reality.—R. Barclay.
Method in Miracles.—The spiritual substance of the revelation contained in the sacred Scriptures is presented to us as sanctioned and proved, both to sense and reason, by a long array of miracles. The present purpose is to point out certain characteristics of the alleged miracles of the Bible which deserve special consideration.
1. The whole series is entirely worthy of the hand of God. In this respect the works of the Bible correspond to the words. Amidst the large number recorded, there is not one which fails to support the character either of nobleness, or greatness, or beauty, or usefulness, or sublime beneficence, or awful power, which we must attribute to the Deity. None of them is of the nature of a trick, or bears with it any admixture of a grotesque or frivolous element. Compare the miracles of the Bible with the wonders of ecclesiastical history.
2. The apparent suitableness of the miracles to the times and seasons when they were alleged to be wrought, with differences which would scarcely have occurred to literary inventors.
3. All the alleged miracles of the Scriptures were wrought in support of the most exalted ideas, in defence of the highest interests of man, and in illustration of the loftiest moral attributes of God.
4. The miracles of the Scriptures are inextricably interwoven with the web of Jewish history, so that the history becomes unintelligible apart from the supposition of the miracles.
5. A system of prophecy runs parallel with a system of miraculous agency in the recorded dispensations of God. The one yields support and credibility to the other.
6. The chief objection to the reality of the Scripture miracles is derived from their cessation. It is said, Why do they not occur now? But it was no part of the Divine plan to encourage the expectation of the violation of natural law, or the perpetual presentation of miraculous evidence to the senses. The moral evidence suffices after miracles have once attested the Divine origin of religion.—Edward While.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
2 Peter 2:4. The “Hell” of St. Peter. Greek, “Tartarus.”—This is the only passage in the New Testament in which this word occurs. It is a purely heathen word, and embodies a purely heathen conception. As they pried into the future, the Greeks and Romans saw nothing clearly, although the “initiated,” perhaps, had been quickened into an intense yearning for, if not a very bright and vivid hope of, a world to come. The world beyond the gates of death was, for them, “a world of shades.” Their utmost hope, even for the good, was that some thin shadow of the former man would survive to enjoy some faint shadow of his former honour and pursuits. The utmost they foreboded for the wicked was that their thin, wavering, unsubstantial ghosts would be doomed to hopeless tasks, or consumed by pangs such as men suffer here. Sometimes they gave the name “Tartarus” to the whole of this land of shadows; but more commonly they divided the under-world into two provinces: Elysian fields, in which the spirits of their heroes and sages, with all who loved goodness, wandered to and fro, illumined by a pale reflection of their former joys; reserving the name “Tartarus” for that dismal region in which the ghosts of the wicked were tasked, and tantalised, and tormented.… But the Tartarus of St. Peter by no means answered to our hell, as it is usually conceived. Our plain duty is to read the above passage just as it reads in the original Greek: “God spared not angels who sinned, but cast them into Tartarus.”—Salvator Mundi
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
2 Peter 2:10. Despise government.—Dominion. Both self-restraint and restraint of good rules and wise authorities. Those who own no superior. Evil of dignities.—Lit. “They tremble not while railing at glories.” “These men deny the existence of, or irreverently speak slightingly of, those spiritual agencies by means of which God conducts the government of the world.”
2 Peter 2:11. Angels.—See Jude, 2 Peter 2:9. Allusion is evidently to some tradition which has not been otherwise preserved. (But see Zechariah 3:1-2.)
2 Peter 2:12. Brute beasts.—R.V., “as creatures without reason, born mere animals, to be taken and destroyed.” Omit “natural.” A denunciation of final ruin against these covetous and corrupting teachers.
2 Peter 2:13. Spots.—In a moral sense. Sporting themselves.—Making great show and boasting, as if they were the favourites of heaven.
2 Peter 2:14. Beguiling.—Enticing. Decoying as with a bait. Covetous practices.—Plans of fraud and extortion. Cursed children.—Children of the curse: or children of malediction. They are devoted to execration.
2 Peter 2:15. Bosor.—R.V., “Beor.” From which it is only a dialectical variation.
2 Peter 2:16. Rebuked.—Lit. “But bad a conviction of his own transgression”; was convicted of it. Madness.—Infatuation; conscious and voluntary perversion of mind.
2 Peter 2:18. Great swelling words of vanity.—Exaggeration, unreality, boastfulness, emptiness, are expressed by this phrase. Clean escaped.—Better, “who are just escaped,” “almost escaped.” Such were in special peril of these evil things.
2 Peter 2:19. Servants.—Bond-slaves. (See Romans 6:16; Romans 8:21.)
2 Peter 2:20. They have escaped.—It is not clear whether the deluded ones, or those who delude them, is meant. Probably the latter. “The fullest clearness of spiritual vision had not protected these heresiarchs from the temptations of their sensuous natures.”
2 Peter 2:22. The form of the proverbs is participial. “The dog returned to his own vomit; the washed sow to her wallowing in the mire” (see Proverbs 26:11). “In both cases stress is laid on the fact that there had been a real change. The dog had ejected what was foul; the sow had washed herself; but the old nature had returned in both cases. These who after their baptism returned to the impurities they had renounced, were, in the apostle’s eyes, no better than the unclean beasts. In the union of the two types of baseness we may, perhaps, trace a reminiscence of our Lord’s teaching in. Matthew 7:6” (Plumptre).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—2 Peter 2:9-22
Denunciations of the Libertines.
I. Confidence in God’s over-ruling.—“The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly.” This involves His recognition of the ungodly, and visitation of them in judgment. The sway and triumph of evil in the world is most perplexing to God’s people; it would be altogether overwhelming if they could not be sure of the Divine overruling with a patience that can wait for fitting opportunities. Delayed judgment is never any sign of indifference, nor is delayed deliverance. As Christ said to impatient disciples, so God again and again says to His people, “My time is not yet come, but your time is always ready.” The overruling of God is even more important than His ruling. It meets us just where we feel our chief difficulty.
II. Denunciation of vices.—The things which naturally follow as the outcome of false teaching—
(5) wanton and luxurious living,
(5) covetousness. These denunciations can only with great difficulty be made subjects of pulpit exercise. They must be classed with the imprecatory Psalms. There may come times and fitting occasions for publicly denouncing the characteristic iniquities of a nation or a generation; but such work can only be done wisely by specially fitted men, and men who have gained the right to speak. In small spheres of pulpit service, the denunciation of public sins is apt to be taken as directed to certain individuals; and the personal element produces bitterness rather than conviction.
III. The law that increases Divine judgments.—Privilege enjoyed deepens responsibility. When privilege is abused; when men know and do not; when men who have come out of their sinful life go back to it;—then it is as though the stone on which they might have fallen fell on them. The weight of woe heaps up for those who were once “fair for the celestial city,” but turned back to wilfulness and sin.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
2 Peter 2:9. The Godly Delivered—the unjust reserved unto judgment. There are only two great classes of people in the world—the godly and the unjust. The godly are those who have been born again, made partakers of the Divine nature, and live unto God. The unjust are those who are ungodly, who live to themselves and to the world. God deals very differently with the two classes.
I. His treatment of the godly.—
1. He allows them to fall into temptations, as
(1) solicitations to sin, and
(2) as trials. This he permits (a) to manifest the reality of His grace, (b) to condemn the world, (c) that we may be conformed to Christ.
2. The Lord knows how to deliver them. It matters not what form the temptation may take.
II. His treatment of the unjust.—“God knoweth how to reserve the unjust to the day of judgment to be punished.”
1. The end of all the ungodly is to be punished.
2. God knoweth how to reserve; He is not in haste to punish.—R. M. McCheyne.
God’s Judgments.—In a general way it may be said that the Old Testament is the book of God’s judgments, and the New Testament the book of God’s mercies. There are stories of judgment in the New Testament (Judas, Ananias, Elymas), and there are stories of God’s mercies in the Old; but this distinction marks off the characteristic of each Dispensation. Few hearers get much good from the histories of God’s judgments read to them from the Old Testament, because they are not felt to be matters of personal concern.
1. We ought to learn from them that God will not forget any godly man whatever, but will save him amid the destruction of all around him.
2. With the ungodly it will be otherwise; for them, so long as they continue in their ungodliness, there is neither mercy nor hope, but a certain looking forward to wrath and punishment at the hand of a mighty and offended God. There is no mercy for the obstinate and impenitent sinner. The two great lessons to be learnt from such histories are: the extent of God’s most fearful judgments, and their certainty. For as the word of God’s mercy is sure, so is the word of His wrath. And who are the cursed? All who are living in any known sin; all who are living in forgetfulness of God; all who are not Christ’s people; all who are not showing forth the blessed fruits of the Spirit in their daily lives. Many trust they shall do well, if they keep from the grosser works of the flesh. Some may say, “This is the old story we have heard so often.” But that should give double cause for trembling, seeing the gospel has been slighted so often and so long. God sends merciful invitations to repentance, that men may be saved from the ruin of a wicked world. It is He who will bring to pass the threatenings of His word against all manner of unrighteousness, and ungodliness, and sin.—A. W. Hare, A.M.
2 Peter 2:15. Perversion as Shown in the Character of Balaam.—Repulsive as Balaam’s character is, seen at a distance, when it is seen near it has much in it that is human, like ourselves, inviting compassion, even admiration; there are traits of firmness, conscientiousness, nobleness. And yet the inspired judgment of his character as a whole is one of unmeasured severity. Our main lesson in Balaam’s history must ever be to trace how it is that men, who to the world appear respectable, conscientious, honourable, gifted, religious, may be in the sight of God accursed, and heirs of perdition. Balaam illustrates perversion.
I. Perversion of great gifts.—The inspiration of Balaam was from God. In him Divine powers were perverted—
1. By turning them to purposes of self-aggrandisement. God’s true prophets make no effort to show themselves different from others. Balaam does everything to fix attention on himself. His enchantments were a priest’s man-œuvres, not a prophet’s. He was a self-seeker. Balak struck the key-note of his character when he said, “Am I not able to promote thee unto honour?”
2. By making those gifts subservient to his own greed. His very vaunts show that Balaam half suspected his failing. Brave men do not vaunt their courage, nor honourable men their honesty. By Balaam spiritual powers were degraded in order to make himself a vulgar man of wealth. (Compare the case of Simon Magus.)
II. Perversion of conscience.—Shown in his second appeal to God. He ought to have been satisfied with his first answer. In duty “first thoughts” are best; they are more fresh, more pure, have more of God in them. Balaam’s problem was how to go to Balak, and yet not offend God. He went to God to get his duty altered, not in simplicity to know what it was. All this rests on the idea that the will of God makes right, instead of being right. The second stage is full of hideous contradictions. God permits him to go, and then is angry with him for going. We notice in him the evidences of a disordered mind and heart. In Balaam we see an attempt to change the will of God. His feeling was, God is mutable. What was wanting for Balaam to feel was, God cannot change; what he did feel was only this: God will not change. See also his attempt to blind himself. We see perfect veracity with utter want of truth. He does not deceive Balak with a spell. He would not utter a falsehood, but tries to get away from seeing the truth. Balaam tried a last expedient, and recommended Balak to use the fascination of the daughters of Moab to entice Israel into idolatry; and a more diabolical wickedness could hardly be conceived. The root of Balaam’s sin was selfishness. Balaam’s self—the honour of Balaam as a true prophet; therefore he will not lie. The wealth of Balak for himself; therefore the Israelites must be sacrificed. Even in his sublimest aspirations he never forgets himself.
1. Learn the danger of great powers. It is an awful thing, this conscious power to see more, to feel more, to know more, than our fellows.
2. Mark well the difference between feeling and doing. A man may be going on finely, uttering orthodox words, and yet be rotten at heart.—F. W. Robertson.
2 Peter 2:16. Balaam and the Ass.—An excellent old writer, speaking of Balaam, to whom St. Peter refers in the text, compares him to Redwald, the first Saxon king who professed Christianity, and who set up, in the same church, one altar for the Christian religion, and another for sacrificing to devils. Balaam, beyond, perhaps, any Scriptural personage, was the “double-minded man,” signalised by the apostle James. Balaam was neither an impostor nor a hypocrite. He rather seems to have been a man heartily and honestly bent on the doing of what our Lord declares can never be done: the “serving of two masters.” We must admit that God communicated directly with Balaam, not only giving him orders and prohibitions, but actually furnishing him with the words he was to utter over the Israelites. Perhaps full justice has not been done to Balaam. He had good impulses, which were only unserviceable and abortive because outweighed and counter-matched by covetousness and the love of money. He had a conscience vigorously at work, under whose chastisement his sufferings must have been terrible. Balaam is the nominal Christian of these times, sincerely anxious to stand fair, and to keep terms with disciples of Christ and with men of Belial. When we see men devout in church, and something very different on week-days, we must not set them down as necessarily hypocrites. There is a bona fide struggle to compound with conscience, and run together in the life, man of God and man of the world, as warp and woof—very foolish, no doubt, and impracticable, but not base, not dishonest.
I. Recall to memory the few facts of this miracle.—Whether what happened to Balaam happened to him in vision, or in literal historical fact, the moral and spiritual lessons are exactly the same. There is something to be learned from that strange group on the highway, considered merely as a fact: a wicked man being obstructed in the pursuit of his wickedness by a prodigy. We learn how gracious God is in making the way of transgressors a hard one; just as when Pilate was warned by the dream of his wife, and Saul was warned on the road to Damascus. Regarding the narrative as an allegory, we may see that this is not the only place in the Bible where proud man is humbled and brought to confusion by being outdone and excelled by one of the beasts of the field. How came it that the eyes of the mere brute on which the prophet rode saw the vision of the angel before the prophet himself? There is here a portrait of what takes place in the world, day after day, in all generations. There is hardly a wider gulf between the animal and the man than there is between some unlettered believer in sacred truth and the philosophic doubter or denier of that truth. The difficulty of difficulties in the present state of things is not to exert but to control the faculties of our reason, to persuade ourselves where reason cannot follow, that there reason ought not to try to follow. Faith is the problem of the militant Church. The province of the human mind is to humble itself, to keep the ear wide open, and to be contented that the eye shall remain closed through excess of light. Only when, by nature or through a struggle, the mind prefers listening to understanding, can the glory of Christ crucified be spiritually discerned.
II. This miracle of the text is virtually repeated whenever pride or prescription takes to lording it over some lower rank, guilty of no sins but natural disadvantages.—Illustrated in the history of British colonisation. For many years we considered black and brown and red men to be brutes, and treated them accordingly. Illustrated in our resistance of Providence. We make a miserable blunder whenever we try to force Divine providence, or to urge the events of our lives dead against the angel. If we want to go one way, and our destiny, controlled by guardian angels, is forcing us into another way, our wisdom will lie in succumbing at once. We shall take nothing by contesting it. Things like that living thing under Balaam will crush our foot against the wall, so that we cannot even dismount and walk. Providence will maim us for every pathway but its own.—Henry Christopherson.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
2 Peter 2:19. Slavery of Sin.—Men would rather be sin’s drudges than God’s freemen, and neglect that service wherein is perfect freedom for that wherein there is intolerable slavery. They will disturb their consciences, violate their reason, impair their health, in contradicting the laws of God, and prefer a sensual satisfaction, with toil here and eternal ruin hereafter, before the honour of God, the dignity of their nature, or happiness, or peace and health, which might be preserved with a cheaper expense than they are at to destroy them.—Charnock.
2 Peter 2:22. The Habits of the Sow.—There is no regeneration for the sow in any amount of washing by water; the ablution over, away she wends again to her wallowing in the mire. Like the canine race (dishonouredly characterised in the same proverb) the porcine is of ill account in Holy Writ. As the flesh of the swine is formally prohibited as “unclean” in Leviticus, so in Isaiah the offering of swine’s blood is, by implication, denounced as almost inconceivably abominable, and the “eating swine’s flesh, and the abomination and the mouse,” are with execration connected together (Isaiah 66:3; Isaiah 66:17). Of the Mohammedans we are assured that nothing in the creed or practice of Christians does so much to envenom the hatred of Mohammedans against them as the fact of their eating pork. Besides its being an offence to their religion, their aversion to the flesh of the “unclean beast” resembles an instinctive antipathy, such as the “idea of uncleanness,” when once it sinks into the feelings, seems always to excite in those whose personal habits are scrupulously cleanly.
The Backslider’s Fate.—The Greek poet tells us of Hecuba not daring for shame so much as to lift up her eyes, or look Polymnestor in the face, because she had been a queen, but was then a poor captive. Common captives can easily lift up their eyes and cry to those who are in prosperity for relief and help, whereas others who have lived at ease can with more ease starve than beg. As a downfall from a seeming height in spirituals into the mire of sin hath more wickedness in it than a bare continuance in sin, so a downfall from a real height in temporals into the mire of misery hath more trouble in it than a bare continuance in misery. They who have made a fair show, or an outward flourish, in the faith, and afterwards fall back, are worse than those who never made any show at all. It is sad for any one to live openly in sin; but for such as have made an open profession of godliness to apostatise, and fall back to sin—this is matter of saddest lamentation.—Caryl.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Peter 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34