Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses…
There are few who are not desirous of arriving at an accurate conception of their personal appearance generally, and more specially of the lineaments which distinguish the face or countenance. When such a view as this is presented to our thoughts we may very appropriately note it as a matter of regret that there is not more anxiety to reach the means of forming correct notions of the true characteristics and condition of our immortal part, or imperishable souls. Beauty or deformity affecting the person or body is a very small matter compared with what beautifies or deforms the never-dying spirit. What special medium ought to be used for obtaining such portraiture is a problem easily solved, for Jehovah hath provided a looking-glass for the purpose; and that looking-glass is His own imperishable Word.
I. The charge as here preferred against the system lies in the two statements, that it leads men to speak evil of things which they know not; and to corrupt themselves in what they know in common, or naturally, with brute beasts. These were at least conjoined in the parties herein condemned; and we are safe in holding it as all but universally true that wherever there is a thorough spirit of infidelity there will be found in combination less or more of the evil speaking and the evil acting thus denounced. Many begin with indulgence in wild infidel speculations, and then proceed to the indulgence of wild infidel practices. Or, reversing this order, they give themselves up to less or more profligacy, and then systematically adopt atheistic theories, for the sake of helping to quiet the remonstrances of their own conscience. In the one case the mind is made the instrument of corrupting the body, not less than itself; and in the other the body, through its appetites and passions, is made the instrument of aiding to corrupt the mind. If the intellectual and moral faculties get debauched by the adoption of infidel sentiments, these may soon lend their aid, to a ruinous extent, in promoting the strength of the animal passions; and then the miserable victims may fully realise the striking sentiment of the text, in corrupting themselves in what they know naturally as brute beasts. On the other hand, if the gross animal or brutish passions take the lead, every faculty of the soul may be reduced to a state of utter degradation. It is said of the Lord Rochester, who was so well known for a time as a prominent sceptic and libertine, that as a prodigal son, after he had come to himself, he laid his hand upon the Bible and emphatically remarked, "The only grand objection to this book is a bad life." A bad life is, indeed, blasphemy reduced to practice; but, as already intimated, a bad life is sure of conducting to the acceptance of more and more theoretical and systematic infidelity; and therefore, as a natural consequence, must lead its victims to speak more and more "evil of those things which they know not." Hence in seeking to put you on your guard against the encroachments of anything like religious scepticism, we are more than justified in bidding you, were it for this reason alone, avoid all kinds of sinful indulgence — all whereby you may thus corrupt yourselves.
II. Although it is admitted that there have been false teachers — teachers of very erroneous doctrines — and very wild speculators otherwise, against whom no heavy charge could be made as to immorality; it is nevertheless true of rejectors and impugners generally of Revelation, that, going the length of speaking evil of those things they know not, they do not stop there, but proceed to corrupt themselves in what they know naturally as brute beasts. Let it be noted as a very striking proof of this that in the Middle Ages, as they are called, and towards the beginning of the Reformation, the morals of the popish clergy themselves were in the most corrupt state, when their false and ruinous teaching was as then the least unchecked. At the time when they took full and unlimited scope in teaching the Scripturally denounced devil-doctrine of forbidding to marry, they were never more than then given up to licentiousness; so that whilst in setting themselves in opposition to God's Word, they were speaking evil of things they knew not, they were in what they knew naturally as brute beasts corrupting themselves, and to a fearful extent. By little short of daring challenges to high Heaven even, they profanely advocated, as a cover for their libertinism, that in priests or any other ecclesiastics concubinage was holier than marriage! It is often for the express purpose of reaching such acting, and seeming to have an excuse for it, that false or infidel sentiments are adopted, just as Mahomet — the false prophet — added an additional chapter to the Koran, when be meant to sin farther by adding another wife to those he already had. Much in this style Scriptureless speculators try to make a new sceptical chapter to themselves, that it may be used as a ladder whereby they may reach some forbidden fruit. Conscience, they find, requires some little bribing to quiet its remonstrances, in respect of the sensual course they wish to pursue; and thus far they prepare the way by putting a new chapter or a new verse into their self-revealed speculative Bible, or infidel chapter. We thus discern one of the causes leading to the ignorant speaking about the truths of God referred to in the text: and another, which is as fruitful of mischief, lies directly in pride of intellect, or the supreme conceit men are apt to have of their own supposed superior wisdom and discernment. The principle so much acted on through this species of intellectual conceit, that nothing can well be accepted or believed save it be thoroughly understood, if pushed to its full logical consequences, would leave little to be accepted at all, since there is less or more of mystery in everything, and which no human being can reach and comprehend. To the atheistic materialist matter is his god, but yet he does not understand this his own god. No wonder then, since that which he daily sees, and handles, and lives upon, gets after all so much beyond his comprehension, he should find something greatly transcending all his powers, in attempting to comprehend the nature of the uncreated and eternal existence of the Supreme. But what is more specially noticeable and worthy of our serious consideration is the fact that very often the loudest and most persistent declaimers against Revelation are not merely in much ignorance with regard to its general spirit, but even of the very letter of its contents. Sometimes what they seem to know of these has not been acquired by closely examining the sacred page itself, but from their taking up and retailing what infidel writers before them had stated in order to condemn and ridicule. It is of the highest importance to notice that the Scriptures very frequently allude in one form or another to man's tendency to fall into error and consequent danger, through the conceit he may have of himself or mental powers, and hence justly says, "He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool." Nor is any one more liable to exemplify this than the mere sciolist, or superficially learned. It is even very frequently obtrusively illustrated by parties who may be said to have scarcely any learning or knowledge at all — for oft they pretend to be oracles of wisdom — and truly may the Spirit say of any such an one, as in speaking by Paul, "If a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself." Mere natural or unassisted human reason will not, as thus so clearly stated, lead any one to receive the things of God. Left simply to its own resources, and without any superior controlling or guiding power, it is certain to proceed in speaking evil of them, but neither to intelligently or spiritually discern their true character, or receive them as principles of action. If, instead of Divine Revelation, or "the things of God," men take as their text-books such wretched infidel productions as Paine's "Age of Reason," we must look for the reproduction of Paine's ribaldry and profligacies; and hence the sad realisation of the black picture furnished in our text — speaking evil of those things which they know not, and whist they know naturally as brute beasts, in those things corrupting themselves.
Parallel VersesKJV: Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.