And if the righteous scarcely be saved - If it shall be with extreme difficulty that the Christians shall escape from Jerusalem, when the Roman armies shall come against it with the full commission to destroy it, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Where shall the proud Pharisaic boaster in his own outside holiness, and the profligate transgressor of the laws of God, show themselves, as having escaped the Divine vengeance? The Christians, though with difficulty, did escape, every man; but not one of the Jews escaped, whether found in Jerusalem or elsewhere.
It is rather strange, but it is a fact, that this verse is the Septuagint translation of Proverbs 11:31; : Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth; much more the wicked and the sinner. For this the Septuagint and St. Peter have, If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Such a latitude of construction can scarcely be accounted for. The original is this: וחוטא רשע כי אף ישלם בארץ צדיק הן hen tsaddik baarets yeshullam aph ki rasha vechote : "Behold, to the righteous it shall be returned on the earth; and also to the wicked and the transgressor."
The Chaldee paraphrast has given this a different turn: Behold, the righteous shall be strengthened in the earth; but the ungodly and the sinners shall be consumed from the earth.
The Syriac thus: If the righteous scarcely live, the ungodly and the sinner where shall he stand?
The Arabic is nearly the same as the Septuagint and the apostle; the Vulgate follows the Hebrew.
I have on several occasions shown that, when Cestius Gallus came against Jerusalem, many Christians were shut up in it; when he strangely raised the siege the Christians immediately departed to Pella in Coele-syria, into the dominions of King Agrippa, who was an ally of the Romans, and there they were in safety; and it appears, from the ecclesiastical historians, that they had but barely time to leave the city before the Romans returned under the command of Titus, and never left the place till they had destroyed the temple, razed the city to the ground, slain upwards of a million of those wretched people, and put an end to their civil polity and ecclesiastical state.
And if the righteous scarcely be saved - If they are saved with difficulty. The word used here ( μόλις molis) occurs in the following places: Acts 14:18, “scarce restrained they the people;” Acts 27:7, “and scarce were come over against Cnidus;” 1 Peter 4:8, “and hardly passing it;” 1 Peter 4:16, “we had much work to come by the boat” - literally, we were able with difficulty to get the boat; Romans 5:7, “scarcely for a righteous man will one die;” and in the passage before us. The word implies that there is some difficulty, or obstruction, so that the thing came very near not to happen, or so that there was much risk about it. Compare Luke 13:31. The apostle in this passage seems to have had his eye on a verse in Proverbs, Proverbs 11:31, and he has merely expanded and illustrated it: “Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: much more the wicked and the sinner.” By the question which he employs, he admits that the righteous are saved with difficulty, or that there are perils which jeopard their salvation, and which are of such a kind as to make it very near not to happen. They would indeed be saved, but it would be in such a manner as to show that the circumstances were such as to render it, to human appearances, doubtful and problematical. This peril may have arisen from many circumstances:
(a) The difficulty of forming a plan of salvation, involving a degree of wisdom wholly beyond that of man, and of such a character that beforehand it would have been problematical and doubtful whether it could be. There was but one way in which it could be done. But what human wisdom could have devised that, or thought of it? There was but one being who could save. But who would have supposed that the Son of God would have been willing to become a man, and to die on a cross to do it? If he had been unwilling to come and die, the righteous could not have been saved.
(b) The difficulty of bringing those who are saved to a willingness to accept of salvation. All were disposed alike to reject it; and there were many obstacles in the human heart, arising from pride, and selfishness, and unbelief, and the love of sin, which must be overcome before any would accept of the offer of mercy. There was but one agent who could overcome these things, and induce any of the race to embrace the gospel - the Holy Spirit. But who could have anticipated that the Spirit of God would have undertaken to renew and sanctify the polluted human heart? Yet, if he had failed, there could have been no salvation for any.
(c) The difficulty of keeping them from falling away amidst the temptations and allurements of the world. Often it seems to be wholly doubtful whether those who have been converted will be kept to eternal life. They have so little religion; they yield so readily to temptation; they conform so much to the world; they have so little strength to bear up under trials, that it seems as if there was no power to preserve them and bring them to heaven. They are saved when they seemed almost ready to yield everything.
(d) The difficulty of rescuing them from the power of the great enemy of souls. The adversary has vast power, and he means, if be can, to destroy those who are the children of God. Often they are in most imminent danger, and it seems to be a question of doubtful issue whether they will not be entirely overcome and perish. It is no small matter to rescue a soul from the dominion of Satan, and to bring it to heaven, so that it shall be eternally safe. Through the internal struggles and the outward conflicts of life, it seems often a matter of doubt whether with all their effort they will be saved; and when they are saved, they will feel that they have been rescued from thousands of dangers, and that there has been many a time when they have stood on the very verge of ruin, and when, to human appearances, it was scarcely possible that they could be saved.
Where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? - What hope is there of their salvation? The meaning is, that they would certainly perish; and the doctrine in the passage is, that the fact that the righteous are saved with so much difficulty is proof that the wicked will not be saved at all. This follows, because:
(a)there is the same difficulty in their salvation which there was in the salvation of those who became righteous; the same difficulty arising from the love of sin, the hardness of the heart, and the arts and power of the adversary.
(b)No one can be saved without effort, and in fact the righteous are saved only by constant and strenuous effort on their part.
But the wicked make no effort for their own salvation. They make use of no means for it; they put forth no exertions to obtain it; they do not make it a part of their plan of life. How, then, can they be saved? But where will they appear? I answer:
(a)they will appear somewhere. They will not cease to exist when they pass away from this world. Not one of them will be annihilated; and though they vanish from the earth, and will be seen here no more, yet they will make their appearance in some other part of the universe.
(b)They will appear at the judgment-seat, as all others will, to receive their sentence according to the deeds done in the body. It follows from this:
(1)that the wicked will certainly be destroyed. If the righteous are scarcely saved, how can they be?
(2)that there will be a state of future punishment, for this refers to what is to occur in the future world.
(3)that the punishment of the wicked will be eternal, for it is the opposite of what is meant by saved. The time will never come when it will be said that they are saved! But if so, their punishment must be eternal!