2 Thessalonians 2:7
For the mystery of iniquity does already work: only he who now lets will let, until he be taken out of the way.
In the former Epistle St. Paul wrote in such vigorous language about the approach of the Second Advent that the Christians had imbibed a stronger impression than he had intended. This he now corrects by the prophecy of the text.
I. THE MYSTERY OF INIQUITY.
1. Its characteristics.
(1) It is a mystery, something whose approaches are not open as those of a fair antagonist, but subtle and secret. The term is with two exceptions used in a good sense of some part of the hidden purposes of God's love, long concealed, but at length revealed. Thus we read of "the wisdom of God is a mystery" — the "mysteries of the kingdom" — "the mystery of godliness," etc. When, therefore, we find a word so consecrated to the deep things of God here applied to a principle of evil we are prepared for something extraordinarily dark and perplexing. This at once proves that the prophecy cannot apply to Mohammedanism, heathenism, or infidelity, or any avowed enemy of God's truth.
(2) It is an iniquitous principle, and is expressly referred to Satan. It is not the contrivance of man (ver. 9).
(3) It springs out of the bosom of the Church, and its workings are found within the precincts of that Church (ver. 4).
2. Trace the working of this fearful system.
(1) In primitive times the Church was persecuted — who would have believed that in a brief lapse of time the Church herself should become a bloody persecutor? What could have effected such a frightful change but the working of Satan?
(2) For what did the primitive Church endure affliction? It was because they abhorred idolatry. Who, then, would have believed it possible that the children of the martyrs would worship the Virgin Mary instead of Diana, and St. Catherine, St. Agnes, etc., instead of the Muses and the Graces? What but the "mystery of iniquity" could have accomplished this?
(3) Take the stupendous miracles wrought by her first founders; miracles so unquestionable that none ventured to impugn them. How shall their credibility be assailed? By questioning or denying them? No; by base imitation and the multiplication of spurious miracles and lying wonders (ver. 9). As surely as pure Christianity is founded on true miracles, so surely is the whole superstructure of the mystery of iniquity raised upon false ones.
3. The deepest scheme of Satan's malignity is that he has worked the machinery of the Church against herself, and availed himself of Divine ordinances and spiritual institutions, as so many channels of destruction to souls. It is true that there are some parts of the Christian machinery that Satan never attempts to use if he can avoid it.
(1) Take, e.g., the Holy Scriptures. Wherever the mystery is fully developed the Word of God is withheld from the people. In Protestant countries, where the popular voice calls for the Bible, the priests are ashamed to withhold it, and there Satan draws weapons against the truth even from Scripture itself.
(2) So with preaching; that is suppressed wherever the mystery fully works. But if men will preach, then even this shall be made a proclamation of error, and monks and friars shall publish the merits of saints, etc., instead of the merits of Christ, and their ministry shall arouse a dormant Church to deeds of blood.
(3) But take the Christian ministry — how simple its origin and obvious its Scriptural duties. And what has Satan made of it? He has transformed the preaching, teaching, praying servant of the Church into an arrogant, sacrificing order with mysterious powers inventing the mystery of the confessional. Of all the transformation of the mystery that of priestcraft is the worst.
(4) Nor have the sacraments escaped. To the simple element of water in Baptism superstition has added oil, and even spittle, and divers ceremonies and exorcisms, and has attached to the mere performance of the office necessary grace making it the instrument of regeneration, substituting the outward form for the inward power. But of how much further corruption has the other sacrament been the subject? What so simple and touching as its primitive institution? Could it have been believed possible to convert it into the Roman mass, with its denial of the cup and consequent destruction of communion, its consecrated wafer, said to contain the body, blood, etc., of Christ, its pompous ceremonial and idolatrous worship? What but Satanic working could have produced so deplorable a defection from truth?
II. THE PERIOD OF ITS DEVELOPMENT.
1. The Evangelical prophet affirms that this mystery did already work; its ambitious purposes restrained by the dominance of the Imperial power. Yet it worked — it diffused itself through the Christian Churches as a baneful principle, corrupting the faith of some and the practice of others, at once introducing Judaizing teachers and heathen vices preparing the way for the successful corruption of the great apostasy "when he that now letteth shall be taken out of the way." The seeds of every corrupt principle and false doctrine, which has since disturbed and divided the Church, were sown by the great enemy under the very eyes of the apostles.
2. We must content ourselves with a birdseye view of the rise and progress of this baneful power, observing its marvellous tenacity of life under the most adverse circumstances.
(1) The conversion of Constantine closed the Pagan dynasty of Rome, and while this event seemed to favour the progress of the gospel it opened the door for the aggrandization of the priesthood, which ultimately led to the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome.
(2) Scarcely had the man of sin been well seated on the eminence which marked him out as Antichrist than the Northern barbarians swept all before them in Europe, but amidst the general wreck the Popedom survives and converts the invaders to its creed.
(3) Then arose Mohammedanism, which paralyzed the Eastern Church and leaves Rome without a rival worthy of the name.
(4) The dark ages succeed, and the mystery reigns undisturbed during a period of spiritual and intellectual stagnation.
(5) But soon a formidable enemy appears in Luther, and men fondly hoped that the reign of Antichrist was at an end. Sad delusion! Loyola appeared in the conflict, and luxurious Rome became ascetic and missionary, and won abroad what it had lost at home.
(6) Time rolls on. Protestantism becomes lukewarm and worldly minded; it makes no conquests, and the ancient mystery undermines its influence. Suddenly a new enemy appears in revolutionary and atheistic France, and Romanism seems to have received its death blow. Not so; within half a century of her destruction the Archbishop of Paris announces the exhibition of a drop of the Saviour's blood and a drop of the Virgin's milk.
(7) Never since the Reformation has this mystery pursued its war against light and liberty more rigorously than it has recently.
III. HOW AND WHEN SHALL IT BE SUBDUED AND DESTROYED? Not until the Saviour's Advent (ver. 8). Some vainly hope that its overthrow will be accomplished by the cultivation of the human intellect and the diffusion of secular knowledge. Why then did not the talent and philosophy of atheistical France accomplish this? Have we forgotten that that dark Jesuit fraternity has embraced some of the most learned and intelligent of men. What then is to be done?
1. Let every man look to his own soul and pray to be preserved from the working of this mystery.
2. Let all true Protestants combine in spirit and effort to uphold the only one system which can effectually grapple with the system of iniquity.
Parallel VersesKJV: For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.