EPISTOLARY communications are not so easily understood, as historic writings. The historian writes upon the hypothesis, that his reader is ignorant of the facts and information, which he communicates; and therefore explains himself as he proceeds. The letter-writer proceeds upon the hypothesis, that the person or community addressed, is already in possession of such information, as will explain the things, to which he only alludes, or which he simply mentions. This is more especially the fact, when the writer of a letter addresses a people, with whom he is personally acquainted, amongst whom he has been, and with whom he has alrady conversed, upon most of the subjects on which he writes. A letter to persons who have heard the writer before, who know his peculiarity; and, above all, who are perfectly acqauinted with their own circumstances, questions, debates, difficulties, conduct, &c. may be every way plain, and of easy apprehension to them, when it may be very difficult, and, in some places, unintelligible, to persons altogether strangers to these things. It is a saying, to which little exception can be made, that every man best understands the letters addressed to himself. It is true, if another person were made minutely acquainted with all the business, from first to last, with all the peculiarities of the writer, and circumstances of the persons addressed, and with all the items of correspondence, he might as fully and as clearly understand the letter, as those for whom it was addressed.
There is no doubt, but that the apostolic letters were plain, and of easy apprehension, as respected the style and sentiment, to the persons who first received them, though some of the things contained in them, might be difficult to be comprehended, or fully understood, even by them. The difficulties that lie in our way of perfectly understanding them, though much greater than those in the way of the persons, to whom they were first sent, are not at all *insurmountable. The golden key of interpretation, is very similar to the golden rule of morality. To ascertain what weought to do to others, on moral principle, we must place ourselves, in the circumstances of the persons, to whom they were written. So far a resemblance exists between the golden key, and the golden rule. But to develope this prionciple, and to exhibit its practical use, we shall lay before the reader a few considerations, which will embrace the chief difficulties in our way, and the best means of surmounting them. What we advance on this subject, may be considered as an answer to the question, How shall we place ourselves in the circumstances of the persons addressed?
In the first place, then, we are to remember, that these letters were written nearly eighteen centuries ago. This fact has much meaning in it: for it follows from it, that, excepting the prophetic part of these writings, not a word or sentence in them, can be explained or understood, by all that has happened in the world, for eighteen hundred years. We might as well expect to find the meaning of Cicero's orations, or Horace's epistles, from reading the debates of the British Parliament, or the American Congress of the last year, as to expect to find the meaning of these epistles, from the debates and decisions of the Council of Nice, or of Trent, or of Westminster--from the ecclesiastic history, the moral philosophy, or the scholastic divinity of any age, since John the Apostle resigned his spirit.
From the above fact, it follows, that the most accurate acquaintance with all those questions of the different sects, with all their creeds and controversies, which have engrossed so much of the public attention, if it does not impede, most certainly does not facilitate, our progress in the knowledte of the Apostolic epistles. As the Apostles did not write, with any of our questions before their minds, or with a reference to any of our systems, it is presumptuous in the extreme, to apply what they have said on other questions, to those which have originated since. And as they did not write with any design of making out a system of doctrine, it is preposterous to attempt to make out a system for them, and oblige them to approve it.
In the second place, as the Apostles wrote these letters, with a reference to their own times, to the character and circumstances of the people with whom they were conversant, a knowledge of the character and circumstances of these people, is of essential importance, in order to understand the letters addressed to them.
By the character of the people, we mean not only their character, at the time the letter was written, but also their previous character--what sort of persons they were before their conversion, as respected religion and morality--what their peculiar views and prejudices--and what their attainments in the larning and science of their age and country. By the circumstances of the people, we mean not merely their political and commercial standing, but as regards unity of views and co-operation--whether they were living in peace and harmony among themselves--whether they were persecuted by those of different sentiments--or whether they were enjoying tranquility unmolested from without.
In the third place, a knowledge of the character and circumstances of the writer of an epistle, is of essential importance in understanding it. His character as respects style and method--what his peculiar art of reasoning and modes of expression--what relation he bears to the persons addressed--whether personally acquainted with them, or by report--whether their father or brother in the faith--whether his letter is the first or second to them, or one of a series not extant--whether it was solicited on their part, an answer to one from them, or written of his own accord--whether he addresses them alone, or others in conjunction with them--and whether he writes in his own name, or associated with others--and what their character and standing.
In the next place, great attention must be paid to his design in writing to them, at that time. It must be ascertained whether he writes with a reference to their whole circumstances, or to some one more urgent consideration--whether that consideration was one that respected themselves merely, or others equally with them--whether he aimed at the full accomplishment of his design in one letter, or in more--or whether he reserved some things to a special interview, or to some persons soon to visit them.
In the fifth place, the reader must recollect that no one sentence, in the argumentative part of a letter, is to be explained as a proposition, thereem, proverb, or maxim, detached from the drift and scope of the passage. Indeed, neither words nor sentences in any argumentative compositon, have any meaning, but what the scope, connexion, and design of the writer, give them. Inattention to this most obvious fact, has beclouded the apostolic epistles, ahs introduced more errors into the views, and unmeaning ceremonies into the practice of professing Christians, than any other cause in the world. To this the cutting up the sacred text into morsels, called verses, has greatly contributed. Many passages, otherwise plain and forcible, have been weakened and obscured by this absurd interference.
The difficulties in the way of our understanding these epistles, may be easily gathered from the preceding items. We must place ourselves in Judea, in Rome, or in Corinth, and not in these places in the present day; but we must live in them nearly two thousand years, before we lived at all. We must mingle with the Jews in their temple and synagogues. We must visit the temples and altars of the Pagan Gentiles. We must converse with Epicuran and Stoic philosophers--with Pharisees and Sadducees--with priests and people that died centuries before we were born. We must place before us manuscript copies of these epistles, written without a break, a chapter, or a verse. We must remember what the writers spoke to the people, before they wrote to them. We must not only attend to what they said and wrote, but to what they did. And we must always bear in mind the numerous and diversified enemies, in and out of authority, with whom they had to conflict. Now all thse are apparently great difficulties, and, at first view, would seem to put the golden key of interpretation out of the reach of all.
They are not, however, insurmountable. In reading any epistle, on any subject, written by any person, we are accustomed to attend to all these things, in substance, if not in form. Indeed, these are but the dictates of common sense, regarded by every person in the common occurrences of every day. Who is there that reads a letter from any correspondent, without placing before his mind the character, views, and all the circumstances of the writer? Who is it that reads a letter addressed to himself, or any other person, that does not attend to his own circumstances, or those of the person addressed, with a reference to the items of corresondence? Does he not regard the date, the place, the occasion, and the apparent design of the communication? Does he divide the letters into chapters and verses, and make every period or semicolon in it,m a proverb, like one of Solomon's; a theorem, like one of Euclid's; an axiom, like one of Newton's? Does he not rather read the whole of it together, and view every sentence in it, in the light of the whole, and with a reference to the main design? Most certainly he does. All that is contended for in these remarks, is, that the same common sense should be applied to the apostolic epistles, which we apply to all other epistolary communications.
We have said, that the above-mentioned difficulties are not insurmountable; and in proof that they are not, and that we may place ourselves in the circumstances, of those addressed in the epistles, with more ease than at first sight appears, we would call the reader's attention to the documents, which the New Testament itself furnishes, to aid us in an effort of so much importance.
In the first place, then, the historical and epistolary books of the New Covenant afford us the necessary documents, to place ourselves in the circumstances of the persons addressed, in all those points essential to an accurate apprehension, of what is written to them. It presupposes, that the reader is in possession of the ancient oracles; or that he has, or may have the information contained in them. As much, is recorded, of the peculiar character and views of the Jews and Gentiles, in the apostolic age, of the sects and parties of both people, as is necessary to understand the allusions to them in these writings; and in proportion to the important bearings, that any historic facts have upon the apostolic epistles, is the amount of information afforded. For example; there is no historic fact, which explains so much of Paul's epistles, as the opposition which the Jewish brethren made, to the reception of the Gentile converts into the Christian congregations, on the same footing with themselves; and there is no historic fact, in the history of the lives and labors of the Apostles, so frequently and fully presented to the view of the reader, as this one.
Indeed, the number of facts necessary to be known, in order to our associating around ouselves the circumstances of those addressed, in most of the apostolic epistles, is by no means great. It is rather the importance than the number of them, which illustrates these writings. A few facts belonging to the apostolic commission, explain a large proportion of the writings of the Apostles. For instance, they were to announce and proclaim to Pharisees, Sadducees, Samaritans, and men of all nations, that JESUS THE NAZARENE WAS THE SON OF GOD, AND THE SAVIOUR OF MEN. When this was done, and some of all these people were persuaded of the truth of this propostion, the next weork of the Apostles was, to associate them in one relgious community, by opening to their apprehension the import and design of the facts which they already believed. In making one new religious body, or association of persons, whose former views prejudices, partialities, and antipathies, were so discordant, lay the chief difficulty, and constituted the most arduous part of the apostolic labors. The Jew, with great reluctance, abandoned his prejudices against the Gentile; and the Gentile, with no less difficulty, was reconciled to the Jew. The Jew conceited, that it would be an improvement upon the Christian religion, to incorporate with it a few of the essentials of Judaism; and the Gentile fancied, that some of his former much-loved philosophy, would be a great acquisition to a Christian congregation. The infidel, or unbeliving Jews, attacked their brethren, who associated with the Apostles--first by argumentsl, and lastly by poligical power; and the Gentile philosophers and magistrates alternately ridiculed and persecuted such of their brethren, as united with this sect, every where spoken against. The Apostles labored to keep the doctrine of the Messiah pure, from any mixture with Judaism and Gentile philosophy, and to fortify the minds of the disciples with arguments, to maintain their controversy against their opponents, and with patience and resolution, to persevere amidst all sufferings and persecutioins. Now these few facts, so frequently and fully stated in these writings, go a great way in explaining some entire epistles, and many passages in others.
But in a preface to one of the Epistles, we can illustrate and apply thse principles to much better advantage, than in such general remarks; and, for this purpose, we shall present the reader with a short preface to the epistle to the Romans, which has generally (both by the ancients and moderns,) been considered the most obscure and difficult of all the epistles:--
PREFACE TO THE EPISTLES TO THE ROMANS.
As this epistle, when understood, is a sort of key to the greater number of Paul's letters, much depends on forming clear and comprehensive views of its import. As far as our limited means of furnishing such preparatory information as may assist the reader in examining it for himself will permit, we shall contribute our mite. In the first place we request the reader's attention to a few facts of great importance in the investigation of this epistle; and, indeed, of all Paul's epistles.
I. The main question discussed in the narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; or the grand topic of debate, from the time John the Immerser appeared in the wilderness of Judea, till the resurrection of Jesus, was--Whether Jesus the Nazarene was the Messiah? The Jews, in the one part, and the Saviour and his Apostles, on the other, were the only persons engaged in the controversy--the principal parties in this discussion. Hence, it was altogether confined to the Jews. Indeed, they only had the menas of determining this point, as they were in possession of the oracles which foretold his coming, identified his person, and attested his pretensions.
II. The grand topic of debate, from the resurrection of Jesus, till the calling of the Gentiles, (an interval of several years,) was--Whether Jesus who was crucified, had actually arisen from the grave, and ascended into heaven? This, though different in form, was, in effect, the same as the preceding. It was differently proposed and argued, though tending to establish the same grand point. The Jews in Judea, the Samaritans, and the Jews in all the synagogues among the Gentiles, whither the Apostles went, were the only persons who took an active part in this controversy.
III. After the calling of the Gentiles, and the number of disciples among the Jews had greatly augmented, a new question arose, which, among the converts generally, and especially among those of hte Jews, occupied as conspicuous a place, as the first question did among the Jews in Judea. This question is as prominent in many of Paul's epistles, as the former is in the historic books of this volume. It is this--Whether the Gentile converts had a right to be considered the people of God, equally as the Jewish believers; or, whether they should be received in the christian congregations of believing Jews, without submitting to any of the Jewish peculiarties, on the same footing with the circumcised and literal descendants of Abraham.
IV. Many questions grew out of this one, which, for a long time, occuped the attention of the christian communities throughout the world, and called for the attention of the Apostles. But as Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles, he was obliged to take a more active part in these discussions, and thus we always find him the bold and able advocate of their rights, however, or by whomsoever assailed. To this question, we are, doubtless, indebted for much of the information which the Apostle has given us, as it was the occasion of so much being written on many topics connected with it, such as--
1st. The genius and design of circumcision. 2d. The promises made to Abraham. 3d. The nature and design of the law of Moses, or Old Covenant. 4th. The righteousness of the Law, and the righteousness of Faith; or, justification by workds, and justification by grace. 5th. The Jewish priesthood and sacrifices. 6th. The sacrifice of Christ. 7th. The grace of God, or the divine philanthropy. 8th. The election and calling of the Jews. 9th. The nature, design, and glory of the christian constitution and assembly: and many other topics subordinate to, and illustrative of, the one grand question concerning the reception of the Gentiles.
To simplify still farther, and comprehend under a few heads, the whole apostolic writings; it may be said, that there are three gospels, with their circumstances, which engross the whole volume.
The first is "the glad tidings," emphatically and supereminently so called, concerning Jesus of Nazareth, exhibited and proved to be the only begotten Son of God, sent to bless the people among whom he appeared, who credited his pretensions. The second is the glad tidings of salvation to the Gentiles, called "the Gospel of their Salvation." This exhibits Jesus as the Saviour of the world, and his death as a propitiation for the sins of the whole world. The third gospel, is that developed in the Revelation of John, in the common version called "the everlasting gospel," or, good news; that the long apostacy, that the long dark night of antichristian superstition, tyranny, and usurpation, is pased; and that the kingdoms of the whole world, have become the kingdoms and empire of Jesus, the King of kings.
The circumstances that give rise to these three gospels, constitute the shade in the picture of God's philanthropy. The development of the character and condition of the human family, relative to these three gospels, in connection with them, engross the whole apostolic writings. On this, a hint or two must suffice.
As to that which is by way of eminence called "the Gospel"--the degenerate and apostate state of the most enlightened and favored nation among men, the descendants of the Father of the Faithful, form the contrast; and, as a foil, set off and brighten this most splendid of all exhibitions of the mercy of God, from which spring all other good news to men.
To the second gospel or good news--the deplorable condition, the ignorance of God, and the nameless vices of the Gentile world, their long alienation from God, and scandalous idolatry, constitute a theatre, on which to exhibit to advantage, th glad tidings of God's gracious purposes towards them in the beginning, evinced in sending his Son to make a propitiatory sacrifice for their sins, and in calling himself the God of the Geniles, as well as of the Jews.
And as to the third gospel--the awful apostasy of the professed christian communities, and gross departure from the letter and spirit of the christian institution; their schisms, strifes, and persecutions, which this apostacy has given rise to; the long rejection and continued infidelity of the Jews, with awful grandeur prepare the way for the proclamation of the everlasting good news--the joyful era, when it shall be sung, "Babylon the Great is fallen, NEVER more to arise!" The kingdoms of the world have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and his saints shall triumph with him for a thousand prophetic years! These engross the whole apostolic writings.
The first of these three has been fully discussed and established, in the testimonies of the four Evangelists. The second is recorded in the book of the Acts of Apostles, and developed in the epistles. The third, in some passages of the epistles, but particularly and fully, in the last revelation made to the Apostle John.
The epistle to the Romans is altogether devoted to the second--and was written with a design, to prove that the believing Gentiles are, equally with the Jews, entitled to all the rights and immunities of citizenship, int he kingdom of God's own Son.
This brings us to the epistle to the Romans; in reference to which, let it be remembered, that, although the term Roman, in its most restricted sense, denoted a Pagan citizen of Rome; yet, both Jews and proselytes who lived there, were called Romans, as well as the Pagan citizens of Rome. Hence, Luke informs us, that Roman sojourners, both Jews and proselytes, heard Peter announce the glad tidings on Pentecost in Jerusalem. Hence, we may conclude, that a congregation in Rome was formed, soon after the return of the Roman Jews from Jersualem. Though the congregation in Rome was at first composed exclusively of Jewish disciples; after the calling of the Gentiles, and especially at the time when Paul wrote this letter, it was composed of Jews and Gentiles.
Without going into a long detail of particular proofs to come at the design of the Apostle, in writing this letter; we may readily gather from the epistle itself, that the Jewish and Gentile disciples in this congregation, were not perfectly reconciled, on account of certain questions and debates, involving the Jewish peculiarity; that the great question between the Jews and Gentiles was not decided in this congregation, though so eminent in the Christian faith; that Paul wrote with a reference to the actual condition and circumstances of this people, according to the best information he had respecting them, not having been himself at Rome. As this congregation was placed in so conspicuous a place, and was known to the whole Christian communities throughout the Roman empire, the settling of this question in Rome was a great object; and as the Apostle, though anxious to visit the city, had been prevented for a long time, he conceived the noble design of settling the difficulties between the Jewish and Gentile brethren in this city, by a long and argumentative epistle, embracing all the points of chief difficulty between the Jews and Gentiles, in Rome and elsewhere. Such was the design of writing this letter, as the circumstances and allusions found in it, and all evidences, internal and external, evince.
Having formed such a design, the Apostle was at no loss how to execute it. He was well skilled in all the questions and customs, and expert in all the arguments of the Jews, in the support of their peculiarity. He knew all that a Judaizer or an infidel could say, in support of his favorite theme. Besides, as the Judaizer, who aimed at bringing the Gentiles under the law, argued from the same topics that the infidel Jew handled, to show the superiority of the Jew's religion, and to oppose the Christian, the Apostle so arranges his arguments as to silence both. He was well aware that this letter would soon become public property, and that it would be read by all parties, as well as by the brethren to whom it was addressed; for all would be anxious to know what "the apostate Jew," as some called him, or the great "Apostle to the Gentiles," had to say with reference to these questions. He writes with all these things before his mind.
It is worthy of notice, that the Apostle does not attempt to settle such questions merely, or, indeed, at all, by his apostolic authority. Though his decision, without assigning a single reason for it, would be final amongst all christians who recognized him as an Apostle; yet he does not attempt to settle the point in this way. He appears as a logician, and meets oppostiion, not by a decree, but by argument. In this way, he enlightens and confirms the christians in the faith, and qualifies them to convince and silence those who would not receive the decree of an Apostle, as that from which there is no appeal.
Now, placing before our eyes the congregation of christians in the great city of Rome, the mistress of the world, A. D. 57; every day visited by travelling christians, both Jews and Gentiles, from all nations; considering the notoriety of this congregation, having the eyes of the philosophers, priests, and illustrious men of Rome fixed upon it; bringing near to ourselves the prejudices of Jews and Gentiles against each other in former times, and the high conceptions of the former, as being the only people, righeous, elected, approved, and beloved of God; remembering, too, their contempt of the Gentiles, rulers and ruled; their keen sensibility on every topic affecting their national honor; at the same time, fixing our eyes upon the author of this letter, his deep knowledge of the human heart, his profound acquaintance with the Jews' religion, and with the character and feelings of his countrymen; his tenderness towards his brethren of the Jews; his zeal for their conversion;--keeping all these things in remembrance, and above all, his design in writing this letter, let us attempt an analysis of the argumentative part of it.--
1st. After his introduction and usual salutation, he gives an exact exhibition of the religious and moral character of the Gentile world.
2d. He delineates the religious and moral character of the Jewish people.
His design in this part of the epistle is to prove, that the mass of the Jews and Gentiles were equally vile and obnoxious to divine vengeance; that neither of them could constitute any claim on the righteousness of God; that they were equally destitute of national righeousness, and of every plea founded upon their own character or works. He also shows, that individuals amongst Jews and Gentiles, who acted in conformity to their means of knowing th character and will of God, were also equal in the divine estimation. In a word, he proves the Gentiles and Jews, whether considered nationally or individually, to be "without any difference," respecting the great question which he discusses. He proves that they are "all under sin," and that God is equally "the God of the Gentiles and of the Jews."
3d. He, in the next place, exhibits "the righteousness of faith," as equally accessible to them both, as bearing the same aspect to them nationally and individually. In establishing this point, the difficulties existing between Jews and Gentiles, converted to Christianity, are decided. For, let it be admitted, that the Jews and Gentiles, before converted to Christianity, were without difference; that when converted to Christianity, they were without difference as respected the righteousness of faith; and the consequence would be, that they should, without difference, be admitted into the Christian communities. This is the scope, design, and termination of the argumentative part of this letter, which closes with the end of the eleventh chapter.
But the Jews had many objections to make to the positions, which the Apostle lays down; and in exhibiting their objections, they argued from various topics, which the Apostle was obliged to discuss, before he could triumphantly establish his positions. The principal topics were--Circumcision, the Covenant with Abraham, the Promise of Canaan, the Law of Sinai, the Election and calling of the nation as the covenanted people of God. These embrace the chief topics of argument, and these Paul must meet and repel, before he can carry his point argumentatively.
In the third chapter he meets the first objection. He introduces the Jew saying, "What profit is there in circumcision upon this hypothesis?" This objection he meets, and while he acknowledges, that it was an advantage to the Jew in several respects, he shows it avails nothing against the question he discusses. That circumcision made no man righteous, he fully proves; for, in this respect, the uncircumcised was as acceptable to God as the circumcised, and in some respects the Gentile condemned the Jew. After meeting a number of subordinate objections, growing out of this one, and fully proving from David's own words, that the Jews were no better than the Gentiles; in the fourth chapter he meets the second grand objection, viz. What do we, on this hypothesis, say that Abraham, the father of the Jews, obtained from the covenants of promise, and the works enjoined upon him? He shows that neither his circumcision, nor any work proceeding from that covenant, was accounted to him for righteousness; but that his faith, which he had as a Gentile, or "before he was circumcised," was "accounted to him for righteousness;" and that his becoming the heir of a world, or of the promises made to him, arose not from any of the Jews' peculiarities. And while meeting their objections on this topic, he introduces those drawn from the law, and shows most explicitly, that neither righteousness nor the inheritance of Canaan, was derived through the law;--that Abraham was righteous, or had that righteousness in which the Gentiles are now accepted, and was secured of Canaan for his seed, without respect to law: for God gave Canaan to him and his seed by a PROMISE, centuries before the law was promulged. And thus he makes the covenant with Abraham an argument in favor of his design, proviing from it, that the Gentiles were embraced as his seed. And here let it be noted, that the justification by works, and that by faith, of which Paul speaks, and of which our systems speak, are quite different things. To quote his words, and apply them to our questions about faith and works, is illogical, inconclusive, and absurd.
In proof that the Geniles were included in the promises made to Abraham, and actually participated in his faith, in the beginning of the fifth chapter, he introduces their "experience," and identifies himself with them. After detailing these, and showing that Jesus died for them, as well as for the Jews; and that they, being reconciled by his death, would, most certainly, be saved through him; from the twelfth verse to the end of the chapter, he shows the reasonableness of this procedure. For although the Jews might continue to cavil about the covenant of peculiarity with Abraham, he shows that the Gentiles were equally concerned with the Jews, in the consequences of Adam's fall; and this section of the letter is decisive proof of the correctness of his arguments from the covenant with Abraham. While on this topic he expatiates on the superabundance of favor, that presents itself in the Divine procedure towards mankind, irrespective of national peculiarity, in a most striking contrast of the consequences of Adam's disobedience, and the obedience of his antitype.
He meets an objection, in the sixth chapter, to the superabundance of this favor, and expatiates on it to the close; and, in the seventh, resumes the nature and design of the law, and by placing himself under it, and showing in himself the legitimate issue of being under it, proves its inefficacy to accomplish that, for which the Jews argued it was designed.
In proving that the believing Jews were not under the law, he carries his arguments so far, as to lay the foundation for Judaizers' to object, that he reprsented the law as a sinful thing. He might say, "Is the law sin, then?" an apparently natural conclusion, from what he had said of its abrogation. This he refutes, and proves it to be "holy, just, and good." Then the Judaizer retorts, "That which was good, then, was made death to thee!" No, says Paul, but the law made sin death to me. This he demonstrates to the close of the chapter; in which he most lucidly represents the wretched condition of a Jew, seeking eternal life by a law, which made his sins deserve death, and which he was unable to obey. The law clearly demonstrated goodness, righteousness, and virtue, but imparted no power to those under it, by which they could conform to it.
Thus he is led, in the eighth chapter, to exhibit the privileges of the believing Jews and Gentiles, as delivered from the law. In expatiating on the privileges and honors of these under the New Covenant, he represents them as the adopted sons of God, as joint heirs with Christ. He also shows, that while they continued in the faith, and "jointly suffered" with the Messiah, they were considered as the people of God, the called, elected, justified, and glorified ones; and that no distress or power in the universe could separate such joint sufferers from the love of God. On this point he is most sublime. But in representing the Gentile believers as the called according to God's purpose--as the elected, justified, and glorified members of his kingdom, he wounds the pride of the infidel and Judaizing Israelites, whose were the adoption, the glory of being God's people, the covenants, the law, the worship of God, the promises, the fathers, the Messiah! He invades their prerogative. This leads him to discuss their right, to be always exclusively considered the chosen people of God. He examines their arguments, points out their mistakes, and repels their objections, with great ability, tenderness, affection, and zeal, to the close of the eleventh chapter.
In the ninth chapter he meets three objections to his leading argument:--
1st. That on the hypothesis of God's choosing the Gentile nations, in calling them to be his people, his "promises to Israel (that is, to the nation) had fallen." This he refutes by showing who are Israel, in the sense of the promises.
2d. That, in choosing Jacob, and excluding Esau from the honor of being the progenitor of the nation, (as Paul represented it,) and in now excluding Israel and choosing the Gentiles, there appeared to be injustice with God. Paul, from the lips of Moses, their own lawgiver, demonstrates that there was no injustice in the procedure; that his humbling the Egyptians and exalting Israel, was an act of justice as respected the Egyptians, and of merciful good will as respected Israel; and that in so doing he advanced the knowledge of his character, and exhibited his glory through all the earth.
3d. That, from the principles which Paul exhibited as the basis of this procedure, that question might be put, "Why does he find fault, for who has resisted his will?" The Apostle, from the just and acknowledged principle of human action, shows the wickedness of such a question; that God had carried, with much long suffering, the Jews, long since ripe for destruction, for the purpose of making their example, or his procedure to them, of benefit to the whole human race, and of rendering conspicuous his mercy to such of the nation as believed in the Messiah, as also to the Gentiles. And all this he proves to have been foretold by his own prophets.
In the tenth chapter he again exhibits the righeousness of faith, as still accessible to both people, and the fatal ground of mistake, which must consummate the ruin of Israel; and meets other objections growing out of the ancient oracles, which he applies to this case. In the evelenth he answers other objections, such as, "Has God cast off all his people?" "Have they stumbled on purpose, that they might fall for ever?" "Were the natural descendants of Abraham broekn off, from being his people, to make room for the Gentiles? After removing every objection to the calling of the Gentiles to be God's people, "through the righteousness of faith," whether drawn from any thing in th epast election, calling, or treatment of the Jews; from the promises made to their fathers, from their own prophets, or from the moral character of the God of all nations; after triumphantly provin the postiions with which he had set out, he concludes this chapter with appropriate admonitions to the Gentile believers, against those errors which had been the ruin of Israel. He corrects some mistakes, into which they might fall, from what he had said concerning the election of rejection of Israel. From this to the close of the letter, he admonishes and exhorts the brethren in Rome, both Jews and Gentiles, to bear with, and receive one another, irrespective of those peculiarities which had formerly been ground of umbrage or alienation; that as Christ had received them both to be his people, they should mutually embrace each other as such, and live devoted to him, who had called them to the high honors and privileges, which they enjoyed.
Such is the scope, design, and argument of this letter. To go farther into an investigation of it, would be to assume the office of a commentator, which is foreign to our purpose. These very general hints and remarks may serve to suggest to the reader, a proper course of reading and examining the apostolic letters, and to impress his mind with the vast importance of regarding the design of each letter, and to guard against the ruinous course of making detached sentences the theme of doctrinal expositions; and of "classifying texts" under the heads of scholastic theology--a method, the folly and pernicious tendency of which, no language can too strongly express.
PREFATORY HINTS TO THE OTHER EPISTLES.
These hints do not constitute any thing like Prefaces to the Epistles; but, in subordination to the principles suggested in the general preface, may be of some use to the studious reader of this volume.
PAUL'S TWO LETTERS TO THE CORINTHIANS.
1. IN Acts xviii. we have a history of the conversion of the Corinthians, and Paul's residence among them.
2. It appears from this history, and from the first letter, that the congregation in Corinth was composed of Jews and Gentiles, and that the greater number were Gentiles.
3. From the Epistle itself it may be learned, as well as from extrinsic sources of information, that the Corinthians paid great respect to the wisdom of the philosophers, and to the eloquence of their rhetoricians, and that, in their morals, they were a very dissolute and licentious people. Such was the common reputation of the Corinthians before their calling.
4. It is also evident, that there were schisms in that congregation, occasioned by one or more factious persons of Sadducean principles, and admirers of Pagan philosophy, who attempted to rival the Apostle, in the affection and veneration of the members of this congregation.
5. That these factious leaders had succeeded in part; yet still there remained a number unmoved from their attachment to the Apostle, and confidnece in him.
6. That a letter had been written by these to the Apostle, acquainting him with their situation, and soliciting information from him on certain topics.
From these circumstances of this congregation, and from the exhortations of the Apostle, it is very apparent, that his chief design in writing the first letter, was to support his own authority, dignity, and reputation; to vindicate himself from the aspersions and calumnies of the factious; and to diminish the credit and influence of those aspiring demagogues and leaders, by exhibiting their errors and miscarriages; and thus to withdraw from them the respect and admiration of the party they had formed. To these topics he confines himself to the end of the sixth chapter; and, occasionally, when discussing other topics, he aims a blow at the factionists, to the close of the letter.
In managing this controversy he is very dexterous. He shows all that philosophy and rhetoric could achieve, from a fair statement of what they had achieved; and proves, beyond all doubt, that without a verbal revelation from God, the philosopher and rhetorician must have continued in the dark, with regard to the knowledge of God. He takes their own reproachful terms uttered against him, his mission, and doctrine, and glories in them; in what they called the foolishness of proclaiming life through a crucified person. In this way he draws off the affection of the people, who had renounced Paganism, from those leaders who extolled themselves, by exhibiting their attainments in the philosophy of the Greeks.
He then adverts to the disorders in this congregation, which he imputes to these leaders, and shows that the immoralities in members of this community were, in a certain way, chargeable to these factious persons; and proves, beyond all doubt, that a divided people are generally a corrupt people; or, at least, that vicious practices are either the result or concomitants of schisms and factions.
The principal items in th subsequent part of the first letter are so easily distinguished, and so different from each other, that, in the paragraphs in which they are presented in this version, they are marked with sufficient plainness. He treats, successively, on the incompatibility of lawsuits amongst Christians; on married and single life; on eating of meats offered to idols; on his call, mission, right, and authority as an Apostle. He lays before them the fate of the fathers of the nation, who, while they professed subordination to, and were participants of, the ordinances of that worship, were not upright in heart before God; but, in fact, rebels against his authority. He next censures their departure from the meaning and design of one of the Christian institutes, viz. the Lord's Supper; treats of spiritual gifts; disproves the Sadducean hypothesis, and removes objections adduced against the resurrection of the dead; and concludes with directions for collections for the poor saints in Jerusalem, with exhortations and salutations.
Having tested his power in Corinth by the first letter, and hearing of its success from Titus, he takes courage, writes a second letter, speaks more boldly of himself, and deals more severely and sharply with his opponents. In this he aims at the extermination of the faction, which he had attacked and weakened in his first letter. He makes good all his claims to the respect, veneration, and submission of the Corinthians; strips his antagonists of every pretext; and, by the most pathetic recital of his own history, and exhortatiosn to unity and peace, closes his communicatiosn to this large and eminent congregation.
THE design of this letter is pretty similar to that of the epistle to the Romans; but directed more to a certain class of Judaizers, who aimed at bringing the congregations in Galatia under the law. It is not so comprehensive as the letter to the Romans; but much fuller on one or two topics engrossed in that epistle. Having been the founder of these congregations in Galatia, he adopts a style quite different from taht used in the epistle to the Romans, and speaks more in the style of a teacher to his own pupils. The gifts which the Holy Spirit conferred by his hands, the covenant with Abraham, the law at Sinai, the promise of Canaan, are the principle topics from which the Apostle Paul argues in this letter.
1. THE account of the conversion and gathering of this congregation is recorded Acts 19th and 20th chapters.
2. Paul was a prisoner in Rome when he wrote this letter, and those to the Colossians and Philippians. He was imprisoned because of the truths he taught concerning the calling of the Gentiles, the abrogation of the Jewish constitution and law, or the development of that secret which was, in an especial manner, entrusted to him, as the Apostle to the Gentiles; which is summarily comprehended in one sentence, viz. Christ to the Gentiles, or proclaimed among them, THE HOPE OF GLORY.
3. In this letter he rather declares this grand secret, than attempts the proof of it; and, in thanksgivings and prayers to God, extols the wisdom and goodness exhibited in this procedure.
He is very sublime in his thanksgivings to God for his goodness to the Gentiles, from the fact, that he had before the law, (yea, before the formation of the world,) determined to bless them under the reign of his Son, to call them to the honor of being his people, to give them the privilege of adoption, and to purify them for an inheritance in that world, of which Canaan was but a type. He declares that God's original design and plan, was not only to magnify his benevolence and favor, but also to reduce every thing in heaven and earth under one head--viz. Jesus his Son. The proofs of the eternal purpose of calling the Gentiles, the Apostle lays before them in th statement of facts--
1. That the good tidings of salvation to the Gentiles, called the gospel of their salvation, had been confirmed by his own sufferings in proclaiming it, and by the miracles which he wrought in attestation of it.
2. That the Gentiles, who believed his mesage, were sealed by the same Holy Spirit which was promised by the Jewish Prophets; which was to them who did not believe, an evidence of the truth; and in them who believed, a confirmation that the Gentiles were now become the people of God.
3. That the former condition of the Gentile world, contrasted with the state, character, views, and feelings of those who had already believed, was a full proof to them of the riches of that favor, shown to them through the mere good pleasure of God.
4. From which he argues indirectly the abrogation of the Mosaic rites and constitution, and then declares the fact.
5. He then declares the noble design of breaking down the wall of separation to be God's purpose, for making of both people a new, honoralbe, and happy society. This is the grand topic kept continually in view through this epistle; and from this the Apostle deduces numerous exhortatiosn to the Gentiles and Jews to maintain unity and peace, and to cultivate that purity which comports with the character of the adopted sons of God. He sums up the reasons which should constrain the disciples in Ephesus to maintain unity and peace: for whether Jews or Gentiles, Barbarians, Scythians, bondmen or freemen, they were but one body under Christ the head; there was one spirit which animated this one body, one hope presented in the calling of both people, one Lord of both people, one faith which they mutally entertained and confessed, one immersion in which they mutally put on Christ, and renounced every otehr leader or chief, and one God and Father of all--Jews and Gentiles. Thus the main design of this letter is very apparent, and it all admirably comports with it, and can be easily understood when viewed in this light; but on any other hypothesis, it is dark and unintelligible.
THIS letter being written during the same imprisonment, for the same cause, and shortly after the preceding, is much in the same spirit, style, and design. Acts xix. 10. shows how the gospel spread through Asia. Some of the Jews of Phrygia, in which the city of Colosse was, were present in Jerusalem on Pentecost. It is devoted to the development of the same secret, and designed to illustrate the purpose declared in the preceding epistle. It puts the Colossians, whether Jews or Greeks, on their guard against the attempts of the Judaizers, whether attacking them through the law, or through that philosophy by which both Jews and Gentiles were so easily captivated: and which were altogether repugnant to the spirit and design of the christian institution, and incompatible with the fulness of Christ, and their completeness in him.
ACTS xvi. affords us some account of the introduction of the gospel into Philippi. Paul visited this place in his tour through Macedonia, Acts xx. After subtracting what was peculiar in the circumstances of the disciples at Philippi, the scope and design of this epistle are easily seen from a perusal of it, and already hinted in the foregoing observations on the two preceding pistles.
LUKE informs us in the Acts of Apostles, chapter xvii. of the introduction of the good news of the Messiah into Thessalonica. The chief topics introduced in this letter, show that its design was to animate the Thessalonians with such considerations, as might induce them boldly and constantly to persevere in the faith, which they had received and confessed amidst much persecution.--Nothing could be better calculated to produce such an effect, than the method pursued by the Apostle. His exhortations naturally proceed from what he advances on the divine original of the christian religion, which he demonstrates:
1. From the many and great miracles by which it was confirmed, chapter 1. verse 6.
2. From the character, behaviour, and views of the first promulgers of the christian faith.
3. From the purity of the doctrine and morality of the christian religion.
4. From the resurrection of Jesus.
From these topics, and from the assurance he gives of the resurrction and glorification of the saints, and the rewards to be bestowed by the author of the christian faith, and Judge of the world, on the faithful, at his coming, he comforts the minds of the Thessalonians, and exhorts them to perseverance.
Either from the person, who carried the first epistle, or from some other source, the Apostle had heard (2 Ep. iii. 11.) of the state of affairs in this congregation, and writes to them a second letter, predicated upon the information he had received. This letter is evidently designed to correct a mistake, which had been propagated by some false teachers, and under pretence of a letter from the Apostle Paul, purporting that the Apostle expected the end of the world, or the day of judgment, soon to arrive--before that generation passed away. In correcting this mistake, the Apostle delivered some prophecies to the Thessalonians, respecting events which must transpire before the termination of this world; particularly, he predicts the grand apostacy and defection from the christian faith, which was to be of long continuance. He also heard of some disorders in this congregation. Some had given up their calling or employment, and neglected to labor for their own maintenance. These he sharply reproves, and exhorts to industry in their business. With these designs this letter appears to have been written.
TIMOTHY was left in Ephesus by the Apostle Paul, for certain purposes, which Paul declares in the commencement of his first letter to him; and now he writes to him for the purpose of instructing him how he should proceed in Ephesus, to answer the design he had in leaving him there. In what character Timothy was left in Ephesus, andTitus in Crete, may be easily learned from the letters inscribed to them. That they were to act as agents for the Apostle is very apparent; and, that they were not ordained, as elders or bishops were usually ordained in other congregations, requires no other evidence than a superficial perusal of these letters. Timothy and Titus were to perform all those duties, which the Apostle Paul would ahve performed, or was commissioned to perform in his own person. The directions to Timothy in the first epistle are of a peculiar character, and suggest much useful information to christians of every age:--
1. Timothy was to teach those, who were already teachers in Ephesus, not to teach differently from the Apostles. He was to charge them to desist from teaching some things, which they were teaching and countenancing in this congregation, and particularly those who were desiring to be teachers of the law.
2. Timothy was to carry on a good warfare against all, who taught differently from the Apostles.
3. He gives directions concerning the manner, in which Timothy was to have some part of the worship and edification of the congregation conducted.
4. He instructs him in the qualifications which bishops and deacons should possess.
5. He forewarns him of a great apostacy from the truth, and characterizes those who should take the lead in it.
6. He gives directions how old and young men, old and young females, widows and elders, should be treated in the congregation, and by him; how servants and masters should act towards each other; and concludes with the most solemn injunctions on Timothy, to keep that which was entrusted to him.
In his second and last letter to Timothy, he touches almost all the same topics; on some of which he enlarges, and particularizes some things to which Timothy was to attend; but the leading design of both letters is the same.
TITUS being left by Paul in Crete, for the same purpose that Timothy was left in Ephesus, we might naturally expect, that the design of this epistle is similar to that of those to Timothy; and that the contents of this letter would much resemble those of the former two. The character of Titus and that of the Cretans, with the circumstances of both, would, on this principle, constitute the whole or chief difference between them; and such, in fact, is the letter to Titus. When we take into view the distinguishing features of the character of Timothy and Titus, the Ephesians and Cretans, we have in one view the whole difference between the letters. It is remarkable from all these epistles, how busy the Judaizers were in preaching up the law of Moses, and how similar their couse of procedure; and how constant this Apostle was in opposing them, and giving directions to others, in what manner to oppose them most successfully.
THE letter to Philemon was evidently designed as a leter of introduction for Onesimus to his master, and as a means of reconciliation between them. It is a beautiful specimen of the familiarity, which exists among christians, without in the least imparting the relatiosn which exist in civil society.
THIS epistle, next to that to the Romans, has been considered difficult and abstruse. It is one unbroken chain of reasoning, from the first sentence to the close of the eleventh chapter.
To find out the special design of this invaluable letter, it is necessary to note down a few facts gathered from itself.
1. It was addressed to believing Jews or Hebrews, irrespective of any particular place.
2. At the time it was written, these Jews were the objects of persecution from the infidel or unbelieving Jews. This is evident from several hints in the letter, particularly chapter xii. 4. where the Apostle, after having, in a previous part of this epistle, reminded them of their former persecutions, tells them, they had not yet resisted unto blood, striving against the sin which easily beset them. In the same chapter he exhorts them to patience under chastisements, and to follow Christ with cheerfulness and resignation.
3. The intention of these persecutions, on the part of those who inflicted them, was to cause the believing Jews to renounce the christian profession, and return to Judaism. The Jews themselves being the persecutors, they could have no other object in view.
From these facts, the design of this letter is apparent. It was designed to prevent that apostacy from the christian faith, which those persecutors had in view. The infidel Jews designed by their persecutions to cause their brethren, who believed in Jesus, to renounce their profession, or confession of him as the Christ; and Paul designed by this letter to disappoint them. To understand this letter, it is necessary, that this be always kept in mind. No person can be said fully to understand what is written in it, unless he know why it is written.
To be more particular in illustrating this point, it must be noticed, that the infidel Jews attacked their brethren, who confessed Jesus, in two ways--first by argument, and then by force. If they failed to convince them, that Jesus of Nazareth was an imposter, or that the Jews' religion was to be of perpetual standing, their next effort was to inflict upon them corporal sufferings, for what was called obstinacy. To understand every branch of the argument of this epistle, it is therefore necessary, that we should know what the infidel Jews had to say, by way of argument, in support of their views of the excellency and perpetuity of the Jews' religion; for Paul meets their objectiosn or arguments in this letter.
His method was first to demonstrate, that their arguments were inconclusive and false: and, having done this, to show that the terrors with which they clothed themselves, to induce to apostacy, were not worthy to be compared to the terrors of falling into the hands of the living God, should any be induced, through fear, to renounce the christian profession.
He thus opposes argument to argument, and terror to terror; and his arguments were just as far superior to theirs in weight and importance, as the terrors of the living God are to the terrors of men.
This is the grand key to the whole epistle. When, then, we know what arguments the Jews had to offer, in support of their darling hypothesis, we understand why the Apostle says what he says, and we understand the true import, of what he advances.
We shall, therefore, in the first place, glance at the topics from which the infidel Jews argued:--
1. That their constitution and laws were superior to the christian, was argued from the fact, that both were introduced by the ministry of heavenly messengers.
2. That their laws were faithfully represented by the writings of Moses, was argued from the fact, that Moses was a lawgiver of the utmost dignity and fidelity.
3. That their relgious rites and instituted worship were most sacred, sublime, and unalterable, was argued from the divine call and consecration of Aaron to be high Priest.
4. That the covenant at Sinai embraced the Jews only as God's people; that it was established on the most excellent promises, and was to be everlasting.
5. That their temple and sacrifices were of divine appointment, and superior to any thing of the kind ever exhibited upon earth.
These items embrace all the capital points, which were advanced in th controversy, between the believing and unbelieving Jews. Now the Apostle Paul, well versed in all these questions, fully meets them, one by one, and carries his cause triumphantly in every instance. Let us now, for exmaple, take the first and observe how he manages it.
He admits the fact, that the constitution and laws of Israel were introduced by heavenly messengers; but at the same time declares, that the God who, in times past, spoke to the fathers of the nation, had in these last days spoken by a Son, of incomparable dignity--as far superior to the heavenly messengers, as his name was superior to theirs. He, thn, from their own Prophets, shows that this name SON had never been conferred on any creature, however exalted; but that the name MESSENGER had been bestowed on the winds and lightnings, David being witness. They were stranded here. They could give no instance of such an humble appropriation of the term son, as he had given of the word angel or messenger. Again, he argues from the dignity of place bestowed on the Son, his incomparable superiority: "To which of the heavenly messengers did he say, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make they foes thy footstool?" They were silenced again. Nay, with all their dignity of name and office, they were the ministers or servants of this very Jesus, sent by him on errands to the humblest of his followers. Thus he carries the first point. After having shown the superior dignity of the christian institution, from the very fact on which the Jews gloried so much; (and especially from this consideration, that, dignified as the heavenly messengers were, God had not employed or entrusted them in introducing the christian institution, but had shown in the contrast, that the christian insitution was just as far superior to the Jewish, as the dignity of God's own Son was to the dignity of God's mere servants, though of heavenly origin and standing)--the Apostle next delivers to the Hebrews, that believed him, certain exhortations, arising from his own conclusions in the first branch of the argument. Thus we see why the Apostle introduced these topics, and we understand what he said upon them.
In the same masterly manner he takes up Moses, Aaron, the tabernacle, covenant, sacrifices, and even their altars; and not only rebuts all conclusions, but gains many proofs of the superior and incomparable lustre and dignity of the christian system.
Moses, as a servant in another's house; Christ, as a son over his own house; Aaron, a high priest, made without an oath, by a law which expressed weaknesses and defects, and limited the times of service; Jesus, of the order of Melchisedec, made by an oath, since the Levitical order was introduced, and consecrated a priest forever, by virtue of the power of an endless life; the tablernacle but a shadow, and the sacrifices but a type of one real sacrifice, which puts an end to all sin offerings; a covenant established on better promises, and of unalterable provisions, and an altar, to which those who officiated according to the law, had not access; and a rest in heaven superior to that in Canaan, &c.&c. These are the points on which the Apostle argues, and by which he silences the infidel Jews, and from which he encourages, cheers, and enlivens the persecuted christians.
On the terrors of apostacy he is equally triumphant. Confiscation, or loss of goods, imprisonment, bodily tortures, and a cruel death, were the strong arguments of the infidel Jews, when their sophistry failed. But Paul is before them here, as much as he is in argument. He lays before the Jews the most tremendous instance of apostacy, which their history afforded;--the people who fell in the wilderness, to whom God swore that they should not enter in, because of unbelief. God had caused glad tidings of a rest in Canaan to be proclaimed to this people. They commenced their pilgrimage thitherward. They were immersed into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; they eat the manna, and drank the water which prefigured Christ, and yet cast away their confidence in God's promise; and, although he had done so much for them, in his wrath he swore, that into Canaan they should not go.
Again he shows, that it is impossible to renew again by a reformation, those who apostatized from the christian profession, by any arguments which the religion had to offer: for if, after having heard them all, and partaken of them, they should, from cowardice, deny and renounce their confidence inthe promises of God, when thus fallen away, there was no new topic, which could be presented to take hold of their minds;--that, if they wilfully apostatized, after they had received the knowledge of the Christian faith, there was no sacrifice by which to expiate their guilt. In vain the Jewish sin offerings, in vain all oblations, if the sacrifice of Christ were renounced. The sin of apostasy was a sin, inducements to which were presented both to the hopes and fears of Christians. The virtue of constancy in the christian profession, of holding fast the begun confidence, unshaken to the end of life, was presented to the Hebrews with stronger, inexpressibly stronger appeals, than the Judaizers had to offer. That God had no pleasure in them that apostatized; that it was a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God; that the God of Christians was a consuming fire; that vengeance belongs to him--were the awful terrors by which the Apostle guarded these Christians against sin.
He very pertinently concludes his argument, by laying before them a cloud of witnesses to the virtue of perseverance. He shows the reputation, which th ancient worthies obtained, by holding fast their persuasion and confidence in the promises of God; and reminds the Hebrews of their sorrows and sufferings, of their conflicts and triumphs in the cause; and concludes the whole argument with an appeal to the author and perfecter of the Christian faith, who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and who thus ascended to a throne. Lest they should faint in their minds amidst persecutions, he reminds them of him, who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself; and tells them, that although they had suffered much, they had not suffered so much as others, who had resisted to blood rather than cast away their confidence, which had great recompense of reward. Such is the design and scope of the letter to the Hebrews. Neither it, nor the letter to the Romans, was written as a treatise of divinity, or as an abstract of the Christian system. They are both practical letters of instruction, and contain the most sublime views of God's benevolence towards sinners, and exhibit the strongest inducements to a willing and unreserved obedience.
JAMES the Apostle addresses this letter to the twelve tribes dispersed, to those of them who professed faith in the Messiah. It is evident from the contents of it, that at the time it was written, the brethren were suffering persecution, and that the era of vengeance on the Jewish state was very nigh.
It is well known, that many of the sect of the Pharisees believed the gospel, and that this sect was peculiarly fond of incorporating some of their former opinions with the Christian system. The Pharisees in general were fatalists. They taught that "God had, from all eternity, decreed whatever comes to pass," and that all things were fixed and immoveable. A modification of this doctrine appears to have been prevalent, amongst many of the disciples from among the Jews. The doctrine of fate, as held by the Pharisees, was very troublesome to Christians from among the Jews; and it was to the infidel part of the nation, in their various wars, and in the siege of the metropolis, the proximate cause of innumerable calamities, and at length of their final ruin. Various abuses growing out of this system, seem to have been prevalent amongst the Jewish brethren, at the time when James wrote: and with the design of correcting those abuses, and of exhorting to patience in their distress, and also of encouraging the faithful with the hope, that the Lord was immediately coming to destroy the persecuting power of the Jews, James evidently writes this letter. This design, kept in mind, explains the scope of this epistle, and plainly reconciles the drift of it with the doctrine that Paul taught, on that faith which is accounted to a man for righteousness, and of those works which prove a man to be a Christian, both to himself and to his acquaintance.
"IT is well known that anciently, in proportion as the Christians multiplied in any country, their sufferings became more general and severe. In the latter part, therefore, of the first age, when the rage of the Jews and Gentiles was exceedingly stimulated by the prevalence of the gospel, the Apostles of Christ, who were then alive, considered themselves as especially called upon to comfort and encourage their suffering brethren. With this view the Apostle Peter wrote his first epistle to the Christians in Pontus, &c. wherein he represented to them, the obligation the disciples of Christ were under to suffer for their religion, and suggested a variety of motives to persuade them to suffer cheerfully."--[Macknight.]
"THE Apostle John having lived to see great corruptions, both in doctrine and practice, introduced into the church, by many who professed themselves the disciples of Christ, employed the last year of his life in opposing these corruptions. For he wrote his three epistles to establish the truths concerning the person and offices of Christ, and to condemn the errors, then prevailing, contrary to these truths. Also, to repress the lewd practices, for the sake of which these errors were embraced. Besides, he considered that his testimony to the truths concerning the person and offices of Christ, together with his direct condemnation of the opposite errors, published to the world in his inspired writings, would be of singular use, in preserving the faithful from being seduced by the false teachers, and other corrupters of Christianity, who, in future ages, might arise and trouble the church."--[Macknight.]
"IN the latter part of the apostolical age many false teachers had arisen, and were going about speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them, as Paul had foretold to the elders in Ephesus, Acts xx. 30. [see preface to John.] In drawing disciples after them, these teachers had nothing in view but to increase their own gians, that they might have wherewithal to spend upon their lusts. For the first Christians, having a great affection for their teachers, willingly and liberally contributed to their maintenance. The false teachers, therefore, to draw the vicious part of mankind after them, perverting Paul's doctrine of justification by faith, without the works of the law, resolved the whole of Christianity into the speculative belief and outward profession of the gospel. [See preface to James.] And having thus cancelled the obligations of morality, they taught their disciples to live in all manner of licentiousness; and at the same time flattered them with the hope of the favor of God, and of obtaining eternal life.
"One of the perverse things, which these corrupt teachers spoke, for the purpose of alluring the wicked, was, that God is so good, that he will not punish men for indulging those natural appetites, which he himself has implanted in their nature; nor be displeased with them for committing a few sins, which can do him no harm, but which are necessary to their present happiness.--Wherefore, to show the impiety and falsehood of that doctrine, and to secure the disciples from being seduced by it, the Apostle Jude wrote this epistle, in which, by facts recorded in the Jewish Scriptures, he proved, that as God had already punished the angels who sinned, notwithstanding their numbers, so he will at length, most assuredly, punish all obstinate sinners, in the severest manner."--[Macknight.]
THE REVELATION MADE TO JOHN THE APOSTLE.
"AFTER the Lord Jesus, by his messenger, had dictated seven letters to seven congregations in Asia Minor, in which he pointed out and specified blemishes in their conduct, and aberrations from the simplicity of the gospel, and exhorted to reformation, he proceeds to reveal to this Apostle, in his old age, and through him to all the congregations of disicples, the destinies of his cause in this world. Under the most striking and impressive symbols, the history of the Christian community is delineated. The triumphs of the Christian cause over the persecutions of Pagan Rome; the apostacy of Christians under Papal Rome; the rise, progress, and catastrophe of the son of perdition; the antichristian system--are all distinctly narrated in the sacred symbols of prophecy. The ultimate downfall of all opposition; the general and complete triumphs of Christianity; the subjugation of the kingdoms of this world to the dominion of the King of kings; the final consummation of the present system of things, and the glorious introduction of a new and heavenly state of things--are the wonderful and sublime topics, which are exhibited in this book: the design of it is repeatedly declared in the book itself, and felicities pronounced upon them who read, study, and understand the book. It was designed for the comfort of Christians, under all the dark and gloomy scenes through which the kingdom of Jesus should pass. There is a knowledge of this book attainable by all Christians, and a knowledge which is not attainable. The former consists in general views of God's designs respecting his kingdom and glory in th earth, as above hinted; and this is of much importance to all Christians. This, too, is its prominent design. The latter consists in accurate apprehensions of the import of the symbols employed in it, and of the times, persons, and places alluded to, defined, or portrayed in it. This, perhaps, like other prophetic writings, was designed to be understood perfectly, only when accomplished. The chief design of this book is accomplished in all Christians, who avail themselves of all means which the Bible affords, of acquiring that knowledge of it, which is attainable by all.
ARRANGEMENT OF THE EPISTLES.
THE Epistles to the Thessalonians, the Corinthians, that to the Galatians, the first to Timothy, and that to Titus, were written before the Epistle to the Romans; at least there is a general concurrence in this opinion, and much reason to believe that it is a correct one. In arranging these Epistles, the rule of priority seems to have been, the importance of th eplaces to which they were sent, and the reputation of the writer. Hence, that to Rome, the mistress of thw world, stands first; Corinth, because of its commercial and literary importance, next; Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica, follow each other in the comparative scale of their standing. The same has been observed of the persons, to whom letters have been written. It seems to hold good in the case of Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. The Epistle to the Hebrews, because anonymous, and some time in dispute, as to its author, is placed last. Some have imagined a similar rule to apply to the letters of the other Apostles, James, Peter, and John. We are of opinion, that the order of these names is fixed, from the order in which Paul mentions them in his letter to the Galatians, in which place he seems to have respect to their comparative standing, as pillars in th estimation of the Jewish brethren. Jude and the Revelation of John were placed last, because of the long time they were in dispute. John's Revelation, however, is deservedly and appropriately at the close of the volume.
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