We have here a prophecy of the apostasy of the latter times, which he had spoken of as a thing expected and taken for granted among Christians, 2 Thess. 2:1-17.
I. In the close of the foregoing chapter, we had the mystery of godliness summed up; and therefore very fitly, in the beginning of this chapter, we have the mystery of iniquity summed up: The Spirit speaks expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith; whether he means the Spirit in the Old Testament, or the Spirit in the prophets of the New Testament, or both. The prophecies concerning antichrist, as well as the prophecies concerning Christ, came from the Spirit. The Spirit in both spoke expressly of a general apostasy from the faith of Christ and the pure worship of God. This should come in the latter times, during the Christian dispensation, for these are called the latter days; in the following ages of the church, for the mystery of iniquity now began to work. Some shall depart from the faith, or there shall be an apostasy from the faith. Some, not all; for in the worst of times God will have a remnant, according to the election of grace. They shall depart from the faith, the faith delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3), which was delivered at once, the sound doctrine of the gospel. Giving heed to seducing spirits, men who pretended to the Spirit, but were not really guided by the Spirit, 1 John 4:1. Beloved, believe not every spirit, every one who pretends to the Spirit. Now here observe,
1. One of the great instances of the apostasy, namely, giving heed to doctrines of demons, or concerning demons; that is, those doctrines which teach the worship of saints and angels, as a middle sort of deities, between the immortal God and mortal men, such as the heathen called demons, and worshipped under that notion. Now this plainly agrees to the church of Rome, and it was one of the first steps towards that great apostasy, the enshrining of the relics of martyrs, paying divine honours to them, erecting altars, burning incense, consecrating images and temples, and making prayers and praises to the honour of saints departed. This demon-worship is paganism revived, the image of the first beast.
2. The instruments of promoting and propagating this apostasy and delusion. (1.) It will be done by hypocrisy of those that speak lies, the agents and emissaries of Satan, who promote these delusions by lies and forgeries and pretended miracles, 1 Tim. 4:2. It is done by their hypocrisy, professing honour to Christ, and yet at the same time fighting against all his anointed offices, and corrupting or profaning all his ordinances. This respects also the hypocrisy of those who have their consciences seared with a red-hot iron, who are perfectly lost to the very first principles of virtue and moral honesty. If men had not their consciences seared as with a hot iron, they could never maintain a power to dispense with oaths for the good of the catholic cause, could never maintain that no faith is to be kept with heretics, could never divest themselves of all remains of humanity and compassion, and clothe themselves with the most barbarous cruelty, under pretence of promoting the interest of the church. (2.) Another part of their character is that they forbid to marry, forbid their clergy to marry, and speak very reproachfully of marriage, though an ordinance of God; and that they command to abstain from meats, and place religion in such abstinence at certain times and seasons, only to exercise a tyranny over the consciences of men.
3. On the whole observe, (1.) The apostasy of the latter times should not surprise us, because it was expressly foretold by the Spirit. (2.) The Spirit is God, otherwise he could not certainly foresee such distant events, which as to us are uncertain and contingent, depending on the tempers, humours, and lusts of men. (3.) The difference between the predictions of the Spirit and the oracles of the heathen is remarkable; the Spirit speaks expressly, but the oracles of the heathen were always doubtful and uncertain. (4.) It is comfortable to think that in such general apostasies all are not carried away, but only some. (5.) It is common for seducers and deceivers to pretend to the Spirit, which is a strong presumption that all are convinced that this is the most likely to work in us an approbation of what pretends to come from the Spirit. (6.) Men must be hardened, and their consciences seared, before they can depart from the faith, and draw in others to side with them. (7.) It is a sign that men have departed from the faith when they will command what God has forbidden, such as saint and angel or demon-worship; and forbid what God has allowed or commanded, such as marriage and meats.
II. Having mentioned their hypocritical fastings, the apostle takes occasion to lay down the doctrine of the Christian liberty, which we enjoy under the gospel, of using God’s good creatures,—that, whereas under the law there was a distinction of meats between clean and unclean (such sorts of flesh they might eat, and such they might not eat), all this is now taken away; and we are to call nothing common or unclean, Acts 10:15. Here observe, 1. We are to look upon our food as that which God has created; we have it from him, and therefore must use it for him. 2. God, in making those things, had a special regard to those who believe and know the truth, to good Christians, who have a covenant right to the creatures, whereas others have only a common right. 3. What God has created is to be received with thanksgiving. We must not refuse the gifts of God’s bounty, nor be scrupulous in making differences where God has made none; but receive them, and be thankful, acknowledging the power of God the Maker of them, and the bounty of God the giver of them: Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, 1 Tim. 4:4. This plainly sets us at liberty from all the distinctions of meats appointed by the ceremonial law, as particularly that of swine’s flesh, which the Jews were forbidden to eat, but which is allowed to us Christians, by this rule, Every creature of God is good, etc. Observe, God’s good creatures are then good, and doubly sweet to us, when they are received with thanksgiving.—For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer, 1 Tim. 4:5. It is a desirable thing to have a sanctified use of our creature-comforts. Now they are sanctified to us, (1.) By the word of God; not only his permission, allowing us the liberty of the use of these things, but his promise to feed us with food convenient for us. This gives us a sanctified use of our creature-comforts. (2.) By prayer, which blesses our meat to us. The word of God and prayer must be brought to our common actions and affairs, and then we do all in faith. Here observe, [1.] Every creature is God’s, for he made all. Every beast in the forest is mine (says God), and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field are mine, Ps. 50:10, 11. [2.] Every creature of God is good: when the blessed God took a survey of all his works, God saw all that was made, and, behold, it was very good, Gen. 1:31. [3.] The blessing of God makes every creature nourishing to us; man lives not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4), and therefore nothing ought to be refused. [4.] We ought therefore to ask his blessing by prayer, and so to sanctify the creatures we receive by prayer.