Ver. 5. Having a form (
, an outward show or appearance) of godliness, but denying the power thereof—that is, by their immoral lives and wicked deeds belying their profession—practically disowning that godliness was an actual power in their experience.
It is a dreadful picture, and from the very darkness of the characteristics it delineates, plainly requires to be understood with some limitations. If such characteristics were to become general in any particular age or country, society could not long continue to exist; it would fall to pieces by the weight of its own corruptions. We must therefore suppose the apostle to mean, that in the coming future there would be ever and anon persons appearing with those vicious qualities more or less characterizing their behaviour—not that all of them should meet in the same individuals, and still less that any entire community should be pervaded by them. But in proportion as the spirit of selfishness should at any time prevail, the others might be expected in a corresponding ratio to follow. That spirit fitly stands at the head of this black catalogue of moral evils, being in a manner the root-quality out of which the rest will, as circumstances admit, inevitably spring, and being that also, which more almost than any other bespeaks the disregard of Christian verities, and the absence of their influence on the heart. And if, from being simply a negation, there should come to any extent to prevail an antagonism to the fundamental truths and love-inspiring influences of the gospel, one can easily understand how the barriers which restrain the selfish spirit, and oblige it to maintain a certain moderation and formal decency, would one after another give way, and a fierce, unscrupulous, reckless opposition to whatever is pure, lovely, and of good report, rise to the ascendant. In such a case the reigning spirit of the time would necessarily be, if not avowed, at least virtual atheism; and the atheist, as has been justly said, “holds all mankind in contempt, and would be ready with a jest to blot out life from the world. Let but the day come, when it shall be fearlessly and commonly professed that death is annihilation, and that therefore the pleasures of appetite, graced by intelligence, are the best portion of man, and this horrible opinion shall quickly become parent to a giant cruelty, loftier in stature, and more malign, than any the earth has hitherto beheld. Even the most sanguinary superstitions have had some profession of sanctity and of mercy to maintain; a reserve, a saving hypocrisy, a balance of sentiments, which has set bounds to their demands of blood. But atheism is a simple element: it has no restraining motive, and must act, like itself, with a dreadful ingenuousness.” (Isaac Taylor’s Saturday Evening, chap. xiii.) The nearest approach to this on a large scale which the world has seen since the diffusion of Christianity, was the state of France at the close of the last and the beginning of the present century. But the disturbing elements which brought on that terrible state of things, there can be no doubt, are again actively at work in many parts of Christendom; and it can scarcely be said to be beyond the bounds of probability that “the last days” of the present dispensation are destined to witness, in certain quarters, a realization of the prophetic picture before us more appalling than has yet been exhibited in the history of the past.
And from these turn away. Such an exhortation clearly implies that the state of moral pravity described was not regarded by the apostle as belonging entirely to the future; that persons were even then to be found in whom its features partially at least appeared; and consequently, that what was said at the outset of “the last days” as inclusive generally of Christian times, holds also here.