Charles Simeon Commentary - 2 Peter 2:20 - 2:21

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Charles Simeon Commentary - 2 Peter 2:20 - 2:21

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2Pe_2:20-21. 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 have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.

THAT persons inspired with the love of God should endeavour to bring their fellow-creatures to the knowledge of him, and to a participation of the blessings which they themselves enjoy, seems easy to be accounted for; because nothing but good can result from their labours: but that men should be active in proselyting to impiety those who are walking uprightly before God, appears almost incredible; because no good whatever can issue from their exertions. Were we to see a bond-slave labouring with anxiety to reduce to the same situation with himself those who were enjoying the sweets of liberty; we should account it strange. Yet is the zeal of many exercised for this very end, whilst they strive to reduce to the bondage of corruption their brethren, who through grace have been delivered from it. In the Apostles’ days, some professed to have been favoured with sublimer views of the Christian system than others; and to have juster notions respecting the nature and extent of Christian liberty: and by “speaking great swelling words of vanity, they allured, through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, many who had clean escaped from those who lived in error:” thus, under the semblance of ministers of righteousness, promoting most effectually the interests of Satan’s kingdom. And such “false Apostles” will be found in every age, “deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the Apostles of Christ [Note: 2Co_11:13-15.],” and ruining the souls whose welfare they profess to seek. That this is the sad effect of their labours, the Apostle does not scruple to affirm: he even declares, that the persons so deceived by them are brought into a worse condition than they were in previous to their first acquaintance with the Gospel salvation.

In this statement of the Apostle we have,

I.       A case supposed—

The case which he supposes is simply this; That a man may have attained the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, so as to see that salvation is by him alone, even by his blood which he shed for our fallen race, and his righteousness which he wrought out for their acceptance with God. Further, he supposes that a man may have experienced a considerable efficacy from this knowledge, so as to have been sanctified, in some degree, by means of it, and delivered from the pollutions of a sinful world. Thus he may practically and experimentally “have known the way of righteousness, and yet be again so entangled with the world as to be overcome by it;” and be so overcome by it as “to turn away finally and for ever from the holy commandment delivered unto him.”

Now this case may well be supposed—

[Consider how extremely weak our nature is; how incapable we are of doing any thing that is good, or of resisting any thing that is evil, any farther than as we are strengthened by the grace of God. As it is of God alone in the first instance that we are enabled “either to will or to do” what is right [Note: Php_2:13.]; so is it by the continued operation of his grace alone that we can hold on in the right way: “without Christ” continually assisting us, “we can do nothing [Note: Joh_15:5.].”

Consider also to what innumerable temptations we are exposed. There is not any thing, however innocent in itself, which may not prove to us an occasion of sin. Our food, our raiment, our connexions in life, may all be inordinately loved, or in some way be employed to ensnare our souls. Wherever we go, and whatever we do, we are exposed to temptations of different kinds; nor can any man living tell what a single hour may bring forth, or what a change may, through the influence of some unforeseen temptation, be speedily wrought in his moral or religious character.

Consider farther, what both Scripture and experience teach us on this very subject. Do not the Scriptures tell us, that many had already “made shipwreck both of faith and a good conscience [Note: 1Ti_1:19.],” and that in the latter times such defections would be very numerous [Note: 1Ti_4:1.]? St. Paul’s expostulation with some of the Galatian Church deserves particular notice in this point of view: “Now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed on you labour in vain [Note: Gal_4:9; Gal_4:11.].” Why are we so often and so urgently cautioned against “being moved away from the hope of the Gospel,” and “falling from our own steadfastness,” if no such instance could occur? Is the case of Demas no warning to us? And have we not ourselves either known, or heard of, many, who, like him, “after running well for a season, have been hindered,” and, like Lot’s wife, become monuments and warnings to all around them? Are the stony-ground hearers, and the thorny-ground so rare in the Church, that there is no foundation for the supposition in our text?]

To attempt to invalidate the supposition by an appeal to human systems, is highly inexpedient—

[We never can sufficiently deplore the use which is made of human systems. Men will attach themselves to some fallible creature like themselves, and so adopt his sentiments, as to reject even the Scripture itself, when its declarations militate against their favourite opinions. There are in the Church of God not a few, who would shut their ears against a faithful exposition of our text, as much as they would against blasphemy itself; because they cannot reconcile the leading sentiment contained in it with the dogmas of their party. But who are we that we are to sit in judgment upon the sacred records, and to wrest from its obvious meaning every sentence which does not accord with our views? That there is no real contradiction between the supposition in our text, and many declarations in Scripture which have an opposite aspect, we could easily shew, if it would not draw us too far from our subject: but suffice it to say, that many assertions, which are erroneously thought opposite to each other, have in reality a subserviency the one to the other, and, like wheels moving in an opposite direction, concur to the production of one common end. I therefore entreat you, brethren, not to attempt to weaken the force of the supposition in my text, by an appeal to human systems; but to admit it as a salutary caution to yourselves, and to improve it with all diligence, that you yourselves may not become examples of the case that is supposed.]

Admitting then the possibility of the case supposed, let me draw your attention to,

II.      The evil of it declared—

Wherever such a case occurs, the man is indeed in a most pitiable condition: “His last end is worse than his beginning.” Yes verily, he is in a worse state than ever,

1.       In respect of guilt—

[The more light a man has in his mind, the more he sins if he resist that light. Now in the case under our consideration, the person is supposed to have obtained “a knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and such a measure of it as has been attended with the happiest effects; and yet, after knowing the way of righteousness, to depart from it.” Here then he must sin against light and knowledge: he must violate the dictates of his own conscience: for, though it is true enough, that a man may persuade himself that he is acting right, whilst yet he is violating the plainest commands of God, he cannot experience a transition from the service of God to the service of Satan without many rebukes from conscience, and strong misgivings in his mind. And every step he takes in such a state exceedingly augments and aggravates his guilt: insomuch that the sins which he committed in his days of ignorance, have no guilt in comparison of that which he now contracts. What our blessed Lord said to the Jews of old is strictly applicable to him: “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin [Note: Joh_15:22.].” If to this be added, that in departing from the ways of righteousness he in a tenfold degree dishonours God, and brings disgrace upon his Gospel, and weakens the hands of the godly, and hardens the hearts of the ungodly, the sin of an apostate is great indeed.]

2.       In respect of bondage—

[The Spirit of God strives more or less with every living man [Note: Gen_6:3.]: but with those who have experienced the sanctifying effects of the knowledge of Christ, he must of necessity have wrought in a more abundant measure. Consequently, by the increased resistance necessary to overcome his sacred motions, he must have been the more deeply “grieved [Note: Eph_4:30.].” And when once “the Spirit is quenched [Note: 1Th_5:19.],” and caused “to depart [Note: Hos_9:12.],” and is so “vexed” as to become an “enemy [Note: Isa_63:10.]” to the backslidden soul, What can be expected but that Satan should re-occupy the post from which he had been driven, and bind in stronger chains than ever his unhappy captive? This our blessed Lord has taught us to expect. He says, that Satan, under such circumstances, “will bring with him seven other spirits more wicked, if possible, than himself; and they will enter into the backslider’s heart, and dwell there: and that the last state of that man will be worse than the first [Note: Mat_12:43-45.].” The heart of the apostate must of necessity become more hardened in proportion as he has “rebelled against the light,” and provoked God to give him up to his own heart’s lusts. Hence the apostle speaks of it as “impossible to renew such an one to repentance [Note: Heb_6:4-6.].” By this I understand not that it is absolutely impossible, but so difficult as to be beyond all reasonable expectation.]

3.       In respect of condemnation—

[If guilt be increased, an increase of punishment must follow of course. “The servant that knows his lord’s will and does it not, will be beaten with many stripes;” whilst he who sins through ignorance will be beaten with comparatively “few stripes [Note: Luk_12:47-48.].” Hence our Lord declared to the cities of Bethsaida and Capernaum, that it should be “more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment than for them [Note: Mat_10:15.]:” for though their wickedness was not of the precise nature with that which so abounded in Sodom, yet it was committed in the midst of advantages which Sodom and Gomorrha never enjoyed. The same may be said of the apostate: “If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour us.” And this judgment will be proportioned to the guilt which we have contracted by our abuse of our pre-eminent advantages: for (it is added), “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy, under two or three witnesses. Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of Grace [Note: Heb_10:26-29.]?”

From all these considerations it is clear, that the last state of the apostate is worse than his beginning: and that it would have “been better for him never to have known the way of righteousness, than, after he has known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto him.”]


There are, it is to be feared, many here present, who have never yet been delivered from the pollutions of the world—

[In truth, of this description are the great mass of nominal Christians throughout the world. If you take men’s victory over the world as a criterion whereby to judge of their piety, you will find amongst the professors of Christianity quite as little as amongst Jews, or Mahometans, or Pagans. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, that is, pleasure, and riches, and honour, are the great objects of ambition in every place: and, if a man be dead to them, he is “a sign and a wonder” to all around him. Look, beloved brethren, and see how your hearts stand affected to these things. Can you truly say, as before God, that “you have overcome the world,” and that it is, as it were, under your feet? Have you ever had such views of “the cross of Christ, as have rendered the world and all its vanities like a crucified object in your eyes; and that you also are become like one crucified unto it [Note: Gal_6:14.]?” I entreat you to attend to what the Apostle speaks in my text: “If after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” He here takes for granted, that this effect will follow, universally, and invariably, follow; all who know our adorable Saviour will escape the pollutions of the world. I pray you to mark this: the Apostle takes it for granted: and he was right; for there never was, nor ever will be, one exception to this truth: all who know Christ aright, will become dead to the world, and escape from its pollutions. Bring yourselves then to this test: try yourselves, ye whose friends and companions are worldly, whose desires and pursuits are worldly, whose joys and sorrows are worldly. If you were Christians indeed, you would “not be of the world, even as Christ was not of the world [Note: Joh_17:16.].” You cannot be of the world, and of God too; for they stand in direct opposition to each other [Note: 1Jn_4:5-6.]. “You cannot serve God and Mammon [Note: Mat_6:24.].” Know then, that whilst you love and “mind earthly things [Note: Php_3:18-19.],” you have never yet “known the way of righteousness [Note: 2Pe_2:21.]:” and that though your state may beworse,” it is exceeding bad: for, if “the last end of the apostate is worse than his beginning,” his beginning must of necessity be bad: and such is the state of all who have not yet devoted themselves to the service of their God.]

But some there are, we may hope, who have, through the knowledge of Christ, been delivered from the world—

[It is well you have thus far answered one end for which our blessed Saviour died: for “he gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world [Note: Gal_1:4.].” But you will do well to bear in mind the caution in our text. A change of situation often brings with it a change of conduct. Perhaps you may be somewhat advanced in rank or station, or may form some new connexion, or be brought into some new circumstances: and you may easily persuade yourself that this change not only sanctions, but requires, a change in your habits and deportment. But “beware lest, as Satan beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so you also should be turned from the simplicity that is in Christ.” Whatever your situation or circumstances may be, God’s command to you is, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him [Note: 1Jn_2:15.].” Even “the friendship of the world, if unduly sought or delighted in, is enmity with God [Note: Jam_4:4.].” Beware then how in heart and affection you return to the world. “Remember Lot’s wife.” “After once putting your hand to the plough, you must never look back again [Note: Luk_9:62.].” Methinks, if you would duly consider the image by which such apostasy is represented in the words following my text, you never could return to the world. One scarcely knows how even to quote the Scripture itself; so exceedingly does one nauseate the ideas suggested in it, and so utterly do one’s feelings revolt from it. But it does paint the world, and all who love it, in very humiliating colours. O that all the votaries of gaiety, and fashion, and pleasure could but hear what the Apostle compares them to; even to “swine wallowing in the mire!” and that all who are tempted to conform to them, could be brought to reflect on “a dog returning to his own vomit again!” Yes, brethren, this is the feast to which your earthly friends invite you. Ah! learn to view the world as God views it: learn to regard it as a country infected with the plague: and let your great concern be to get through it in safety. Go not unnecessarily where the infection rages most: but “come out from among them, and be separate; and touch not the unclean thing [Note: 2Co_6:17.].” And, as it was the knowledge of Christ which first brought you forth from the world and its pollutions, seek to “grow in the knowledge of your adorable Lord and Saviour [Note: 2Pe_3:18.],” that, through the abundance of his grace communicated to you, you may live more than ever unto God; and that, “shining already as lights in the world [Note: Php_2:15.],” your “path may shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day [Note: Pro_4:18.].”]