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.—2 Thess. II. 3.
IN these words we have these two things:—
1. A caution against the error set afoot at that time concerning Christ’s sudden coming to judgment.
2. The confutation of it. It is disproved by two antecedents and forerunners of his coming: — (1.) A general apostasy, or a defection of the visible church from the true state of Christianity; (2.) The revelation of Antichrist, described here by his names and proper titles — lst, That man of sin; and 2dly, Son of perdition.
I. Let us speak of the general apostasy that must be before Christ’s coming to judgment: except there come a falling away first.
Now concerning it take these propositions: —
1. That apostasy is any defection from him to whom we owe and have performed subjection, or a failing from that lord to whom we owe fealty. I am sure, in religious matters, it importeth a defection from our right and proper Lord. Thus the devil is an apostate, because he abode not in his first estate: Jude 6, ‘And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains,’ &c.; ‘abode not in the truth;’ John viii. 44, ‘Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth;’ that is, forsook his obedience to God, and so became the ringleader of all rebellious creatures. So it is true of our first parents. They were apostates, they did revolt from God and their obedience to him. Therefore it is said, Rom. v. 19, ‘By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.’ So of their posterity; their apostasy is described by ‘turning back from following the Lord,’ Zeph. i. 6, and ‘departing from God,’ that is, his worship and service; Isa. lix. 13, ‘In transgressing and lying against the Lord, and departing away from our God.’ Let us then be agreed of this notion of apostasy, which is evident, that it is a falling off from the obedience which we owe to our rightful Lord.
2. The apostasy mentioned in the text was not civil, the falling away of many kingdoms from the Roman empire; but an apostasy of the visible church from him who is Lord of the church. I prove it partly from the persons to whom the apostle wrote, who did not intermingle themselves with state affairs, or were not concerned in the interests of the Roman empire further than that they lived within the bounds of it; and this apostasy must be understood as they would conceive of apostasy with respect to the main cause wherein they were concerned and engaged, which was the profession of Christianity. Partly from the use of the word in the Christian doctrine; falling away there is certainly falling away from the faith and purity of the gospel: Luke viii. 13, ‘Which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.’ And partly because to them it was expressly foretold that tines aposthsontai,‘Some shall fall away or depart from the faith,’ 1 Tim. iv. 1. Lastly, because those who are most concerned to maintain the notion of the civil apostasy from the Roman empire are most notorious in this defection. It is true the Roman empire lost Asia and the places adjacent by the invasion of Eastern nations, but it was thrust out of Rome by the rebellion of its subjects, and chiefly by the influence of the Pope there, as histories manifest. So that this interpretation will not help them a jot, but hurt them not a little. So that here is a defection from our proper Lord, and a spiritual defection, not a civil.
3. The proper Lord of the Christian church is Jesus Christ, who hath purchased it with his blood, and ‘died, and rose again, and revived, that he might be Lord of dead and living,’ Rom. xiv. 9; and again, Eph. v. 23, ‘Christ is the head of the church, and the Saviour of the body.’ He that sayeth and recovereth the church out of the general apostasy of mankind, and restoreth them to their due obedience and proper happiness, he only is fit to he head of the church; and this only is Christ: we expect no opposition here.
4. The apostasy from the Lord will be determined chiefly by these two things:—(1.) By undermining his authority; (2.) Or destroying the interests of his kingdom. By these two we may understand the falling away, which is to come first.
[1.] By undermining his authority. Certainly his authority is undermined when others presume to usurp his place without his leave. Therefore, to superinduce a universal head of the visible church, which Christ never appointed, is manifestly to usurp his authority; though the party so intruding should pretend to hold his sovereignty from Christ, and under him, yet this is treason against Christ, for here is an authority set up without, and therefore against, his consent. Put the case in a temporal kingdom, and the thing will be clear. And thus the Pope is the usurping head of a rebellion against Christ. Where did Christ institute him to take this office? Tu es Petrus is such a stale pretence, so often baffled and defeated, and pretended upon so small grounds;—as that Christ hereby conveyed singular authority to Peter above the rest of the disciples, that from Peter it descendeth to his successors, and to those of Rome (if ever he were at Rome), and not those of Antioch;—that it is endless to pursue the absurdities of this impertinent allegation. The argument holdeth the more strongly when the Pope condemneth all the churches that will not be his subjects, how holy, good, and obedient to the laws of Christ soever they be. Surely, if anything, this is an apostasy or a revolt from our rightful Lord; and to consent to this rebellion and usurpation is to be drawn into a conspiracy against Christ, to submit to the head of the most pernicious schism that did ever rend the church of Christ, and to betray the liberty of the people of our Lord to a tyrannical usurpation.
[2.] Or corrupting and destroying the interests of his kingdom. Certainly, wherever there is a degeneration from the purity and simplicity of the gospel, the interests of Christ’s kingdom are destroyed. ‘I fear,’ saith the apostle, 2 Cor. xi. 3, ‘lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.’ The ancient, pure, apostolic Christianity doth only preserve the interests of Christ’s kingdom in the world; there is no way of safety but by keeping there; for since godliness is a mystery, and we shall see afterwards the iniquity that is contrary is a mystery also—2 Thes. ii. 7, ‘The mystery of iniquity doth already work’—we need to be exactly careful to keep close to the doctrine, worship, and discipline of the first gospel church; for if these had remained pure, Antichrist had never risen. Christ’s institutions would have preserved his interests in the world; but as these were corrupted, the apostasy prevailed. When the faith of the gospel was turned into dead opinions and curious questions, if not direct errors, and the worship of the gospel was corrupted by giving divine honour to saints and angels, and turned into a theatrical pomp and the pageantry of empty ceremonies, which eclipse the majesty and splendour of it; and the discipline of the church into a temporal domination, and all is carried in the world by sides and interests, that Christianity looketh like another thing, a design calculated for the present world rather than a serious preparation for the world to come; then certainly there is an apostasy and a defection from Christ; however the corrupt manners of the church be varnished over with the name of Christianity, there is a degeneration questionless; and that is apostasy, in a mystery, such as this is, though not in open revolt from Christ.
But to make this more evident to you, let us consider what the kingdom of Christ is. The gospel kingdom is a kingdom of light, life, and love. Opposite to light is ignorance and error; to life, a religion that consists of shows, dead rites, and empty ceremonies; to love, uncharitableness, malice, and especially hatred of the power of godliness. Now where these prevail eminently, there is an opposite kingdom set up to the kingdom of Christ; certainly a falling off from his kingdom: that is to say, where, in opposition to light, error is taught, and ignorance is counted the mother of devotion, and people are restrained from the means of knowledge, as if the height of Christian faith and obedience did consist in an implicit believing what the church believeth; and where, instead of life, men place their whole religion in superficial rites and ceremonies, and some trifling acts of seeming devotion and exterior mortifications; and instead of love to God and souls, all things are sacrificed to private ambition; and forcing consciences with the highest penalties and persecutions to submit to their corruptions—there is a manifest subversion of the interests of Christ’s kingdom. In short, God’s witnesses were ‘slain in that city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, and where our Lord was crucified,’ Rev. xi. 8; that city which answereth to Sodom for impurity, to Egypt for idolatry, and to Jerusalem for persecution of the saints; there may you find the great apostasy.
5. This apostasy from our Lord’s authority and the interests of his kingdom is some notable and discernible apostasy, and the head patron thereof is Antichrist. The defection is not of one, or a few, or many in divers churches; there have always been backsliders from the faith: 1 John ii. 19, ‘They went out from us, but they were not of us;’ and the spirit of Antichrist wrought in the apostles’ days: 1 John ii. 18, ‘As you have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now there are many Antichrists;’ and again, 1 John iv. 3, we are told of the spirit of Antichrist: ‘And this is that spirit of Antichrist, whereof you have heard that it should come, and even now already is it in the world;’ then described to be afterwards (ver. 5) a worldly spirit: ‘They are of the world, and speak of the world, and the world heareth them.’ Though they profess Christianity, carnal, worldly hypocrites, which never conquered the fleshly mind and interest, have the spirit of Antichrist; these obscure the light, and obstruct the life and love of the gospel—they that wholly affect a life of pomp and ease in the church. Now, this hath always been in all the ages. The false Christians forget their hopes are built upon a crucified Christ, and are to be derived to them from a glorified Christ in the other world—crucified in this world and glorified in the next,—which indeed are the two considerations that keep Christianity pure and lively; that all was purchased by a crucified Christ, and all is dispensed by a glorified Christ; and I wish you would oftener think of it. But the great apostasy is eminently found in some external visible church, where these corruptions are generally received and defended. For the head of that church is Antichrist, where doctrine is corrupted, and the worship mingled with idolatry, and the government a usurpation, and bent against the holy seed that desire to worship God in spirit and in truth; there is this manifest revolt from and rebellion against God and Christ, though they push with the horns of the lamb.
That the Papists are a corrupt sect of Christians is beyond dispute to any that will try their religion by the scriptures; and that they are far more corrupt than the Protestants or Reformed Churches, will also soon appear by the comparison, or a view of both churches. But whether they are so corrupt as to become the seat of Antichrist, is the matter under debate. Therefore, let any one consider where the eminent apostasy is to be found. Who are they that invade Christ s authority by setting up a universal head over all Christians? Who are they that establish the doctrine of demons, or revive the worship of a middle sort of powers between God and mortal men? 1 Tim. iv. 1. Who through hypocrisy invent so many lies to maintain it, and when Christians should keep themselves from idols, 1 John v. 21, yet, in defiance of this, worship angels and other creatures: Col. ii. 18, ‘Let no man beguile you of your reward, in a voluntary humility, and worshipping of angels,’ &c.; and erect the images of saints, commanding and compelling men to adore them, and pray to them? Who are they that are not contented with the one only Mediator: 1 Tim. ii. 5, ‘For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ;’ 1 Cor. viii. 5, ‘For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth (as there be gods many, and lords many), but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him, and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him,’—but set up other mediators of intercession? Who are they that plead for indulgences and the supererogatory satisfactions of the saints, as gathered into the treasury of the church, and so profitable for the remission of sins, and condemn them who think the contrary? Who are they that keep believers from reading the scriptures, when they are so expressly enjoined to do it? John v. 39, and Ps. i. 2, ‘But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night.’ That deny one part of the Lord’s Supper to his disciples, notwithstanding his institution to the contrary? 1 Cor. xi. 25, 26, ‘After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This is the New Testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me; for as oft as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show forth the Lord’s death till he come.’ It were endless to instance in all: I shall speak more of it in the following verses.
6. This apostasy is not only forbidden, but foretold as a thing that would certainly come to pass. This consideration is necessary for divers reasons.
[1.] Because the Papists ask how this can be consistent with Christ’s care of his church, that there should be a universal apostasy and decay of Christian religion, who hath promised ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’?
Ans. That promise is made chiefly to the invisible church, or community of the elect, not to all the visible societies of the Christians, against whom the devil can and hath prevailed, and doth daily, to the destruction of many souls. And we say not that the whole visible church did apostatise, though all are faulty.
[2.] Because some require the time when this apostasy began to be particularly assigned and noted to them, and by what persons these corruptions were first introduced, or else deny that any such thing hath been. But the case is clear: it began to work betimes, only it wrought in a mystery. But cannot we prove a man to be old, unless we prove the first moment when his grey hairs began to appear, or his natural force to be abated? Who can tell every step of the progress of the corruption of the Jewish church? and why should the like be required of the Christian ? This dunghill of corruption was not raised in one age: and suppose that in track of time authors be forgotten, matters of faith are not to be contradicted because of the defect of history. And yet histories are not altogether wanting in the case, only in things that came in by degrees they are not necessary. In the introducing of the general apostasy, some erred in the simplicity of their hearts, as the people followed Absalom, 2 Sam. xv. 11. But shall we deny a thing to be done because we cannot speak the particular moments of time, and circumstances of them, when and how it was done? Shall we say the pointer in the dial passeth not, because we do not see its motion? Might not the priests judge of a leprosy, though they knew not how it was contracted? Iniquity mystical did by degrees prevail.
[3.] Because some think, if we should grant such an apostasy, it would interrupt the whole course of visible Christianity, and so deprive the world of a ministry and ordinances, till Christ send some new nuncios from heaven, or by miracle, at least, authorise a new ministry, that may be owned by the world, and received by his people. A vain conceit! for though this apostasy is foretold that it should come to pass, yet it is also foretold that Christ will be with the apostles and their successors to the end of the world, Mat. xxviii. 20; and prayed for all them that should believe in him through their word, John xvii. 20; and though the church was corrupted by degrees, yet all this while it ceased not to be a church, nor the officers thereof to be Christ’s ministers. When the ten tribes fell away, yet God till their dissolution continued the spirit of prophecy amongst them; and in the Christian church a ministry, though many had their calling from such who Consented to the encroachments of Antichrist. God had not so wholly cast off his people, but that there was a ministry and ordinances; their ministry was a true ministry, and the baptism a true baptism, to be owned in foro externo: for these things remain whilst anything of Christianity remaineth. In a body mangled with wounds, or all overgrown with sores, there is life remaining; and so some functions and offices of life. God called idolatrous Israel his people, and was not angry with them for circumcising their children, but for offering them to Moloch, Ezek. xvi. 20, 21. But of this in the next verse, where Antichrist is said to sit in the church of God.
II. The revelation of Antichrist: and that man of sin shall be revealed, the son of perdition; where two things are notable:—(1.) His rise and appearing; (2.) The names and titles given to him.
1. His rise and appearing, expressed in the word revealed; that is, that great and chief Antichrist, upon that apostasy or falling away, shall be extant and show himself to the world. A thing is said to be revealed two ways—either when it is in being, or when it is discovered; both ways are proper here. He shall publicly appear, exercising a tyranny in the world, or cast off his veil, and show himself in his colours. God by his providence permitteth him to be, and by the doctrine of the gospel discovereth his impostures to all those who have no mind to be deceived.
2. The names or titles given to him; they are two:—(1.) ‘The man of sin,’ wherein he is compared and likened to Antiochus; (2.) ‘The son of perdition,’ wherein he is compared and likened to Judas.
[1.] For the first, the Jews called Antiochus ‘the man of sin:’ 1 Macch. ii. 48, ‘They gave not the power to the sinner;’ in the Greek, to kepas amartwlw, ‘They gave not the horn to the sinner.’ The Syriac version hath it, ‘They suffered not the horn of the sinner to be lifted up;’ and ver. 62, ‘Fear not the words of the man of sin,’—apo logwn andros amartolou mh fobhqhte, ‘From the words of the man the sinner be not afraid.’ Now why did they call Antiochus the man of sin? Because he sought to alter the religion of the people, and by cruelty to introduce a change of worship and idolatry, and such laws as he would set up. Now, according to this pattern, Antichrist is a man of sin; that is, either a man given up to all sin eminently, a sinner addicted unto sin, and a ringleader of others unto sin, either by fraud and violence; or as he giveth encouragements and encitements to sin; or as a special kind of sinner, a usurper and invader of the empire of the Son of God. So was Antiochus. So was Antichrist. Now, how much open sin is practised, allowed, and maintained in the Papacy, I list not now to rake into; their own stories speak enough;—the sodomy, blasphemy, incest, adulteries, sorceries, murders, treasons, parricides, which they have authorised and countenanced. Histories witness that hardly hath the world yielded a more abominable sort of men, than have sat in that chair of pestilence. This I am sure of, that a man can sin nowhere at so cheap a rate as in Popery, where, what by dividing their sins into mortal and venial, and these expiated by a little penance, accompanied with a single attrition, and bare grief and trouble, because of the punishment; what by faculties, pardons, licenses, dispensations, indulgences, sin is distinguished out of the conscience.
But because he is called the man of sin, here it cometh fitly to be inquired whether Antichrist be an individual person? for ‘that man of sin’ would seem to be some single person. No; he is put for a society and succession of men, that make up the head of the apostate state. As one lion figured the whole kingdom of the Babylonians, and one bear the kingdom of the Medes and Persians, and one leopard the kingdom of the Grecians, Dan. vii.,—and there the fourth beast is the fourth kingdom,—so one person that succession of men that head the revolters from Christ. So Dan. viii., a goat figured a succession of kings; so the Assyrian, Isa. x. 5, several kings in that empire; so Isa. xiv. 9, the king of Babylon, meaning not one but many. So this man of sin doth not note a single man, but a succession of men, a body politic or corporate, under one opposite head to the kingdom of Christ: so the ‘man of God’ is put for all faithful ministers, 2 Tim. iii. 17; so ‘honour the king,’ I Peter ii. 17, series regum. So o arciereus, Heb. ix. 25, ‘The high priest every year entereth into the holy place;’ meaning not one, but the succession of the order; and in reason it must needs be so here. Because Antichrist, from his beginning to his end, from his rise and revelation, till his ruin and destruction, will take up such a long track of time, as cannot fall within the age of any one man, even from the time of the apostles till the end of the world. Antichrist is the head of the apostasy; for here the apostasy and the revelation of the man of sin are conjunct; now the mysterious apostasy could not be perfected in a short time.
[2.] The son of perdition, wherein he is likened to Judas: John xvii. 12, ‘None of them is lost but the son of perdition.’ Him he resembleth in covetousness, treachery, and final destruction. The term may be explained either passively, or actively:—(1.) Passively, as one condemned to everlasting destruction; as the ‘son of death,’ is one condemned to die: 2 Sam. xii. 5, ‘He shall be a son of death;’ we translate it, ‘He shall surely die.’ So ‘children of wrath,’ Eph. ii. 3; so here, ‘son of perdition.’ (2.) Actively, bringing destruction upon himself and others; one that shall destroy others, and so he is called ‘Abaddon,’ and ‘Apollyon,’ Rev. ix. 11, and is opposite to Christ, who is ‘the author of salvation,’ Heb. v. 9, but Antichrist of destruction. And let us see the parallel between him and Judas; for the person is a type, as well as the name hath a significancy. Antichrist then is like Judas—in profession, a disciple of Christ; in office, a governor of the church; but in practice, a traitor. As they said of the blind man, John ix. 9, ‘Some said, This is he; others, He is very like him.’ The Pope boasteth that his seat is apostolical, his chair is Peter’s chair, and that he is the successor of the apostle. Grant it, but there is an error of’ the person—not of Peter, but of Judas. Let us see the parallel:—
(1.) Judas was not a stranger, but a pretended friend and apostle: Acts i. 17, ‘He was numbered with us, and obtained part of this ministry.’ Turks and infidels are enemies to Christ, but Antichrist seeketh to undermine him, under a pretence of friendship; anticristos is one in show for, and in effectagainst Christ, and the beast in the Revelation is said to ‘push with the horns of the lamb,’ Rev. xiii. 11. If he were a professed enemy, what mystery were there in it? But mystery was written upon the woman’s forehead, Rev. xvii. 5; and here, ver. 7, ‘The mystery of iniquity.’ It is wisdom to discern the false prophet, Rev. xiii. 18, but there needeth no great wisdom to discover an open an professed adversary.
(2.) He sold Christ for a small matter. Omnia Romæ venalia: pardons, indulgences, freedom from purgatory, all to be bought with money; and it is a small matter, considering the things put to sale, the pardon of sins, the souls of men redeemed with Christ’s precious blood. The antichristian state maketh a market of religion; truth is made to yield to interest and profit.
(3.) Judas betrayed Christ with a kiss, under a pretence of honouring him: Luke xxii. 48, ‘Jesus said unto him, Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?’ Antichrist is a true adversary of Christ, though he pretend to adore him; as those that murdered the present prophets would by all means beautify the tombs of the prophets deceased, and bear a respect to their memories, Mat. xxiii. 30. He pretendeth to be his servant, yea, a servant of servants, but is really his enemy. The apostle telleth us of some that were ‘enemies to the cross of Christ,’ Phil. iii. 18. Who to appearance such friends to the cross as the rabble of nominal Christians? but they are opposers of his spiritual kingdom, the virtue and power of the cross. You have crucifixes everywhere, painted, carved, gilded; they are ready to worship the cross with a holy worship; they set it in their temples, altars, wear it in their bosoms, and wherever they meet it show it reverence, adorn it with gold, silver, and precious stones. Their popes and prelates have it carried before them; and are not these friends of the cross? No; they live a worldly, sensual life, and all their religion tendeth thereunto; therefore enemies of the cross of Christ, because they mind earthly things. This is right antichrist-like, to betray Christ under a colour of adoration.
(4.) Judas was a guide to them that came to take Christ; and one main work of Antichrist is to be a ringleader in persecuting for religion. Christ is in heaven, death hath no more power over him; his natural body is above abuse, but his mystical body still suffereth: Acts ix. 6, ‘Why persecutest thou me?’ Antichrist is the head of the persecuting state, others are his emissaries and agents, to take Christ in his members. It is a politic religion, that must be carried on with worldly artifices, with power and cruelty.
(5.) Lastly, The covetousness of Judas is set forth. He was a thief, and one that carried the bag, John xii. 6. England, to its bitter cost, knoweth the polling exactions of the Papacy; all its dealings with us were to fill the bag out of this puteus inexhaustus. Now all these things should open our eyes; we may behold the man of sin, the son of perdition; one egg is not more like to another than Judas and Antichrist.
Use. Is to persuade us to a detestation of what is antichristian, and to that end let us mark the progress of the text. (1.) The apostasy made was for Antichrist; (2.) Antichrist, rising upon the apostasy, becometh a man of sin; and (3.) The man of sin is also the son of perdition.
1. Let me begin first with the falling away. There is a twofold falling away—either from the power and practice of godliness, or from a true religion to a false, particularly to Popery.
[1.] I begin with the falling away from the power and practice of godliness, though the profession be not changed; and the rather, partly because this disposeth to the entertainment of error. When a people that are carried with great fervour and vigour of zeal for a while, lose their affections to good, and return to a worldly, sensual life, then the bias of their hearts doth easily prevail against the light of their understandings. And so unsanctified men may the sooner be drawn to apostasy; they never felt the quickening virtue of faith, and were never wrought by it to the true love of God, or an holy and heavenly mind and life. And partly, also, because if a lively Christianity had been kept up, Antichrist had never risen in the world; and it is the way to keep him out still: When the servants slept, the enemy sowed tares,’ Mat. xiii. A sleepy religion and corruption of manners made way for corruption of doctrine, worship, and order. It was with the church according to the spouse’s complaint: ‘I sleep, but my heart waketh,’ Cant. v. 2. Some care there was, but much drowsiness and deadness in religion; and that produced the great apostasy. Partly too, because there is such a compliance between the nature of antichristianism and the temper of a carnal heart; for superstition and profaneness grow both upon the same root. A lothness to displease the flesh, the sensual nature of man, is such, that it is loth to be crossed; and that breedeth profaneness. For wherefore do men ingulf themselves in all manner of sensualities, but because they are loth to deny their natural appetites and desires, and row against the stream of flesh and blood, but will ‘walk in the way of their own heart, and in the sight of their own eyes’? Eccles. xi. 9. Again, if nature be to be crossed, it is only a little; it shall only be in some external actions, and observances, and dead rudiments, which never kill our lusts, nor promote the divine life. And this pleasing superstition shall make up a religion which is a fit pillow for a carnal heart to sleep upon. Popery is the easiest religion for the flesh that can be found out, for it never biteth nor disturbeth their lusts. The duties of it are like the pharisees’ fasting, which our Lord compareth to old wine, Mat. ix. 17, fit for old, dried skin bottles. Well, take heed of falling away from a lively godliness. No man entereth seriously upon religion but with some tasting or rejoicing, Heb. vi.; now as this decayeth, we fall off. The heavenly life is obstructed, if not choked and quite lost. Now, to prevent this, observe two things:—(1.) Your coldness in duties; (2.) Your boldness in sinning.
(1.) Coldness in duties, when the will and affections grow more remiss, and the worship of God, which keepeth up the remembrance of him, is either omitted or performed perfunctorily, and in a careless and stupid manner: Jer. ii. 32,’ My people have forgotten me days without number;’ Job xxvii. 10, ‘Will he always call upon God? will he delight himself in the Almighty?’ God chargeth Israel with growing weary of him; and it began in not calling upon him, Isa. xliii. 22. Now, when you seldom think or speak of God, and do not keep up a delightful communion with him, there is a falling away.
(2.) Boldness in sinning. When men lose their tenderness and strictness, and the awe of God is lessened in their hearts, and they do not only sin freely in thought, but freely in act, have not that hatred of sin and watchfulness as formerly, but more abandon themselves to a carnal life, they are falling off from God apace: 2 Peter ii. 20, ‘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, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.’ At first the heart checked you for sin, but you did not kindly come off, were not troubled about it, hoped God would pardon it; and then you are bold to venture again, and so by degrees are entangled in the sensual and worldly life. Now consider the causes of it:—1. Want of faith in God: Heb. iii. 12, ‘Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.’ You have not a sound belief of his being and presence. 2. Want of love to God: Rev. ii. 4, 5, ‘Nevertheless I have (somewhat) against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do thy first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent.’ Your hearts decline from that love you had to him and his ways, and then your work is intermitted. 3. Want of a due sense of the world to come: Heb. x. 39, ‘But we are not of them who draw back to perdition, but of them that believe, to the saving of the soul.’ 4. The love of the present world: 2 Tim. iv. 10, ‘For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.’ The more that is valued, the more your hearts are taken off from things to come, and the care about them; you have too great a liking, either to the profits of the world—1 Tim. vi. 10, ‘The love of money is the root of all evil, which while some have coveted after, they have erred from the faith’—or else the pleasures of the world: 2 Tim. iii. 4,’ Lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.’ As the inclination of the heart groweth stronger to sensual pleasures, your thoughts of God are less serious and pleasing to you. Now look to these things, lest you grow quite weary of God and the holy life, which once you had an affection unto.
[2.] From a true religion to a false; which may be done two ways:—(1.) Out of corruption of mind; (2.) Out of vile affection.
(1.) Out of weakness of mind, as those do that were never well grounded in the truth: Eph. iv. 14, ‘That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;’ 2 Peter iii. 16, ‘In which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable, wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.’ Therefore we need to be established; but the forsaking of a truth we were bred in usually cometh from some falseness of heart. Some errors are so contrary to the new nature, that they discern them by the unction: 1 John ii. 20, ‘But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.’
(2.) Out of vile affection, when they forsake the truth for the advantages of a fleshly, worldly life, some places to be gotten by it, &c., and as the whore of Babylon hath a golden cup, riches, and preferments, wherewith it inviteth its proselytes. Now these are worse than the former, for they sell the birthright: Heb. xii. 16, ‘Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.’ O Christians! take heed to yourselves. Apostasy brought Antichrist into the church. Let it not jure postliminio, bring him back again into the land, or into your hearts.
2. The next step is the man of sin. As the first apostasy of Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, so this great apostasy brought in a deluge of sin into the church, and defiled the holy society which Christ had gathered out of the world. Idolatry is often called adultery or fornication; spiritual uncleanness disposeth to bodily, and bodily to spiritual. Usually a corrupt state of religion and corrupt manners go together; otherwise the dance and the fiddle would not suit. The world cannot lie quiet in a course of sin, if there be not some libertine, atheistical doctrine, and carnal worship to countenance it: Rev. xi. 10, ‘And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.’
3. The man of sin is also the son of perdition—(1.) Actively. False religions strangely efferate the mind: Jude 11, ‘These go in the way of Cain;’ and Hosea v. 2, ‘Revolters are profound to make slaughter.’ Men think no cruelty nor dishonesty unlawful which serveth to promote the interests of their sect, and lose all charity to those that are not of their way. (2.) Passively, shall be destroyed. Sometimes grievous judgments come in this world for the corruptions of religion; but in the world to come, dreadful is the end of apostates: 2 Peter ii. 20, 21, ‘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, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning; for it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they had known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.’