Verse 16. "Take heed unto thyself" - See that the life of God remains and the work of God prospers in thine own soul. Take heed to thy doctrine, that the matter be pure and orthodox; that thou teach nothing for truth but what God has revealed.
"Continue in them" - i.e., In taking heed to thyself and to thy doctrine; for this must be thy continual study. Without this, the Divine influence shall recede from thy heart, and the Divine gift from thy intellect; and, like Samson shorn of his strength, thou wilt soon become as another man, as any common man; thy power will depart from thee, and thou shalt be no longer able to persuade; the UNCTION shall depart from thee, and, destitute of spiritual feeling thyself, thou shalt not be able to cause others to feel.
Take the apostle's advice, and thou shalt save thy own soul, and the souls of them that hear thee.
In the course of the preceding notes I have referred to Bishop Newton's opinion and application of the prophecy contained in the first five verses.
Not being fully persuaded in my own, mind to what Church this, and the prophecy in the Epistle to the Thessalonians, should be applied, I produce an accredited author, who, for his Dissertations on the Prophecies, has a high and, honoured name in the Church.
"I. The first thing to be considered is, the apostasy here predicted. 'Some shall depart, or rather apostatize, from the faith.' An apostasy from the faith may be either total or partial; either when we renounce the whole, or when we deny some principal and essential article of it. It is not every error, or every heresy, that is apostasy from the faith. It is a revolt in a principal and essential article, when we worship God by any image or representation, or when we worship other beings besides God, and pray unto other mediators besides the one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. This is the very essence of Christian worship, to worship the one true God, through the one true Christ; and to worship any other god, or any other mediator, is apostasy and rebellion against God and against Christ. Such is the nature of apostasy from the faith; and it is implied that this apostasy shall be general, and affect great numbers. For, though it be said only some shall apostatize, yet by some, here, many are understood. The original word frequently signifies a multitude and there are abundant instances in Scripture where it is used in that sense, as the reader may perceive from John vi. 64-66; Rom. xi. 17; 1 Cor. x. 5, 6. This apostasy may be general and extensive, and include many but not all.
"II. It is more particularly shown wherein the apostasy should consist, in the following words: Giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils; or rather: `Giving heed to erroneous spirits and doctrines concerning demons.' Spirits seem to be much the same in sense as doctrines, the latter word may be considered as explanatory of the former; and error sometimes signifying idolatry, erroneous doctrines may comprehend idolatrous as well as false doctrines. But it is still farther added, for explanation, that these doctrines should be doctrines of devils or of demons, where the genitive case is not to be taken actively, as if demons were the authors of these doctrines, but passively, as if demons were the subject of these doctrines. In Jer. x. 8; Acts xiii. 12; Hebrews vi. 2, the genitive case is used in this manner; and, by the same construction, doctrines of demons are doctrines about or concerning demons. This is, therefore, a prophecy that the idolatrous theology of demons, professed by the Gentiles ,should be revived among Christians. Demons, according to the theology of the Gentiles, were middle powers between the gods and mortal men; and were regarded as mediators and agents between the gods and men. Of these demons there were accounted two kinds: one kind were the souls of men deified or canonized after death; the other kind were such as had never been the souls of men, nor ever dwelt in mortal bodies. These latter demons may be paralleled with angels, as the former may with canonized saints; and as we Christians believe there are good and evil angels, so did the Gentiles that there were good and evil demons. It appears then as if the doctrine of demons, which prevailed so long in the heathen world, was to be revived and established in the Christian Church. And is not the worship of saints and angels now, in all respects, the same that the worship of demons was in former times? The name only is different, the thing is essentially the same. The heathens looked upon their demons as mediators and intercessors between God and men; and are not the saints and angels regarded in the same light by many professed Christians? The promoters of this worship were sensible that it was the same, and that the one succeeded the other; and as the worship is the same, so likewise it is performed with the same ceremonies. Nay, the very same temples, the very same images, the very same altars, which once were consecrated to Jupiter and the other demons, are now reconsecrated to the Virgin Mary and other saints. The very same titles and inscriptions are ascribed to both; the very same prodigies and miracles are related of these as of those. In short, the whole almost of paganism is converted and applied to popery, the one is manifestly formed upon the same plan and principles as the other.
"III. Such an apostasy as this-of reviving the doctrines of demons, and worshipping the dead-was not likely to take place immediately, it should prevail and prosper in the latter days. The phrase of the latter times or days, or the last times or days, signifies any time yet to come; but denotes more particularly the times of Christianity. The times of Christianity may properly be called the latter times or days, or the last times or days, because it is the last of all God's revelations to mankind. Heb. i. 1, 2; 1 Pet. i. 20.
"IV. Another remarkable peculiarity of this prophecy is, the solemn and emphatic manner in which it is delivered: The Spirit speaketh expressly.
By the Spirit is meant the Holy Spirit of God, which inspired the prophets and apostles. The Spirit speaking expressly, may signify his speaking precisely and certainly, not obscurely and involvedly, as he is wont to speak in the prophets; or it may be said, The Spirit speaketh expressly, when he speaks in express words in some place or other of Divine writ; and the Spirit hath spoken the same thing in express words before in the prophecy of Daniel. Daniel has foretold, in express words, the worship of new demons or demi-gods; Dan. xi. 38. The mauzzim of Daniel are the same as the demons of St. Paul; gods protectors, or saints protectors, defenders and guardians of mankind. This, therefore, is a prophecy, not merely dictated by private suggestion and inspiration, but taken out of the written word. It is a prophecy not only of St. Paul's, but of Daniel's too; or rather of Daniel, confirmed and approved by St. Paul.
"V. The apostle proceeds, ver. 2, to describe by what means and by what persons this apostasy should be propagated and established in the world.
Speaking lies in hypocrisy, &c.; or rather, through the hypocricy of liars, having their conscience, &c.; for the preposition rendered in, frequently signifies through or by. Liars too, or speaking lies, cannot, possibly be joined with the original word rendered some, and that rendered giving heed, because they are in the nominative case, and this is in the genitive. Neither can it well be joined in the construction with the word rendered devils, or demons; for how can demons, or devils, be said to speak lies in hypocrisy, and to have their conscience seared, &c.? It is plain, then, that the great apostasy of the latter times was to prevail, through the hypocrisy of liars, &c. And has not the great idolatry of Christians, and the worship of the dead particularly, been diffused and advanced in the world by such instruments and agents? by fabulous books, forged under the names of the apostles and saints; by fabulous legends of their lives; by fabulous miracles, ascribed to their relics; by fabulous dreams and revelations; and even by fabulous saints, who never existed but in imagination.
"VI. Verse 3. Forbidding to marry, &c.] This is a farther character of the promoters of this apostasy. The same hypocritical liars who should promote the worship of demons should also prohibit lawful marriage. The monks were the first who brought a single life into repute; they were the first also who revived and promoted the worship of demons. One of the primary and most essential laws and constitutions of all monks was the profession of a single life, and it is equally clear that the monks had the principal share in promoting the worship of the dead. The monks then were the principal promoters of the worship of the dead in former times.
And who are the great patrons and advocates of the same worship now? Are not their legitimate successors and descendants, the monks and priests and bishops of the Church of Rome? And do not they also profess and recommend a single life, as well as the worship of saints and angels? Thus have the worship of demons, and the prohibition of marriage, constantly gone hand in hand together; and as they who maintain one maintain the other, so it is no less remarkable that they who disclaim the one, disclaim the other.
"VII. The last mark and character of these men is: Commanding to abstain from meats, &c. The same lying hypocrites who should promote the worship of demons, should not only prohibit lawful marriage, but likewise impose unnecessary abstinence from meats; and these too, as indeed it is fit they should, usually go together as constituent parts of the same hypocrisy. It is as much the law of monks to abstain from meats, as from marriage. Some never eat any flesh; others only certain kinds, on certain days. Frequent fasts are the rule and boast of their orders. So lived the monks of the ancient Church; so live, with less strictness perhaps, but with greater ostentation, the monks and friars of the Church of Rome; and these have been the principal propagators and defenders of the worship of the dead, both in former and in latter times. The worship of the dead is indeed so monstrously absurd as well as impious, that there was hardly any probability of its ever prevailing in the world but by hypocrisy and lies. But that these particular sorts of hypocrisy-celibacy, under pretense of chastity; and abstinence, under pretense of devotion-should be employed for this purpose, the Spirit of God alone could foresee and foretell. There is no necessary connection between the worship of the dead, and forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats; and yet it is certain that the great advocates for this worship have, by their pretended purity and mortification, procured the greater reverence to their persons, and the readier reception to their doctrines. But this idle, popish, monkish abstinence is as unworthy of a Christian as it is unnatural to a man; it is preventing the purpose of nature, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving by believers, and them who know the truth." See Bishop Newton's Dissertations on the Prophecies; and Dr. Dodd's notes.
Which mode of interpretation is best, I shall not attempt to say: to determine the meaning of prophecies is a difficult task; and, in a case of this kind, I rather choose to trust to the judgment of others than to my own. It is to be deplored that all the preceding particulars apply but too well to the corruptions in the Romish Church, therefore to it they appear peculiarly applicable. But whether God had this Church alone in view, I dare not affirm.