Page images
PDF
EPUB

quired to submit to the authority which was now established over them, they began to question the right of the Apostles to control and govern them. Thus we find in the eleventh section, that St. Paul wrote from Macedonia his second Epistle to the Corinthians, to vindicate his authority, and to caution his people against the influence of false teachers. Ву thus reading the Epistles in their connexion with the history, and considering them in their consecutive order, we see the manner in which the Churches were agitated, and the necessity of discipline, as well as of devotion, in all Christian societies. In this Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul observes the same conduct, which but a short time before he had so earnestly recommended to Timothy. The two Epistles reflect light on each other, and give us a more accurate notion, when thus considered together, of the state of the primitive Churches.

It is not necessary that I should add in this place any remarks to those which will be found in the note to the thirteenth section of this Chapter, the Epistle to the Romans. Its object is to prove that Christ alone was the author of that one sublime plan of redemption, which included all mankind at the beginning, and which was intended to embrace the Gentiles once more within the Church of God; though for a season, on account of the Gentile idolatry, it had been confined to the family of Abraham. The prediction of the present state of the Jews, while their temporal polity was still flourishing, and of the eventual restoration of that people to the Christian Church, demonstrates the extent of the prophetic gifts which had been imparted to the Apostles.

The history proceeds to relate St. Paul's journeys over various parts of Asia-his presenting himself to St. James, the head of the Church at Jerusalem-his apprehension in that city-his defence, and appeal to his privilege as a Roman citizen to save himself from the indignation of his own countrymen. We meet with another instance in the twentysixth section, of the inveterate hatred which the Jews still continued to bear against the opinion which St. Paul so strenuously advocated, that the Gentiles were to be received into the Church.

In the twenty-eighth section we are presented with St. Paul's appearance, for the first time since his conversion, before the Jewish Sanhedrim. The brief narrative of St. Luke does not stop to inform us of the mingled rage, and hatred, and contempt, with which they must have returned the earnest look of the apostle, when he stood before them. They had granted him high powers, and a great military command. He had been admitted to their confidence—he had distinguished himself, when a young man, by his ardent zeal in their cause. He now stood before them, the betrayer of their imagined interests—an apostate, and a criminal. The high-priest commanded him to be struck, on account of the supposed insult, when St. Paul began the defence of his apparently inconsistent conduct, with asserting that he had lived in all good conscience before God, until that day. The manner in which the apostle divided his judges among themselves—his subsequent encouragement to persevere the conspiracy of the Jews to kill him—its discovery-his accusation and defence before Felix, Festus, and Agrippaand his appeal to the emperor, when he saw reason to believe that he would be surrrendered to the Jews by the profligate Roman Governor, are beautifully told, and are deeply interesting. It will be observed that St. Paul, whenever he is required to give an account of his motives, his religion, or his conduct as a Christian teacher, uniformly appeals to his miraculous conversion, and to the appearance of a great light at mid-day, which was seen by the large multitude which attended him. The Chapter ends with his being committed, as a prisoner, to the custody of the centurion, in consequence of his appeal to Cæsar.

XIV. Few observations are necessary on the fourteenth Chapter, which relates the voyage of St. Paul to Rome, his

shipwreck at the island of Melita (probably in the Adriatic) and his arrival in Italy. During his imprisonment at Rome, he wrote his Epistle to the Ephesians, to congratulate them on their admission into the Christian Church, through the mercy of God, which invited them to holiness of life. In the second year of his imprisonment he sent an Epistle to the Philippians, on the usual subject, to caution them against the Judaizing teachers, and persuade them to love and union. The Epistle to the Colossians affirms the doc trine of the atonement of Christ, against the metaphysical Essenians and Judaizers. These Epistles shew the constant and peculiar care of the Apostle over the Churches, and his great anxiety to preserve the converts in the purity of the faith. The beautiful Epistle to Philemon displays the singular union of courtesy, kindness, and benevolence, which characterised the Apostle in private life. The first of the Catholic Epistles, that of St. James, was also given to the Churches at this period. The doctrines of St. Paul on justification by faith, without the deeds of the law of Moses, appear to have been so misinterpreted, as if the Apostle had taught the opinion of salvation without holiness of life. Though the grace and mercy of God are the sole causes of the system of redemption, holiness is the only means by which that redemption may be secured. Holiness is the root of both present and future happiness, and is the one great object of the Gospel. It cannot therefore excite surprise, that the Catholic Epistles should be principally written to enforce these practical duties.

XV. In this last Chapter I have endeavoured to give a brief history of the Christian Church to the present day. The fourteenth Chapter ended with the release of St. Paul from his first imprisonment, and the writing of the Book of the Acts, by his companion St. Luke. While the Apostle was waiting in Italy for Timothy, he had the opportunity of calmly considering 'the state of his countrymen. He observed their hatred towards himself-their contempt towards him as an apostate, and deserter of the cause of the Sanhedrim—their inadequate ideas of the Messiah--the ap-. proaching ruin of Jerusalem, and the consequent dispersion of his people. Impressed with sorrow for their condition, he made his last, and perhaps his greatest effort, to convince them of the real nature of the spiritual Being whom they ought to expect; as the causer of a greater deliverance than the rescuing of their degraded country from the dominion of Rome. Avoiding all mention of his own offensive name, he wrote his Epistle to the Hebrews, to prove the truth of the doctrine upon which alone Christianity is established, the divinity and atonement of Christ, who is the Word of God, the personal and manifested Logos of their own Scriptures. The Epistle to the Hebrews may be considered the key to the Old Testament, and the most important of all the inspired writings to him, who would understand clearly the Scripture doctrine of the person of Christ.

It is not improbable that St. Paul proceeded from Italy to the various places to which he intimated his desire to travel, and to others, which are mentioned in ecclesiastical history as the scenes of his labours. The reasons, upon the authority of which it is believed by many, that he now travelled to Britain, Jerusalem, Antioch, to certain towns in Asia, to Greece, and Rome, will be found in the notes, from the second to the twelfth sections.

On his second visit to Rome, the Apostle was again imprisoned, in the general persecution of the Christians under Nero. In the anticipation of approaching death, he wrote his second Epistle to Timothy. In this letter he takes his farewell of his friend, and of the Church, and expresses his joy at the prospect of a painful death, with that humble, but well-founded confidence, which is the privilege of a Christian only.

The approaching death of St. Paul, and the near destruction of Jerusalem, evidently rendered this the most appro

priate period, when the rest of the Apostles who were still alive, might usefully address their general Epistles to the Christian Churches. We are accordingly now presented with the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude. The prejudices of the former Apostle against the Gentiles had subsided, and he addresses himself jointly to them, with the Jewish converts, to encourage them to holiness and to patience under suffering. In his second Epistle he reminds them of the danger of apostasy, and of the end of the Jewish dispensation, and the visible world.

About the same time St. Jude writes his Epistle, to guard the converts against every doctrine, however specious it might appear, which tended to diminish the sanctions of holiness. This was the one great object of all religion : and no purity of faith, no zealous attachment to a party, an opinion, or a creed, can be substituted for the indispensable sacrifice of ourselves to God.

The sixteenth section brings us to the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul, the two principal leaders of the army of the Church militant upon earth. It is probable that none of the Apostles, except St. John, was now left alive. The appeal of the Spirit of God to the Jews, was now terminated. St. Peter had opened the kingdom of heaven to his people; St. Paul had invited and adjured them to enter in—they had refused to accept the invitation; and the wrath came upon them to the uttermost. They wander among us, the outcasts of mankind. The contempt of the nations has begun only to subside into pity with the existing generation. For the first time since the fall of Jerusalem, their Christian brethren regard them with uniform benevolence.

The eighteenth section contains the Book of the Revelations. I believe it, with Dr. Clarke, to have been intended to supply the place of a continued succession of prophets in the Christian Church. I have divided it, with some variations, according to the theory of its interpretation, submitted

« PreviousContinue »