But even the archangel Michael, when he disputed with the devil over the body of Moses, did not presume to bring a slanderous judgment against him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!"
I. THE ARCHANGEL MICHAEL - WHO WAS HE?
1. He appears as "one of the chief princes" who stood up for God's people against the Persians (Daniel 10:13).
2. He appears as fighting. "Michael and his angels" against the devil and his angels (Revelation 12:7).
3. He is probably the archangel whose voice is to be heard at the period of our Lord's descent to judgment. (1 Thessalonians 4:16.)
4. He is probably at the head of the good angels, as the devil is represented as at the head of the evil angels.
5. High as he is in rank, he is most active in dutiful service to God.
II. THE STRIFE BETWEEN MICHAEL AND THE DEVIL. "But Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing judgment."
1. The incident here referred to occurred necessarily after Moses' death.
2. The dispute did not arise, as some think, from the effort of type devil to prevent the concealment of the body of Moses, whom God buried that no man might know the place of his sepulture. The reason usually assigned for the secrecy of the burial is that the Israelites might have worshipped the body of their great lawgiver. But there is no evidence that the Israelites ever at any time showed a disposition to worship dead men's bones. Their inclination was rather to worship the powers of nature.
3. An ingenious and plausible explanation has been given of this strife in this wise.
(1) We know that Moses and Elias appeared together at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:29-33). They are called "two men." Elias was certainly in the body - a glorified body, no doubt. Does not the similarity of statement imply that Moses was likewise in the body?
(2) This would imply that Moses was raised up after his burial, but before he saw corruption, and was taken to heaven like Elijah and Enoch. God buried him, and the archangel watched over him that he should not see corruption. But why should the devil interfere with the archangel's watch? Is it that the devil has "the power of death" (Hebrews 2:14)? Is it that he has an interest in the corruption of our bodies, as the completion of that physical death which enters into the wages of sin? The contest may have arisen from the effort of Michael, on the one side, to secure the body of Moses from corruption till the moment when he, with his angels, would carry it into heaven, and from the effort of the devil, on the other side, to inflict the last stigma of death upon the great Israelite. This explanation seems more plausible than any other that has been suggested of this mysterious conflict between the heads of the principalities of the spirit-world. The conflict suggests that:
(a) Sin and holiness must necessarily come into conflict wherever they encounter each other.
(b) Michael overcomes the devil. "He that is for us is far greater than all they that be against us."
III. THE DEPORTMENT OF MICHAEL IN THIS STRIFE WITH THE DEVIL. "He durst not bring against him a railing judgment, but said, The Lord rebuke thee."
1. It would have been inconsistent with angelical perfection to rail against the devil.
2. There is no cowardice in Michael not daring to sin.
3. What is wrong for angels cannot be right for men to do.
4. Michael left the decision of the strife absolutely in God's hands.
5. ]PGBR> God's power restrains that of the devil.
6. The thought that we have a God into whose hands we may commit our cause ought to make us patient, forbearing, and forgiving. - T.C.
Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil.Zechariah 3:1. — "And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan," etc. But there was no reference then made to the burial of Moses, and the similarity in the expression is too slender a foundation to connect the two. mentions an apocryphal book called Αναληψις τοῦ Μωσέως, which was extant in his time. That the apostle quoted from that book is not improbable, although there is nothing in the narrative before us to warrant the belief. Then there is the other supposition that among the traditions held by the Jews there was one relative to a controversy between the two chiefs of the opposing angels about the burial of Moses. As these traditions were largely taught in those days, it may be that the apostle simply reads a lesson to the false teachers from their own teaching. They brought railing accusations against the apostles, which even an archangel dared not, as the higher and final judgment awaits all. The apostle therefore conveys but one lesson by his reference to the dispute about the body of Moses, viz., that the final judgment is reserved in God's own keeping.
1. The text teaches that there are two orders of spirits in conflict concerning matters affecting the human race. Not only angels are ministering to the necessities of the saints, and devils using influence to destroy them, but the corner of the veil is lifted up in the text, that we may mentally see the battlefield on which these powerful spirits meet to contend for their side. The fact administers to the strength of our faith.
2. The text teaches that controversy must be confined to its proper limits. Michael was right, but he did not go further than controversy. However certain one may feel that he is contending for the truth, he must not utter imprecations on the head of his adversary.
3. The text teaches that judgment belongs to the Lord alone. The term rebuke implies far more than correction or admonition: it means to censure. Here we take it to indicate that God only has the power of final decision. Omniscience, impartiality, and power belong to Him.
4. The text teaches also another valuable lesson, viz., that the strongest side of controversy is an appeal to God. Bring your adversary into the presence of his Maker and leave him in the Divine balance.
(T. Davies, M. A.)
(W. Muir, D. D.)
But these speak evil of those things which they know not1. None are so ready to speak as the ignorant.
2. Ignorance is the cause of opposing the ways of God. Did men either see the deformity of sin or the beauty of holiness, they would neither delight in the former nor dislike the latter.
3. How great is the sin of speaking evil of those things the worth whereof we do know! All sin against light borders on the sin against the Holy Ghost.
4. We should speak against known evils, and for what we know to be good.
5. Corrupt affections blear and darken the judgment. He who will be disobedient in heart shall soon have a dull head.
6. It is our duty to forbear speaking against anything which we understand not.
(W. Jenkyn, M. A.)
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.
1. Natural knowledge, arising from the instinct of nature common to man and beast, and consisting in the senses of sight, taste, touching, etc., by the benefit whereof the beast itself can discern what is food fit for itself, and what is not; what is profitable, and what is hurtful for it; unto which is joined a natural appetite, by the benefit of which the creature can choose or refuse his food and meat in season.
2. The second is reasonable knowledge, proper to man, and is nothing else but the light of understanding, whereby he reacheth far higher, and discerneth meat, drink, apparel, and rest, to be God's good gifts, and knoweth the civil use of them; with the which is joined election of will, whereby he can choose or refuse the civil or uncivil, honest or dishonest use of them.
3. The third is spiritual knowledge, not proceeding either from natural instinct or reason itself, but from the enlightenment of the spirit of God, and it hath sundry fruits. First, it enableth men to know these things in their right causes, as that these gifts of meats, drinks, and such like proceed from God, not as He is God of nature only, but as by grace in Christ, so they become pledges of His special mercies. Secondly, this knowledge causeth men to know them in the due measure of their goodness and excellency, rightly discerning them from spiritual blessings, so as the heart shall not be set upon them in the first place, but upon the other as of far higher esteem. Thirdly, it instructeth men in the right use of them, namely, when it worketh this persuasion in their hearts, that till their persons please God, they can never use them well. What is the thing, then, condemned in these seducers? The sin condemned is, that in the use of the creatures of God they are not guided by reasonable, much less this spiritual knowledge; but only by nature, sense, and appetite, as the beast is. Secondly, from the reprehension we are taught to labour for spiritual knowledge, whereby we might be led into the right use of these temporal things; for then and not before shall we use them as pledges of God's mercy in Christ. Thirdly, in that they are said to be guided only as the beast which is without reason, that is, by nature, sense, and appetite; note the practice of the devil which is to keep men in their natural knowledge, and will not suffer them to attain to that which is spiritual; yea, and which is more, he corrupteth also that natural knowledge which men have. The second point is the sin itself, and property of it — "In those things they corrupt themselves." This sin of intemperance causeth men in the abuse of meat, drink, and apparel, to corrupt themselves; here, then, are two things to be spoken of, wherein the whole nature of intemperance is sufficiently comprised. First, of the abuse of the creatures; secondly, of his corruption that thus abuseth them. Concerning the former, the abuse of the creatures is four ways: first in excess, when men use them beyond their calling, or that which nature requireth. Secondly, in curiosity, when men are not content with ordinary meat, drink, apparel, but devise new fashions of apparel, and new kinds of ways of stirring up and whetting of appetite. Thirdly, in affection, when men so addict themselves to meats and drinks, as they cannot be without them. Fourthly, in time, when these good creatures are used unreasonably (Ecclesiastes 10:16; Isaiah 5:11). The second point is, how intemperate persons in these things corrupt themselves; namely, four ways: first, in regard of their bodies, upon which by their sin of intemperance they call sundry sicknesses, yea, and hasten their death. Secondly, they deface God's image, making themselves worse than the beasts themselves. Thirdly, they destroy their souls; for no drunkard or riotous person shall inherit heaven (1 Corinthians 3). Fourthly, they overthrow their families in wasting their substance to the maintaining of their intemperance, and so bring ruin to the places where they live.
(W. Perkins.)Revelation 3:17. Some things they knew naturally, as beasts that know sweet from sour, good from evil, meat from poison. Where let me distinguish of knowledge, that there is a natural knowledge and a spiritual knowledge; the first of these the apostle calleth the wisdom of the flesh; the second, the wisdom of the spirit. Lastly, he compareth them to beasts; for in many things the wicked are as beasts, if not worse; by creation little inferior to the angels; by conversation much inferior to brute beasts. Let us then no longer live beastly, lest we perish with the beast, but live Christianly, that so we may see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
(S. Otes.)I. TRUTH IS USUALLY SLANDERED OUT OF IGNORANCE; because men do not understand the ways and things of God, therefore they do condemn them. It is the devil's cunning to keep us at a distance from truths, and therefore burdeneth them with prejudices, that we may suspect rather than search, and condemn that out of ignorance which upon knowledge we could not choose but love and profess; and it is man's perverseness and pride to speak evil of things above his reach, and to disprove that which he has not attained unto or cannot understand.
II. BLOCKISH AND STUPID MEN ARE MOST BOLD IN REPROACHING. A fool's wrath falleth very heavy, because it falleth with all its weight, there being nothing to restrain and stop it (Proverbs 27:3). What ado have we in the ministry with young heady professors, that have more heat than light!
III. MEN OF CORRUPT MINDS ARE USUALLY SENSUAL, and sensual men are usually men of corrupt minds; an unsound heart is best sheltered under unsound doctrine, and carnal delights blunt and weaken the edge and intension of the mind, so that they are very liable to mistakes. Therefore, on the one side, we should labour to keep the mind right and sound in the faith; fish stink first at the head; when the judgment is poisoned, the taint is soon conveyed to the affections. On the other side, "add to your knowledge temperance" (2 Peter 1:6). That is the best knowledge that endeth in temperance, or begets a holy moderation in the use of sensual pleasure; if we cannot govern our affections, we "know nothing as we ought to know"; nay, otherwise, your knowledge will be corrupted by your affections; many errors take their rise and beginning from evil manners and filthy lusts.
IV. WICKED MEN, LEFT TO THEMSELVES, DO BUT ABUSE AND CORRUPT THAT NATURAL GOODNESS AND KNOWLEDGE WHICH THEY HAVE IN THEM. Natural abilities are soon depraved with evil habits.
V. SIN WHERE IT REIGNETH TURNETH A MAN INTO A BRUTE BEAST (Psalm 49:12). If we had the head of a horse, or the face of a swine, or the hoofs of an ass, how should we be looked upon as monsters; but to have the hearts of the beasts is worse; to be like them in the inward man is more monstrous in the sight of God. The beasts know their stint and measure; a horse or a dog will not be drunk, etc. Sin doth not only make a beast of you, but a devil of you (John 6:70).
VI. IT IS A SIGN OF A MAN TURNED BEAST TO FOLLOW THE PASSIONS AND LUSTS OF CORRUPT NATURE. Why? For then the government of reason is renounced, and all is yielded up into the hands of lust and appetite. In men reason should have the chief governance, and exercise a coercion and restraint over our affections. I shall take occasion here to show you how many ways a man turneth beast.
1. By an addictedness to sensual pleasures and delights.
2. When, in the use of these delights, we keep neither modesty nor measure, this is but like swine to wallow in our own filthiness; a beast can do no more.
3. When men live by appetite rather than reason and conscience, feeding without fear, and nourishing the body, but taking no care to refresh the soul.
VII. SENSUALITY DOTH BUT MAKE WAY FOR CORRUPTION; you may counterpoise the temptation to the sin with the punishment; usually secret sins and sweet sins meet with a heavy punishment; secret sins, that do not betray us to shame, may yet beget horror when we think of what will ensue: and sweet sins, that entice our affections, to prevent them we may counterbalance one affection with another, delight with fear.
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