15 To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. 16 These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage. 17 But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; 18 How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. 19 These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit. 20 But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, 21 Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. 22 And of some have compassion, making a difference: 23 And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. 24 Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, 25 To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
Here, I. The apostle enlarges further on the character of these evil men and seducers: they are murmurers, complainers, &c., v. 16. Observe, A murmuring complaining temper, indulged and expressed, lays men under a very bad character; such are very weak at least, and for the most part very wicked. They murmur against God and his providence, against men and their conduct; they are angry at every thing that happens, and never pleased with their own state and condition in the world, as not thinking it good enough for them. Such walk after their own lusts; their will, their appetite, their fancy, are their only rule and law. Note, Those who please their sinful appetites are most prone to yield to their ungovernable passions.
II. He proceeds to caution and exhort those to whom he is writing, v. 17-23. Here,
1. He calls them to remember how they have been forewarned: But, beloved, remember, &c., v. 17. “Remember, take heed that you think it not strange (so as to stumble and be offended, and have your faith staggered by it) that such people as the seducers before described and warned against should arise (and that early) in the Christian church, seeing all this was foretold by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the accomplishment of it in the event is a confirmation of your faith, instead of being in the least an occasion of shaking and unsettling you therein.” Note,
(1.) Those who would persuade must make it evident that they sincerely love those whom they would persuade. Bitter words and hard usage never did nor ever will convince, much less persuade any body.
(2.) The words which inspired persons have spoken (or written), duly remembered and reflected on, are the best preservative against dangerous errors; this will always be so, till men have learnt to speak better than God himself.
(3.) We ought not to be offended if errors and persecutions arise and prevail in the Christian church; this was foretold, and therefore we should not think worse of Christ’s person, doctrine, or cross, when we see it fulfilled. See 1 Tim. iv. 1, and 2 Tim. iii. 1, and 2 Pet. iii. 3. We must not think it strange, but comfort ourselves with this, that in the midst of all this confusion Christ will maintain his church, and make good his promise, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, Matt. xvi. 18.
(4.) The more religion is ridiculed and persecuted the faster hold we should take and keep of it; being forewarned, we should show that we are fore-armed; under such trials we should stand firm, and not be soon shaken in mind, 2 Thess. ii. 2.
2. He guards them against seducers by a further description of their odious character: These are those who separate, &c., v. 19. Observe,
(1.) Sensualists are the worst separatists. They separate themselves from God, and Christ, and his church, to the devil, the world, and the flesh, by their ungodly courses and vicious practices; and this is a great deal worse than separation from any particular branch of the visible church on account of opinions or modes and circumstances of external government or worship, though many can patiently bear with the former, while they are plentifully and almost perpetually railing at the latter, as if no sin were damnable but what they are pleased to call schism.
(2.) Sensual men have not the Spirit, that is, of God and Christ, the Spirit of holiness, which whoever has not, is none of Christ’s, does not belong to him, Rom. viii. 9.
(3.) The worse others are the better should we endeavour and approve ourselves to be; the more busy Satan and his instruments are to pervert others, in judgment or practice, the more tenacious should we be of sound doctrine and a good conversation, holding fast the faithful word, as we have been (divinely) taught, holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience, Tit. i. 9; 1 Tim. iii. 9.
3. He exhorts them to persevering constancy in truth and holiness.
(1.) Building up yourselves in your most holy faith, v. 20. Observe, The way to hold fast our profession is to hold on in it. Having laid our foundation well in a sound faith, and a sincere upright heart, we must build upon it, make further progress continually; and we should take care with what materials we carry on our building, namely, gold, silver, precious stones, not wood, hay, stubble, 1 Cor. iii. 12. Right principles and a regular conversation will stand the test even of the fiery trial; but, whatever we mix of baser alloy, though we be in the main sincere, we shall suffer loss by it, and though our persons be saved all that part of our work shall be consumed; and, if we ourselves escape, it will be with great danger and difficulty, as from a house on fire on every side.
(2.) Praying in the Holy Ghost. Observe,
[1.] Prayer is the nurse of faith; the way to build up ourselves in our most holy faith is to continue instant in prayer, Rom. xii. 12.
[2.] Our prayers are then most likely to prevail when we pray in the Holy Ghost, that is, under his guidance and influence, according to the rule of his word, with faith, fervency, and constant persevering importunity; this is praying in the Holy Ghost, whether it be done by or without a set prescribed form.
(3.) Keep yourselves in the love of God, v. 21.
[1.] “Keep up the grace of love to God in its lively vigorous actings and exercises in your souls.”
[2.] “Take heed of throwing yourselves out of the love of God to you, or its delightful, cheering, strengthening manifestations; keep yourselves in the way of God, if you would continue in his love.”
(4.) Looking for the mercy, &c.
[1.] Eternal life is to be looked for only through mercy; mercy is our only plea, not merit; or if merit, not our own, but another’s, who has merited for us what otherwise we could have laid no claim to, nor have entertained any well-grounded hope of.
[2.] It is said, not only through the mercy of God as our Creator, but through the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ as Redeemer; all who come to heaven must come thither through our Lord Jesus Christ; for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, but that of the Lord Jesus only, Acts iv. 12 compared with v. 10.
[3.] A believing expectation of eternal life will arm us against the snares of sin (2 Pet. iii. 14); a lively faith of the blessed hope will help us to mortify our cursed lusts.
4. He directs them how to behave towards erring brethren: And of some have compassion, &c., v. 22, 23. Observe, (1.) We ought to do all we can to rescue others out of the snares of the devil, that they may be saved from (or recovered, when entangled therein, out of) dangerous errors, or pernicious practices. We are not only (under God) our own keepers, but every man ought to be, as much as in him lies, his brother’s keeper; none but a wicked Cain will contradict this, Gen. iv. 9. We must watch over one another, must faithfully, yet prudently, reprove each other, and set a good example to all about us. (2.) This must be done with compassion, making a difference. How is that? We must distinguish between the weak and the wilful.
[1.] Of some we must have compassion, treat them with all tenderness, restore them in the spirit of meekness, not be needlessly harsh and severe in our censures of them and their actions, nor proud and haughty in our conduct towards them; not implacable, nor averse to reconciliation with them, or admitting them to the friendship they formerly had with us, when they give evident or even strongly hopeful tokens of a sincere repentance: if God has forgiven them, why should not we? We infinitely more need his forgiveness than they do, or can do, ours, though perhaps neither they nor we are justly or sufficiently sensible of this.
[2.] Others save with fear, urging upon them the terrors of the Lord; “Endeavour to frighten them out of their sins; preach hell and damnation to them.” But what if prudence and caution in administering even the most just and severe reproofs be what are primarily and chiefly here intimated–(I do but offer it for consideration); as if he had said, “Fear lest you frustrate your own good intentions and honest designs by rash and imprudent management, that you do not harden, instead of reclaiming, even where greater degrees of severity are requisite than in the immediately foregoing instance.” We are often apt to over-do, when we are sure we mean honestly, and think we are right in the main; yet the very worst are not needlessly, nor rashly, nor to extremity, to be provoked, lest they be thereby further hardened through our default.–“Hating even the garment spotted with the flesh, that is, keeping yourselves at the utmost distance from what is or appears evil, and designing and endeavouring that others may do so too. Avoid all that leads to sin or that looks like sin,” 1 Thess. v. 22.
III. The apostle concludes this epistle with a solemn ascription of glory to the great God, v. 24, 25. Note, 1. Whatever is the subject or argument we have been treating of, ascribing glory to God is fittest for us to conclude with.
2. God is able, and he is as willing as able, to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory; not as those who never have been faulty (for what has once been done can never be rendered undone, even by Omnipotence itself, for that implies a contradiction), but as those whose faults shall not be imputed, to their ruin, which, but for God’s mercy and a Saviour’s merits, they might most justly have been.–Before the presence of his glory. Observe,
(1.) The glory of the Lord will shortly be present. We now look upon it as distant, and too many look upon it as uncertain, but it will come, and it will be manifest and apparent. Every eye shall see him, Rev. i. 7. This is now the object of our faith, but hereafter (and surely it cannot now be long) it will be the object of our sense; whom we now believe in, him we shall shortly see, to our unspeakable joy and comfort or inexpressible terror and consternation. See 1 Pet. i. 8.
(2.) All real sincere believers shall be presented, at the Lord Redeemer’s appearance and coming, by him their glorious head, to the Father, in order to his approbation, acceptance, and reward. They were given to him of the Father, and of all that were so given to him he has lost none, nor will lose any one, not an individual, a single soul, but will present them all perfectly holy and happy, when he shall surrender his mediatorial kingdom to his God and our God, his Father and our Father, John vi. 39, with ch. xvii. 12, 1 Cor. xv. 24.
(3.) When believers shall be presented faultless it will be with exceeding joy. Alas! now our faults fill us with fears, doubts, and sorrows. But be of good cheer; if we be sincere, we shall be, our dear Redeemer has undertaken for it, we shall be presented faultless; where there is no sin there will be no sorrow; where there is the perfection of holiness, there will be the perfection of joy. Surely, the God who can and will do this is worthy to have glory, majesty, dominion, and power, ascribed to him, both now and for ever! And to this we may well, with the apostle, affix our hearty Amen.
– Matthew Henry Commentary