To quicken and excite us to a serious minding and firm adhering to what God has revealed to us by the prophets and apostles, we are told that there will be scoffers, men who will make a mock of sin, and of salvation from it. God’s way of saving sinners by Jesus Christ is what men will scoff at, and that in the last days, under the gospel. This indeed may seem very strange, that the New-Testament dispensation of the covenant of grace, which is spiritual and therefore more agreeable to the nature of God than the Old, should be ridiculed and reproached; but the spirituality and simplicity of New-Testament worship are directly contrary to the carnal mind of man, and this accounts for what the apostle seems here to hint at, namely, that scoffers shall be more numerous and more bold in the last days than ever before. Though in all ages those who were born and walked after the flesh persecuted, reviled, and reproached those who were born and did walk after the Spirit, yet in the last days there will be a great improvement in the art and impudence of bantering serious godliness, and those who firmly adhere to the circumspection and self-denial which the gospel prescribes. This is what is mentioned as a thing well known to all Christians, and therefore they ought to reckon upon it, that they may not be surprised and shaken, as if some strange thing happened unto them. Now to prevent the true Christian’s being overcome, when attacked by these scoffers, we are told,
I. What sort of persons they are: they walk after their own lusts, they follow the devices and desires of their own hearts, and carnal affections, not the dictates and directions of right reason and an enlightened well-informed judgment. This they do in the course of their conversation, they live as they list, and they speak as they list; it is not only their inward minds that are evil and opposite to God, as the mind of every unrenewed sinner is (Rom. 8:7), alienated from God, ignorant of him, and averse to him; but they have grown to such a height of wickedness that they proclaim openly what is in the hearts of others who are yet carnal; they say, “Our tongues are our own, and our strength, and time, and who is lord over us? Who shall contradict or control us, or ever call us to an account for what we say or do?” And, as they scorn to be confined by any laws of God in their conversation, so neither will they bear that the revelation of God should dictate and prescribe to them what they are to believe; as they will walk in their own way, and talk their own language, so will they also think their own thoughts, and form principles which are altogether their own: here also their own lusts alone shall be consulted by them. None but such accomplished libertines as are here described can take a seat, at least they cannot sit in the seat of the scornful. “By this you shall know them, that you may the better be upon your guard against them.”
II. We also are forewarned how far they will proceed: they will attempt to shake and unsettle us, even as to our belief of Christ’s second coming; they will scoffingly say, Where is the promise of his coming? 2 Pet. 3:4. Without this, all the other articles of the Christian faith will signify very little; this is that which fills up and gives the finishing stroke to all the rest. The promised Messiah has come, he was made flesh, and dwelt among us; he is altogether such a one as in stated before, and has done all that for us which has been before taken notice of. These principles the enemies of Christianity have all along endeavoured to overturn; but as these all rest upon facts which are already past, and of which this and the other apostles have given us the most sure and satisfying evidence, it is probable that they will at last grow weary of their opposition to them; and yet, while one very principal article of our faith refers to what is still behind, and only has a promise to rest upon, here they will still attack us, even to the end of time. Till our Lord shall have come, they will not themselves believe that he will come; nay, they will laugh at the very mention of his second coming, and do what in them lies to put all out of countenance who seriously believe and wait for it. Now therefore let us see how this point stands, both on the believer’s part and on the part of these seducers: the believer not only desires that he may come, but, having a promise that he will come, a promise that he himself has made and often repeated, a promise received and reported by faithful witnesses, and left upon sure record, he is also firmly and fully persuaded that he will come: on the other hand, these seducers, because they wish he never may, therefore do all that in them lies to cheat themselves and others into a persuasion that he will never come. If they cannot deny that there is a promise, yet they will laugh at that very promise, which argues much higher degrees of infidelity and contempt: Where is the promise, say they, of his coming?
III. We are also forewarned of the method of their reasoning, for while they laugh they will pretend to argue too. To this purpose they add that since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation, 2 Pet. 3:4. This is a subtle, though not a solid way of reasoning; it is apt to make impressions upon weak minds, and especially upon wicked hearts. Because sentence against them is not speedily executed, therefore they flatter themselves that it never will, whereupon their hearts are fully set in them to do evil (Eccl. 8:11); thus they act themselves, and thus they would persuade others to act; so here, say they, “The fathers have fallen asleep, those are all dead to whom the promise was made, and it was never made good in their time, and there is no likelihood that it ever will be in any time; why should we trouble ourselves about it? If there had been any truth or certainty in the promise you speak of, we should surely have seen somewhat of it before this time, some signs of his coming, some preparatory steps in order to it; whereas we find to this very day all things continue as they were, without any change, even from the beginning of the creation. Since the world has undergone no changes in the course of so many thousand years, why should we affright ourselves as if it were to have an end?” Thus do these scoffers argue. Because they see no changes, therefore they fear not God, Ps. 55:19. They neither fear him nor his judgments; what he never has done they would conclude he never can do or never will.
IV. Here is the falsehood of their argument detected. Whereas they confidently had said there had not been any change from the beginning of the creation, the apostle puts us in remembrance of a change already past, which, in a manner, equals that which we are called to expect and look for, which was the drowning of the world in the days of Noah. This these scoffers had overlooked; they took no notice of it. Though they might have known it, and ought to have known it, yet this they willingly are ignorant of (2 Pet. 3:5), they choose to pass it over in silence, as if they had never heard or known any thing of it; if they knew it, they did not like to retain it in their knowledge; they did not receive this truth in the love of it, neither did they care to own it. Note, It is hard to persuade men to believe what they are not willing to find true; they are ignorant, in many cases, because they are willing to be ignorant, and they do not know because they do not care to know. But let not sinners think that such ignorance as this will be admitted as an excuse for whatever sin it may betray them into. Those who crucified Christ did not know who he was; for had they known they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8); but, though ignorant, they were not therefore innocent; their ignorance itself was a sin, willing and wilful ignorance, and one sin can be no excuse for another. So it is here; had these known of the dreadful vengeance with which God swept away a whole world of ungodly wretches at once, they would not surely have scoffed at his threatenings of any after equally terrible judgment; but here they were willingly ignorant, they did not know what God had done because they had no mind to know it. Now therefore we shall proceed to consider the representation which the apostle here lays down both of the destruction of the old world by water and that which awaits this present world at the final conflagration. He mentions the one as what God has done, to convince and persuade us the rather to believe that the other both may be and will be.
1. We begin with the apostle’s account of the destruction which has once already come upon the world (2 Pet. 3:5, 6): By the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water, whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished. Originally the world was otherwise situated, the waters were most wisely divided at the creation and most beneficially for us; some of the waters had proper repositories above the firmament, here called the heavens (as it is also Gen. 1:8), and others, under the firmament, gathered together unto one place; there were then both sea and dry land, commodious habitation for the children of men. But now, at the time of the universal deluge, the case is strangely altered; the waters which God had divided before, assigning to each part its convenient receptacle, now does he, in anger, throw together again in a heap. He breaks up the fountain of the great deep, and throws open the windows (that is, the clouds) of heaven (Gen. 7:11), till the whole earth is overflowed with water, and not a spot can be found upon the highest mountains but what is fifteen cubits under water, Gen. 7:20. Thus he made known at once his terrible power and his fierce anger, and made an end of a whole world at once: The world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished, 2 Pet. 3:6. Isa. not here a change and a most awful change! And then it is to be observed that all this was done by the word of God; it was by his powerful word that the world was made at first, and made in so commodious and beautiful a frame and order, Heb. 11:3; Katertisthai. He said, Let there be a firmament, etc., Gen. 1:6, 7. And let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, etc., 2 Pet. 3:9, 10. Thus he spoke, and it was done, Ps. 33:9. Thus, says our apostle, by the word of the Lord the heavens were, as they were of old (that is, at first creation) and the earth (as it was at first a terraqueous globe) standing out of the water and in the water. Not is it only the first frame and order of the world that is here said to be by the word of God, but the after-confusion and ruin of the world, as well as the utter destruction of its inhabitants, were also by the same word; none but that God who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth could destroy and overthrow such a vast fabric at once. This was done by the word of his power, and it was also done according to the word of his promise; God had said that he would destroy man, even all flesh, and that he would do it by bringing a flood of waters upon the earth, Gen. 6:7, 13, 17. This was the change which God had before brought upon the world, and which these scoffers had overlooked; and now we are to consider,
2. What the apostle says of the destructive change which is yet to come upon it: The heavens and the earth, which now are, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, 2 Pet. 3:7. Here we have an awful account of the final dissolution of the world, and which we are yet more nearly concerned in. The ruin that came upon the world and its inhabitants by the flood, we read, and hear, and think of, with concern, though those who were swept away by it were such as we never knew; but the judgment here spoken of is yet to come, and will surely come, though we know not when, nor upon what particular age or generation of men; and therefore we are not, we cannot be, sure that it may not happen in our own times: and this makes a very great difference, though it should be admitted that they were equal in every other respect, which yet must not be allowed, for there were some, though very few, who escaped that deluge, but not one can escape in this conflagration. Besides, we were not in reach of the one, but are not sure that we shall not be included in the other calamity. Now therefore to see the world to which we belong destroyed at once—not a single person only, not a particular family only, nor yet a nation (even that which we are most nearly interested in and concerned for), but the whole world, I say, sinking at once, and no ark provided, no possible way left of escaping for any one from the common ruin, this makes a difference between the desolation that has been and what we yet are to expect. The one is already past, and never to return upon us any more (for God has said expressly that there shall never any more be a flood to destroy the earth, Gen. 9:11-17); the other is still behind, and is as certain to come as the truth and the power of God can make it: the one came gradually upon the world, and was growing upon its inhabitants forty days, before it made an utter end of them (Gen. 7:12, 17); this other will come upon them swiftly and all at once (2 Pet. 2:1): besides, there were in that overthrow (as we have said) a few who escaped, but the ruin which yet awaits this world, whenever it comes, will be absolutely a universal one; there will not be any part but what the devouring flames will seize upon, not a sanctuary left any where for the inhabitants to flee to, not a single spot in all this world where any one of them can be safe. Thus, whatever differences may be assigned between that destruction of the world and this here spoken of, they do indeed represent the approaching as the most terrible judgment; yet that the world has once been destroyed by a universal deluge renders it the more credible that it may be again ruined by a universal conflagration. Let therefore the scoffers, who laugh at the coming of our Lord to judgment, at least consider that it may be. There is nothing said of it in the word of God but what is within reach of the power of God, and, though they still should laugh, they shall not put us out of countenance; we are well assured that it will be, because he has said it, and we can depend upon his promise. They err, not knowing (at least not believing) the scriptures, nor the power of God; but we know, and we do or ought to depend upon, both. Now that which he has said, and which he will certainly make good, is that the heavens and the earth which now are (which we are now related to, which still subsist in all the beauty and order in which we see them, and which are so agreeable and useful to us, as we find they are) are kept in store, not to be, what earthly minds would wish to have them, treasures for us, but to be what God will have them, in his treasury, securely lodged and kept safely for his purposes. It follows, they are reserved unto fire. Observe, God’s following judgments are more terrible than those which went before; the old world was destroyed by water, but this is reserved unto fire, which shall burn up the wicked at the last day; and, though this seems to be delayed, yet, as this wicked world is upheld by the word of God, so it is only reserved for the vengeance of him to whom vengeance belongs, who will at the day of judgment deal with an ungodly world according to their deserts, for the day of judgment is the day of the perdition of ungodly men. Those who now scoff at a future judgment shall find it a day of vengeance and utter destruction. “Beware therefore of being among these scoffers; never question but the day of the Lord will come; give diligence therefore to be found in Christ, that that may be a time of refreshment and day of redemption to you which will be a day of indignation and wrath to the ungodly world.”