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The Apostle forewarns the Church in this Chapter, of a falling away of Professors. He very awfully describes the coming of Antichrist, before Christ's appearing. And takes occasion therefrom to bless God, for the Church having been chosen to Sanctification from the Beginning.
(1) ¶ Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, (2) That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
It should seem, from the opening of this Chapter, that the Church had at this time, strong apprehensions in their mind, that the day of the Lord was at hand. And it is probable, from what the Apostle saith in those verses, that the Church of the Thessalonians had been strengthened in this opinion, by their misconstruction of the Apostle's former letter. 1 Thessalonians 4:15 . Paul, therefore, in this Chapter corrects this error; and, under the Spirit of prophecy, relates to the Church, an awful event, which must first take place in the earth, which should be the most distressing in its consequences, to the Church of the Lord, that could be. The great day of God, saith he, shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that Man of Sin be revealed, the Son of Perdition. Reader! pause over this account, before you go further. A falling away. Not from grace. Not the people of God. Paul had before told the Church, in his former Epistle to the Thessalonians, that their election of God was known. 1 Thessalonians 1:4 . And in the same Epistle, he had fully declared, that God had not appointed his people unto wrath, but to obtain salvation. 1 Thessalonians 5:9 . The falling away, therefore, hath no respect whatever, to the real Church of Christ; but wholly to the mere nominal Professors of christianity, and which were numerous as soon as the Empire became Christian, and nations possessed belief in Christ, merely as a religion of state policy, without one act of grace in Christ. A falling away from this profession became, and hath continued common, ever since. But what hath this to do with Christ? Men cannot fall away from what they never had! A man cannot lose grace, who never had grace. There is but one real, and decisive mark of the true faith in Christ; namely, the being regenerated, and born again of the Holy Ghost. All the profession in the world, of believing in Christ, is no profession at all, as to its vital principles, before this act is wrought in the soul. And, therefore, men falling away from a mere profession, is all that Paul meant, by the expression. But, there never was, neither is it possible it should be, a falling away, in a single instance, of a child of God, whom God the Spirit hath regenerated: for that happy soul is thereby made partaker of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 2 Peter 1:3-4 , The man of sin, and the son of perdition, come next to be considered. The account the Apostle gives is very alarming.
(3) ¶ Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; (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, shewing himself that he is God. (5) Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? (6) And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. (7) For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. (8) And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: (9) Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, (10) And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. (11) And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: (12) That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
We have here a very awful prophecy, and most awfully hath it been fulfilled, and still is now fulfilling, in the earth. And what makes it still, if possible, more awful is, that though the Apostle, by the expressions man of sin, and the son of perdition, might seem at first view, to allude to somewhat personal; yet it is not so. It is national: yea, general. It was long since said, by the beloved Apostle John, that as Antichrist should come: so, there were in his days (and how increased in our's) many Antichrists. 1 John 2:18 . The best service which I can render, under the Lord, to the Reader of this Poor Man's Commentary, in helping to the proper apprehension of the solemn subject contained within these verses, will be, to gather out the several parts of the passage, one by one, and then consider them, as they appear before us.
And first. Let the Reader remark with me, the names , by which the Apostle hath distinguished this heresy. He calls it the man of sin; the son of perdition: the mystery of iniquity; that wicked, which shall be revealed: him whose coming is after the working of Satan: and who comes with all power, and signs, and lying wonders; and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness. These are the awful names, by which the Holy Ghost hath made known to the Church through Paul, in this scripture, the alarming heresy, which was to appear.
Secondly. The acts, and deeds, by which the character of this delusion should be discovered. He is said to oppose and exalt himself, above all that is called God, or that is worshipped. That he as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. And he is known by the power he is said to assume, and the signs, and lying wonders he comes with, after the working of Satan; and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness.
Thirdly. The awful consequences which shall follow, in them that perish, which are his followers. God shall send them strong delusions, that they should believe a lie; that all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Fourthly. The sure destruction of this Wicked himself, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and destroy with the brightness of his coming. So much for the Apostle's description of this awful heresy; which, under the Lord the Spirit, he told the Church, would be revealed in the after times, when the Lord, who then withheld it, would remove the cause of obstruction out of the way. Now let us, under the Lord's teaching, look at those characters, one by one; and examine, by scripture testimony, and the facts which have since appeared, to what age of the Church they particularly refer. And, first, respecting the names. The man of sin, and the son of perdition; the mystery of iniquity, and the wicked. It is plain that these all refer to one and the same. And not simply to one person; but rather the name of one, and the same heresy. Not Satan, who is emphatically called the Wicked One; for this heresy is said to be after the working of Satan; consequently could not be Satan himself. Neither any new revelation of the traitor Judas, whom our Lord calls the son of perdition. John 17:12 . For Jesus did not so name him, as though he, and he only, should be known by that name. All are sons of perdition, which are lost. Neither did the Apostle mean any individual person, among the enemies of Christ, winch in after ages shall arise to oppose Christ's Gospel, however desperately wicked, and bitter they might be. It is not a person, but a body; an apostacy from the Church, a falling away; still professing Christ, but in works denying him. For the character is further defined, of silting in God's temple, and calling himself god; yea, exalting himself above all that is called God.
And where are we to look for the fulfillment of this prophecy? If a Church professing christianity can be found, to whom those titles clearly belong; there will remain no shadow of doubt, but that this is the very one the Apostle had in view, in this scripture prophecy. And all that have written upon the subject, from the first moment the scriptures have been commented upon, to the present hour, have uniformly, and with one voice, declared it to be the Church of Rome. The selling of indulgencies, pardons, grants, and the like, are too nearly allied to the man of sin; and where practiced, too strikingly represent him, whom Paul describes as sitting in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. And it is to oppose Christ in all his offices, as the Prophet, Priest, and King of his Church; when teaching the worship of saints; when setting up merit, and joining intercessors with Christ; and when taking up the title of supremacy, as head of the Church. And, it is certainly not a little remarkable in confirmation, that what Paul calls in this place, the mystery of iniquity, in allusion to the heresy he had been describing; John, in the book of the Revelations, calls Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of harlots, and abominations of the earth. Revelation 17:5 . From these, and numberless other testimonies, which, if necessary, might be brought forward, there cannot be the shadow of a doubt, but that the Apostacy the Apostle had in view in this scripture the See of Rome was all along designed.
But it would have been a blessing to the true Church of Christ, if apostacy had marked only the character of the See of Rome. Alas! what errors have sprung up, in this our own land, in what is called the Reformed Church. Who that reads the beloved Apostle's account of his days, and takes the same mirror to look in for ours; but must be struck with the resemblance. Little children (said he) it is the last time, and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists: whereby we know that it is the last time. 1 John 2:18 . Let any man read this blessed Epistle of John, and then look to the professions of men around him! Let him behold how the Godhead of Christ is denied: the Person, Godhead, and, Ministry of God the Holy Ghost is questioned; and then say, are there not many Antichrists?
And, let my Reader bear with me, to make one observation more. What did the Apostle mean, in this scripture, by deceivableness of unrighteousness? Mark the expression. With all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish. Did there need, the Church should be told, that unrighteousness would end in destruction? Certainly this could not be Paul's meaning. Neither in the common sense, and acceptation of the word, unrighteousness could never deceive a man with hopes of being saved by it. But, if a self-righteous Pharisee, fancying himself righteous before God; makes his own good deeds, and prayers, and alms, and ordinances, a part Savior; all of which are unrighteous before God: here is a fallacy indeed, deep, and wretched. And this will well suit the name of all deceivableness of unrighteousness. Reader! it is right to exercise a jealousy over our own hearts. The day is awful. In contending earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints, we not only labor to preserve God's truth, but our own happiness. And it is a truth well worth laboring for. For if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. Galatians 2:21 .
(13) ¶ But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: (14) Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (15) Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. (16) ¶ Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, (17) Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.
What a sweet scripture is here! And how blessedly it comes in, to relieve the mind, after looking at the sad account of the heresy described in the foregoing verses? Paul found a constant cause, and so may we also, to give thanks to God always for the Church being chosen from the beginning to salvation through the sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth. There is an uncommon degree of beauty, in the strength of expression made use of, in what the Apostle here saith, on sanctification; in the cause, and antiquity of it. It would form more the subject of a treatise, than to offer a few passing observations, on these verses; but I beg the Reader's indulgence, to detain him a moment or two, upon the passage.
Sanctification, or to sanctify, hath a different meaning in the different scriptures. But the most general sense is, either to set apart, consecrate, or dedicate, to a sacred service: or to purify, cleanse, and make holy, what was before unholy in our nature. In the former, Christ is said to have sanctified himself. John 17:19 . In the latter, the Church, when regenerated, is said to be washed, to be sanctified, to be justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:11 . These distinctions, if attended to, through the whole of the Old Testament and the New, would, under God the Spirit, open a clearer apprehension than is generally received, upon the subject of sanctification.
It is very blessed to observe, what a beautiful order there is adopted, and carried on, through all the departments of divine love to the Church, in the several acts of the Persons of the Godhead. Hence, each glorious Person hath taken part, in all the acts of grace, manifested towards every individual of Christ's mystical body. Thus in sanctification, the Church is said to be sanctified by God the Father, in his choosing, electing, separating love, when he chose the whole body, in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blame before him in love. Ephesians 1:4 . But this sanctification is as expressly ascribed to the Lord Jesus Christ, in that it is said, we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified. Hebrews 10:14; Hebrews 10:14 . But here again, these gracious personal acts in the Father and the Son, do not supersede, or render unnecessary, the same personal tendencies of love, in the Holy Ghost: for the Lord the Spirit is not only said to sanctify the brethren beloved, in this verse of the Apostle's; but Peter, in opening his Epistle to the Church, expressly addresseth it to the Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through, sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:2 . And what can more plainly, and decidedly prove, the personal election, redemption, and sanctification, of the whole Church of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
But, while these grand, and indeed (as they may well be called) fundamental truths of the Gospel, are generally received, and admitted in the Church of the faithful, as so many standards of decision, against which there is no appeal; the glorious doctrine of sanctification, doth not seem to be as clearly understood, as those of election, and redemption. The more generally received opinion is, that at regeneration, we are regenerated but in part; and that as well in body as spirit. There is a perfection (say they) of parts of the new man, in both of the Lord's people, but only in degrees. Though there be a complete perfection in Christ, in which they are interested; yet their sanctification is imperfect. They are in a progressive state of holiness, and progressive sanctification; but not complete in either. This I apprehend, is the general received opinion.
I am well aware, that the whole tide of Commentators are against me, while I would desire, with all humility of soul, instead of swimming with them down the stream, to bear up my feeble bark to the torrent of this opinion. I beg, as I have before done, my Reader's indulgence, to state the reasons for which I differ. If I err, I pray the Lord to pardon me, and preserve his people from adopting my errors.
In the first place. I humbly conceive, that as all our blessings of the Church of God in Christ, result from the joint love, and grace, of the whole Persons of the Godhead in their covenant characters; so have they been pleased to manifest those acts of favor in such a way, as do endear the Almighty Authors of our blessings to our affections, with equal adoration, love, and praise, as the united source in Christ. It was but one act of God the Father, when in his infinite mind, he chose the Church in Christ; and which, when chosen, became a complete, perfect, and immutable purpose, remaining forever. In like manner, it was but one act in the purpose of God the Son, in relation to all the concerns in redemption for by the one offering of himself once offered, he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified. And the act of regeneration, or new birth, by God the Holy Ghost, when considered as quickening the sinner dead in trespasses and sins, could be but one act; by which, as the Apostle saith, being born again, not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible, liveth, and abideth forever. 1 Peter 1:23 . Beheld, in this point of view, there is a beautiful order, and analogy, in those several acts of divine agency, which not only manifest equal acts of the Godhead, towards the objects of their love; but also demonstrate, each act, to be equally essential, to all the great purposes of their spiritual being, and well-being, in Christ.
But on the supposition, that this act of God the Spirit, in regeneration, is but in part; not only this beautiful order and equality in those acts of grace is destroyed, but a train of the most painful consequences arise, which involve the mind in endless apprehensions, concerning the eventual perfection. And wherefore should the work of regeneration and the sanctification included in it be an imperfect act of God the Spirit, more than the act of election in God the Father, or redemption by God the Son? If it be only for one moment admitted, that regeneration doth not renew the body, neither was ever intended, during the time state of the Church, to renew the body; every difficulty vanisheth. And what can more plainly declare this, than our Lord's own words, in his blessed discourse on regeneration? That (said Jesus) which is born of the flesh, is flesh: and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:6 . If at our regeneration, the work was wrought by flesh, or on flesh; the thing would be just the reverse of what it is. But Christ saith: that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit. Words, in my view as plain as words can express, that the blessed act of regeneration, is by the Spirit; and that it is on the spirit; and that that which is born of the Spirit, is only spirit. The Lord draws a line of distinction, between the flesh, and the spirit, as if in confirmation of the subject. If this be the sense of our Lord's words, (and I think it will be difficult to prove the contrary,) it will follow, that no alteration whatever, is made on the body at regeneration. No part of it is sanctified. The work is on the spirit; and which wholly regenerated, is justified, and sanctified, by the Holy Ghost in Christ Jesus.
Secondly. Upon the presumption of correctness in the foregoing statement, it will then follow, that the new born child of God, though sanctified in Christ, and to whom Christ is made of God, both wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; hath no inherent holiness in himself, for his body is still the creature of sin; and so far is it from being in a progressive state of holiness, that it is daily the subject of sin, and tending to corruption. Let those who are advocates for the progressive sanctification, and holiness of the creature, state to us the causes, how it is, on the supposition the body, as well as the spirit of a regenerated child, is made perfect in part; that such opposition should take place, as continually doth take place, between the flesh and the spirit, when the spirit is regenerated? Galatians 5:17 . According to Paul's statement of himself, this conflict never began with him, until he was regenerated. Before the killing power of the law came on his conscience at his conversion, he tells us, that he was alive in all the self-confidence of his own holiness. But, (saith he,) when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. Romans 7:9 . And hence, at a period of nearly three-and-twenty years after his conversion, he groaned under the conscious sense, that in him, that is, saith he, in my flesh dwelleth no good thing. Romans 7:18 . Can the advocates for progressive sanctification, explain these things, upon any principles whatever, if the body was in part sanctified? And will they at the same time, on the presumption of a body in part sanctified show, how it was, that holy men of old, when conscious of a work of grace upon their souls, still groaned in the consciousness at the same time, of their being vile; Job 40:4 . of having their sin always before them; Psalms 51:3 . of being of unclean lips: Isaiah 6:5 . and of their comeliness turned into corruption? Daniel 10:8 . Nay, will those advocates for progressive sanctification, kindly say, whether while insisting upon inherent holiness, and the whole man becoming more perfect in others, they truly experience such things in themselves? Are they more holy, more heavenly minded, more weaned from the world, than they were in times past? If they say yes, to such heart-searching questions; they will but afford stronger testimony of their ignorance of the plague of their own heart, and prove the Lord's assertion, when he saith, the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9 .
Thirdly. The very tendency of the body to corruption, and the daily removing of the pins of our earthly tabernacle, loudly proclaim, that in order to its being raised a spiritual body, it must first be a natural body. Whereas, if it were now a spiritual body, or in part spiritual; that part, even to the ten thousandth part could not corrupt. But it is wholly corruption. And, when the spirit leaves the body, the earthly part (as one said to me when calling me to bury the dead) cries for its original earth. And here indeed comes in, to our delight, and joy, the Lord Jesus in the power of his resurrection, as a quickening Spirit. Of none but Jehovah's Holy One, could it ever be said, he was not liable to corruption. It was impossible in this account, that the pains of death could hold him! Psalms 16:10 ; Acts 2:24 .
I am well aware, (as I said before,) that the great tide of Commentators are against me. And I am also well aware, that to men unacquainted with the plague of their own heart, I shall expose myself to their displeasure, by the view I have given of the subject. But these things do not move me. If one only of the Lord humbled ones, shall here from, through grace, be led to be more out of love with themselves, and more in love with Christ Jesus; I shall find cause to bless God for his teachings. This will be to grow in grace; not in sanctification. Growth in grace leads to the greater knowledge of the Lord, as the Apostle states it. 2 Peter 3:18 . Grace is an humbling principle. He that groweth in grace, layeth lower, and lower, in the dust before God. And, from being humbled more and more, every day, in himself; Jesus, and his great salvation, will be increasingly precious. This is to grow in grace; and not in sanctification.
But still, it will be yet further contended, that on the supposition, there is no change wrought on the body, when the spirit is regenerated; how doth this correspond to what the scriptures declare, that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost, which dwelleth in us? 1 Corinthians 6:19 . (See Commentary there). Can it be supposed, that God the Spirit will dwell in a nature unregenerated, and unsanctified? To which I answer. Every act of grace, in the Persons of the Godhead, toward our nature, continually opens subjects of unceasing wonder, adoration, and the lowliest prostration of soul and body. But the indwelling residence of God the Spirit, is not more the subject of astonishment than that of God the Father's making his abode with the redeemed; John 14:23 . or God the Son, for the purpose of redemption, being made in the likeness of sinful flesh. Romans 8:3 . We are taught to consider all and every part of the Lord's tendencies to his Church as full of mystery. 1 Timothy 3:16 .
And, it should be continually remembered by us, that great as our wonder is, in the mystery of godliness, we are not called upon to explain the causes; but believe only, and bless God for the effects. And the very manner, in which the Apostle hath informed the Church of this astonishing condescension in God the Holy Ghost, in making the body of his people his temple, implies the sense he wished the people to have of it. What! (saith he,) know ye not, that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you? Great would have been the mercy either way, and every way, in this act of grace, when we consider the infinite distance between God and his creatures; had the Lord made those bodies completely holy, and then have dwelt in them. But it is very plain, from Paul's manner of speaking, that he would have the Church consider the wonders, in the Holy Ghost dwelling in them, because they were, in their unregenerated bodies, so altogether corrupt, and unholy. What! saith he, know ye not? As if he had said, what think ye of the unequalled grace, that the Holy One who inhabiteth eternity, and who is himself holiness, in himself should dwell in the bodies of nothing but filth and defilement! Oh! the grace of God.
I must not enlarge: though the subject itself affords occasion. I shall leave the Reader to his own conclusions, under the Lord. For my own part, I desire to bless God for those humbling views, the consciousness of a body virtually all sin, and hastening daily to corruption, keeps alive, through grace in my soul. The daily workings of corruption in my heart (I know not what other men's hearts feel) showeth me, that the carnal mind is still carnal. Psalms 36:1 ; Romans 7:14 . I feel a daily warfare. I groan, being burdened. I not only feel these workings when unoccupied with divine things, but often in the house of God. Like Paul, I know what it is, that when I would do good evil is present with me. Romans 7:21 . In the pulpit, at the table of the Lord, at the mercy-seat, often when in a moment of sweet communion with my God and Savior; a train of thoughts rush through me like unbidden guests, and rob God at his face of his glory, and my soul for the time, of comfort! Can a body, where such things are, be in part renewed? Am I in a progressive state of holiness, in a body where I find such cause of humblings; and which I loathe? Sweet scripture! which explains all, and leads me to Christ for all. God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth, whereunto he hath called you by the Gospel; and to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ! See 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 and 1 Corinthians 6:0 Chapters, and Commentary.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30