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THE APOSTOLICAL BENEDICTION.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen. 2 Cor. xiii. 14.
I AM not insensible of the difficulty of the subject, and that, possibly, what shall be proposed may not be satisfactory to all. I have been desirous, nevertheless, to explain this apostolical benediction; which is very often, though not always and constantly, made use of in our assemblies, at the conclusion of our solemn and public worship.
As every word in it may require distinct observation, so there may be reckoned to be some special difficulty in settling the precise meaning of the last phrase, “ the communion of the Holy Ghost:" which is not found at the conclusion of any other of the epistles in the New Testament. And it is questioned by some, whether it does not intend those miraculous gifts which were then common, but were peculiar to the early ages of christianity, and have for a long time ceased in the church. If that be the direct, and the sole and only meaning of the expression; then it will be argued, that this benediction, in all its fulness, cannot be fitly used in our assemblies in these times. For it is not reasonable to ask for ourselves, nor to wish and pray for others, such things as we have no ground to hope for, and which the circumstances of things in the world declare and manifest, that it is not the good will and pleasure of God to bestow. As this is a main difficulty in the words, we should have a particular eye to it.
In order the better to conceive distinctly of this matter, I shall mention these several following propositions.
I. It will be of use to compare this with the farewell, or valedictory wishes and benedictions at the end of the other epistles of the apostles.
I begin with those in the two epistles to the Thessalonians, which seem to be the first written epistles of St. Paul, and the most early scriptures of the New Testament.
1 Thess. v. 28, "The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you all." 2 Thess. iii. 17, 18, "The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is the token in all my epistles. So I
write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."
And exactly the same in Rom. xvi. 24, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." And before, in ch. xv. 13, he had said: "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing." And ver. 33, "Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen." And ch. xvi. 20, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen." 1 Cor. xvi. 23, 24, " The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen."
Gal. vi. 18," Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit."
Eph. vi. 23, 24, " Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith from God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen."
Philip. iv. 23, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."
Col. iv. 18," The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you.
1 Tim. vi. 21, “ Grace be with thee. Amen."
2 Tim. iv. 22, "The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit. Grace be with you. Amen."
Tit. iii. 15, "All that are with me salute thee. Greet them that love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. Amen."
Philem. ver. 25, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen."
Heb. xiii. 25, "Grace be with you all. Amen."
In the epistle of St. James there is nothing very solemn, either at the beginning, or the end. What he says at the beginning is this: "To the twelve tribes, which are scattered abroad, greeting."
1 Pet. v. 13, 14, "The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you, and so doth Marcus my son. Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen."
There is no salutation at the end of the second epistle of St. Peter.
St. John's third epistle concludes thus: "Peace be to thee. The brethren salute thee. Greet the friends by name."
Rev. xxii. 21, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be .with you all. Amen."
These are the conclusions, or the valedictory blessings,
of the several epistles of the New Testament. Whereby we perceive, that none is more frequent, than that of "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." Sometimes it is shorter: "Grace be with you all." Or," the God of peace be with you :" or, " peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus."
II. It may be of use to compare the valedictions at the end with the salutations which are at the beginning of the apostolical epistles.
For a valediction, or farewell, is nothing else but a salutation at parting. The chief difference seems to be in the form, without much difference in the meaning. At meeting it usually is: " peace be to you." At parting: "peace be with you," or abide with you. Another small difference may be observed. The wish at the end is more summary. Or, perhaps, there is none at all; the salutation at the beginning of a writing, or at first meeting, being reckoned sufficient. Besides that, possibly, in the midst of your discourse, or in the body of your epistle, or other writing, you have inserted divers good wishes.
I shall now recite some of the salutations at the beginning of the epistles, and in the present order of the books of the New Testament. You will in your own minds compare them with the valedictions, or farewell wishes at the end, which have been already recited.
-Grace be to you,
Rom. i. 7, " To all that be at Romeand peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Cor. i. 3, "Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ."
2 Cor. i. 2, "Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ."
Gal. i. 3. Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ."
So also Eph. i. 2; and Philip. i. 2; and Col. i. 2; and 1 Thess. i. 1; and 2 Thess. i. 2.
1 Tim. i. 2," Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father, and Christ Jesus our Lord." So also 2 Tim. i. 2. Tit. i. 4, "Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour."
Philem. ver. 3," Grace to you, and peace from God our
Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ."
In the epistle to the Hebrews there is no salutation at the beginning.
James i. 1,-"To the twelve tribes that are scattered abroad, greeting."
1 Pet. i. 2," To the strangers scattered throughout
Pontus, Galatia,-grace unto you, and peace be multiplied."
2 Pet. i. 2, "Grace and peace be multiplied unto you, through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ our Lord."
In St. John's first epistle there is no solemn wish or prayer, either at the beginning, or the end. However at ver. 3 and 4, of chap. i. he says: "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full."
2 John, ver. 3, "Grace be with you, mercy and peace from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love."
3 John, 2, "Beloved, I wish above all things, that thou mayest prosper, and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth."
Jude, ver. 2, "Mercy unto you, and peace and love be multiplied."
Rev. i. 4," John to the seven churches in Asia, grace be unto you, and peace, from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits which are before the throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness."
These are the solemn wishes or salutations at the beginning of the apostolical epistles, as under the preceding head we saw their solemn wishes and benedictions at the end.
Before I leave this second proposition I would observe, that there is nothing solemn, but only, as it seems, common in the wishes or salutations in the epistle, written by the apostles and elders at the council of Jerusalem. Acts xv. 23," The apostles, and elders, and brethren, send greeting unto the brethren, which are of the Gentiles in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia." And the conclusion at ver. 29, is only this: "If ye keep yourselves from these things, ye shall do well. Farewell."
III. The wishes, prayers, or benedictions of the apostles, at the end of their epistles, are designed for christians only. Whether that be expressed or not, it is to be supposed, and understood. If St. Paul sometimes says no more than grace be with you all," it may be reckoned equivalent to what is a more common form, the "grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." Which can pertain to such only, as make a profession of faith in Christ, and are desirous of his favour. And sometimes this is expressed, as in St. Peter's first epistle, "Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus.' And St. Paul at the end of his epistle to the
Ephesians," Grace be with all them that love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity," that is, " in simplicity;" meaning, probably, such as embraced and adhered to the true doctrine of Christ, without the additional observances of the law of Moses, as necessary to salvation.
But if there be no limitation in the words of the benediction at the end of the epistles, (which, as before hinted, may be sometimes concise and summary,) the introductions to the epistles teach us, to whom all the rest is directed, and to whom the blessings, or good wishes, at the end, do belong. For the epistles are all, or however all with very few exceptions, expressly addressed to believers. So: "To all that be at Rome, called to be saints. Unto the church of God, which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours- -Unto the church of God, which is at Corinth, with all the saints that are in Achaia." And in a like manner in other epistles. Beside that the whole train of the arguments and exhortations show them to be written to christians.
IV. The benedictions, or farewell wishes at the end of the epistles, which we are considering, are of a solemn kind, different from common salutations.
That they are not common greetings, is apparent at first sight. This may be argued also from the conclusions of several of the epistles, where there is a common friendly salutation, beside the solemn benediction. The first epistle to the Corinthians concludes in this manner: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus." The conclusion of the epistle to the Philippians is thus: "Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you. All the saints salute you, chiefly they of Caesar's household. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen." The last words of the epistle to Titus are: "All that are with me salute thee. Greet them that love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. Amen." Heb. xiii. 24, 25, "Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you. Grace be with you all. Amen." We might also argue from St. Paul's many salutations of particular persons in the sixteenth chapter of the epistle to the Romans. After which he shuts up all, saying: grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all."a
If any find this Sermon too long to be read at once, here may be a good