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The event here predicted is God's work of judgment on impenitent sinners ; as appears from the following verses, in which the terrible desolation coming on the guilty land of Judea, is drawn in all the strong colours of prophetick description.
“ Behold, ye despisers, and perish," i. e. Ye, who are despisers, will perish. In the same form of speech, Peter expresses the doom of the sorcerer : “ Thy money perish with thee,” or thy money will perish with thee. .
“ Wonder and perish !'' i. €. Ye will perish wonderfully-in a manner which ye will not believe though it be told you. The expression is agreeable to the idiom of the scripture language. God's purpose and grace signify his gracious purpose. Life and immortality are immortal life. The desires of the flesh and of the mind are the desires of the fleshly mind. The things which pertain to life and godliness are the things which pertain to a godly life.
The words of our text will lead us,
1. To consider the character of these despisers, who are so solemnly warned of their danger.
II. To shew in what respect it may be said, They will perish wonderfully.
III. To enforce the warning which is given them: Beware lest this destruction come upon you.
1. We will consider the character of these despisers.
As the Apostle is opening the nature, proposing the evidences, and displaying the grace of the gospel, so, by despisers, he must intend those who des, pise religion : especially such as treat with contempt the great salvation purchased by the Son of God, and preached by the apostles in his name.
1. There are some who despise all religion, and reject even those fundamental principles, which revelation presupposes ; such as the existence and prov. idence of God, the difference between moral good
and evil, and the freedom and accountableness of man.
Such despisers there were in David's time. “ The wicked triumph, and the workers of iniquity boast themselves, and utter hard things; they slay the widow and murder the fatherless ; yet they say, The Lord will not see, neither will the God of Ja. cob regard it.” The wicked, through the pride of their countenance, will not seek after God. They say, God hath forgotten. He hideth his face, he will never see it. They contemn God, and say in their heart, Thou will not require it. The prophet Isaiah complains of some atheistical mockers, who, when God called to mourning and weeping, gave themselves to luxury and riot, saying, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."
If men can persuade themselves that there is no God, or that he exercises no moral government ; that there is no difference between virtue and vice, except so far as the one, or the other may serye their present convenience ; and that, consequently, there is no future state of retribution ; they will, of course, view religion in whatever form it appears, as alike useless and vain. The only religion, in this case, is to enjoy life while we can, and despise death when it comes.
But these licentious sentiments are so contrary to the dictates of reason and common sense, that men can never entertain them, unless their ininds are first debauched by the habits of vice, and their judgments perverted by a consciousness of guilt. They who say in their hearts, there is no God, are corrupt, and have done abominable works. They admit the principles of irreligion, to fortify their consciences against the terrors of future judgment. These principles must be the effects of previous corruption : They cannot be the suggestions of sober reason. We lieed but open our eyes to be rational
ly convinced of the existence and government of one eternal, independent, all perfect
"The invisible things of God, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made, even his eternal power and godhead.” As we are intelligent creatures, we must be accountable for our conduct. Our natural desire of immortality shews, that we are designed for a future existence. As God is a holy and righteous governor, we may naturally expect that he will make a difference between the virtuous and the wicked. In the present state there is no equal dis, tribution of rewards and punishments; there must then be another state in which this distribution may take place.
2. There are some, who pretend to believe the truths of natural religion ; but despise all revelation. From the supposed sufficiency of human reason for all the purposes of religion, they conclude, that no supernatural discovery ever has been, or ever will be made.
They, indeed, profess to believe as much of the Bible, as reason previously dictates ; for truth is not the less truth for being found there, but on the authority of revelation they will believe nothing ; for if reason is sufficient, revelation is needless.
In the days of the apostles there were many, who professing themselves to be wise, became fools. In their exalted opinion of human wisdom, they despise as foolishness the doctrine of the cross. But, with all their wisdom they knew not God, knew not his true character, nor the way of acceptance with him. It therefore pleased God, by this which the world called the foolishness of preaching, to save them who believed. The doctrine of a Saviour, crucified for the sins of men, was to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness; but to them who were saved, it was the power and the wisdom of God.
Reason and revelation choose to walk hand in hand ; and nothing can be more unkind than to set them at variance.
Reason is employed in discovering the existence and perfections of God, in examining the evidences of revelation, in ascertaining the sense of particular doctrines and precepts, and in making the proper application of them to ourselves. But then reason, with its highest improvements, cannot without the aid of revelation, lead us to the knowledge of all necessary truths.
There are many things, which though they appear reasonable, when they are suggested, yet, without a previous suggestion, would never have occurred to our thoughts. The knowledge of natural religion is much improved by the gospel. The most learned men among the heathens had but imperfect and confused notions of the divine character and government, of moral obligation and a future state. In comparison with the knowledge now attained by common Christians. What can it be but the gospel, which makes this difference? Reason was as good in ancient, as it is in modern times. Besides, there are some important matters concerning which reason can give us no satisfactory information.
Every man, on the least attention, must be convinced, that he has violated the moral obligations under which his Creator has placed him. He is then worthy of punishment. And how shall he know, whether God will forgive him ? If he hopes that forgiveness may be obtained, ye , How shall he learn, what terms God will require ? Repentance is a reasonable exercise : But can this, on its own intrinsick worth, claim forgiveness? The sinner is dependant on the mercy of Cod : But how far, how often, to what subjects, and on what conditions he will shew mercy, we learn only from revelation ; reason cannot inform us.
Much less could reason discover the method, in which God dispenses his pardoning mercy to fallen men. It is the gospel only, which teaches us, how God can be just and the justifierof them who believe. The sufferings of the Son of God for the redemption of an apostate race, is the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom which he has revealed by his spirit.
3. There are some, who acknowledge, in general, the truth of the gospel; but despise its peculiar doctrines.
In our Saviour's day, many among his professed disciples, offended at the doctrine of his atonement
human guilt, went back and walked no more with him.
Paul speaks of some, who, by denying the resurrection, had made shipwreck of their own faith; and, by teaching that the resurrection was past, had overthrown the faith of others.
Peter forewarns christians, that, in the last days, there will come scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of Christ's coming to judge the world?
John speaks of certain deceivers, who denied that Jesus Christ was come in the flesh, and consequently denied the reality of his atonement for the sins of men. “ Every spirit” says this Apostle, ** which confesseth not that Jesus Christ is cume in the flesh, is the spirit of antichrist.” A denial of his incarnation and atonement, is in effect, a denial of the whole gospel, a r«jection of all his peculiar doctrines. These deceivers professed to be without sin. As they had no sensible conviction of their own guilt, they saw no occasion for an expiatory sacrifice. Hence they went into the visionary opinion, that Christ suffered oly in appearance, not in reality.
In opposition to this dangerous heresy, the apostle, in the beginning of his epistle, asserts the universal sinfulness of mankind, as the true reason of