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Here we have traced in solemn words by the Spirit, the decline and corruption of the professing Church, the means by which it is accomplished, and the doom of those who are the chief agents in this Satanic work. More awful picture than is here given, more fearful tones than those in which the doom of such is recorded, are not found in the Word of God.
In Peter’s First Epistle, the enemy appears as a roaring lion persecuting: in this Second Epistle as a serpent seducing. There he is without: here we are warned he is within.
“There shall be false teachers among you.” Have we any clue as to where these are to come from, or what class of false teachers they are, to which the Apostle here refers. We submit this can be gathered from a reference to the same Apostle’s words in his First Epistle (chap. 5:8.), where he exhorts the elders not to “lord it over God’s clergy,” as if he would mildly remind them that all God’s people are His clergy or inheritance, as well as they, and forbids the attempt which was evidently already being made by certain “presbyters,” to regard themselves as a distinct class, far removed from and above the people. Here, in the Second Epistle, this evil has wrought, until through the perversion of their office it clearly appears in definite form, from which as the germ and bud, all the ecclesiastical distortions and perversions of sacred things followed, until the Popery of the dark ages was reached, when the priest was above the civil ruler.
Three inspired writers unite to tell us that these innovations are within. “False teachers among you.” Jude adds that “they would creep in unawares” (v. 4.), and Paul informed the Ephesian elders “that grievous wolves” would “enter in” among them, not sparing the flock (Acts 20:30.) Of course they would not avow that they were such. This would not be in accordance with the craft of Satan. Wolves in wolves’ clothing, would never succeed.
The doctrine these false teachers have to inculcate, is said to be “damnable heresies,” or “heresies of destruction,” which, fully worked out, would destroy the souls of those that embraced them. This term “heresy,” refers to some perversion of truth, rather than to groundless error. Such as putting the Church in the place of Christ, or turning the institution of ministry into clerisy or priestcraft.
Verse 3.—“Through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you.” The motives of these ambitious men are here unveiled.
In like manner Jude tells us, “that they have men’s, persons in admiration because of advantage” (v. 16.) This is plain and awful enough. We might have supposed, ever had we not been informed, that there must be some worldly incentive to induce worldly men to enter the Church and aspire to the ministerial office. And here we have it— money. And this “filthy lucre” is, we know, to exercise its malignant influence unto the end, for, when Babylon’s guilt is at last uncovered, she is seen to have trafficked in the “bodies and souls of men” (Rev. 18:11-13.) That these false teachers will have success, the Word leaves no doubt. “Many shall follow their pernicious ways.” This word “many” is more comprehensive than the word “some” employed by Paul in 1 Tim. 4:1, to set forth the number of followers that Popery would claim, for, although all in Christendom would not be prepared to go the extreme length of Papal error in “forbidding to marry and abstain from meats,” many would be found in less advanced stages of apostacy. And a further mark of their success is found in the fact, that by their instrumentality “the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.” The perversion of God’s truth was now so extensively embraced that darkness soon took the place of light and all who dared to protest or raise their voice against error, were branded “heretics” and other opprobrious names given them. A third mark of the success of these false teachers, is their presumption and arrogance. They “speak evil of dignities” and “despise government,” or as Jude describes them, they “despise dominion and speak evil of dignities” (v. 8.) Popes and prelates ruled in Christendom, usurped the rights of kings, and even gave the dominions of refractory potentates to other rulers. The manner of life of some at least of these, is next revealed. “Them that walk after the flesh, in the lust of uncleanness and despise government” (v. 10), as Jude, referring to the same class, says, “These filthy dreamers defile the flesh.” Extreme heights of ambition and depths of degrading lust are here brought together. And as all who are conversant with history too well know, the internal condition of the professing church, and the unclean lives of many of its highest ecclesiastics, were at their worst, when it appeared outwardly most to flourish. Thus would God teach us, that when men are bent on self-exaltation and by daring assumptions would steal away from the glory of Christ to exalt themselves, then they are most entirely abandoned to their own lusts and allowed to sink into the lowest depts.
Then, last of all, we have set before us the doom of these false teachers. “They have forsaken the right way, following the way of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (v. 15). “Woe unto them, for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward” (Jude 11). The mention of Balaam, as an illustration or type of these teachers and their work is full of meaning. Balaam, at the call of Balak, the King of Moab, and with a promise of reward, first sought to curse the people of God, but in this he failed, for the curse was turned into a blessing. But his next attempt, which was by siren blandishments to tempt them to abandon their plea of separation, and form unholy alliance with the daughters of Midian, succeeded, and thus have these false teachers by their introduction of “the doctrine of Balaam” (Rev. 2:14), brought the Church into an adulterous alliance with the world (James 4:4.). What open persecution failed to do, smiles and craft accomplished through the agency of the clerics within the Church’s own bosom. Then “great swelling words of vanity,” or empty assumptions, drew crowds of empty professors around them, whom they quickly make “merchandise” of, by getting them to become members of their church and thus increase its revenues.
That the world is specially the foe that overcomes these Balaamite teachers, and those whom they seduce, is clear from the words—“For, if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome (subsequently and under pretext of religion); the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.”
The judgment of such, though awful in the extreme, is not more than we might expect. For if sin itself be hateful to God, what must it be to lead others into sin? And if sin generally be so deadly, how shall He characterise sin committed under the guise of religion, and by its professed teachers too? When the Lord was here upon earth, it was the false religious teachers upon whom He poured His severest invectives. To these He uttered the terrible words—“Ye shall receive the greater damnation (Matt. 23:14). Similarly here—“To whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever” (v. 13). Terrible words! O that some may be warned thereby, to flee while yet they may to Him who is willing to save the chief of sinners. But the question may be asked—How about the many good and righteous men who have been and are connected with this world-church? Will the Lord make no distinction between them and the guilty system of which they, to all outward appearance, form a part. This chapter supplies the double answer—first, by the very distinct statement, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation” (v. 9), and then by the allusion to Lot, who, although a just man dwelt in Sodom, by his own choice, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by what he saw and heard, and barely escaped the doom of the cities in which he had chosen his dwelling-place. So that in this “scarcely saved” (1 Pet. 4:17) man, saved as by fire (1 Cor. 3:17), having lost all but his life, we have the Lord’s own answer to the question, which, while it shows that He will not suffer one of His own to ultimately perish in Christendom’s last and awful judgment, nevertheless discloses His estimate of their sin of continuing in guilty complicity therewith. And as Lot sat in the gate of Sodom, so do good men by compromising what they know to be God’s truth, rise to places of power in Christendom, vexed in soul over what they see, yet failing to obey the call of God— “Come out from among them and be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17).