the First Week of Advent
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Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments Benson's Commentary
by Joseph Benson
PREFACE TO THE EPISTLES.
THE Lord Jesus before his death informed his apostles, (John 16:12,) that he had “many things to say to” them which they could not then bear; but that “when the Spirit of truth was come, he would guide them into all truth,” or rather, “into all the truth,” as εις πασαν την αληθειαν properly signifies, namely, the whole truth comprehended in the gospel dispensation. From this it is evident, that Jesus, while he was on earth, did not declare, at least clearly and fully, all the doctrines of the gospel, all that was necessary to be believed and practised by mankind; but left many things to be revealed by the Holy Ghost, to the persons who, after his departure, were to make them known to the world. In this method of revealing the gospel, as Dr. Macknight has justly observed, “there was both dignity and propriety. For the Son of God came from heaven, not [chiefly] to make the gospel revelation, but to be the subject of it, by doing and suffering all that was necessary to procure the salvation of mankind. But although it was not our Lord’s intention to make a complete revelation of the gospel in person, he occasionally delivered many [indeed, most] of its doctrines and precepts in the hearing of his followers, that when the persons commissioned by him to preach the gospel in its full extent, executed their commission, the world, by observing the perfect conformity of their doctrine with his, might entertain no doubt of their authority and inspiration, in those further discoveries which they made concerning the matters of which Christ himself had spoken nothing.”
One of the apostles, namely, Judas, having fallen from his office by transgression, the eleven judged it necessary to supply his place; and for that purpose chose Matthias, by lot. In this, however, some think they acted, not by the direction of the Holy Ghost, for he was not yet given them, but merely by the dictates of human prudence, which, on that occasion, they suppose, carried them too far; no man, nor body of men whatever, having power by their designation to confer an office whose authority was to bind the consciences of all men, and whose duties could not be performed without the gifts of extraordinary inspiration and miracles. To ordain an apostle, they say, belonged to Christ alone, who, with the appointment, could also confer the supernatural powers necessary to the function. Some time, therefore, after the election of Matthias, Jesus himself, they think, superseded it, by appointing another to be his apostle and witness in the place of Judas. “In the choice of this new apostle, Jesus had a view to the conversion of the Gentiles; which, of all the services allotted to the apostles, was the most dangerous and difficult. For the person engaged in that work had to contend with the heathen priests, whose office and gains being annihilated by the spreading of the gospel, it was to be expected that they would oppose its preachers with an extreme rage. He had to contend, likewise, with the unbelieving Jews living in heathen countries, who would not fail to inflame the idolatrous multitude against any one who should preach salvation to the Gentiles without requiring them to obey the law of Moses. The philosophers too were to be encountered, who, no doubt, laboured to destroy it by persecuting its preachers and abetters. The difficulty and danger of preaching to the Gentiles being so great, the person who engaged in it certainly needed an uncommon strength of mind, a great degree of religious zeal, a courage superior to every danger, and a patience of labour and suffering not to be exhausted, together with much prudence, to enable him to avoid giving just offence to unbelievers. Besides these, natural talents, education, and literature were necessary, in the person who endeavoured to convert the Gentiles, that he might acquit himself with propriety when called before kings, and magistrates, and men of learning. All these talents and advantages Saul of Tarsus possessed in an eminent degree; and, having been a violent persecutor of the Christians, his testimony to the resurrection of Jesus would have the greater weight, when he became a preacher of the gospel. Him, therefore, the Lord Jesus determined to make his apostle in the room of Judas; and for that purpose he appeared to him from heaven, as he journeyed to Damascus to persecute his disciples. And having convinced him of the truth of his resurrection, by thus appearing to him in person, he commissioned him to preach it to the Gentiles, together with the doctrines of the gospel, which were to be made known to him afterward by revelation. See Acts 26:16-18. Such was the commission which Jesus, in person, gave to Saul of Tarsus, afterward called Paul; so that, although he had not attended Jesus during his ministry, he was, in respect both of his election to the office and his fitness for it, rightly numbered with the apostles.” Macknight.
The apostles, having received their commission to preach the gospel to all nations, and being endued with divine inspiration and miraculous powers for that purpose, went forth and published the things which concerned the Lord Jesus, first in Judea, and afterward among the Gentiles; and, by the reasonableness of their doctrine, the holiness of their lives, the greatness of their sufferings, and the miracles which they performed, persuaded great multitudes, both of the Jews and Gentiles, to believe and obey the gospel, and openly to profess themselves Christ’s disciples, notwithstanding, by so doing, they exposed themselves to sufferings and death. In is evident, therefore, that the world is indebted to the apostles, under God, for the complete knowledge of the gospel. Under God, it must be observed; for the praise of enlightening mankind is due only to them as instruments, the Divine Spirit communicating unto them that knowledge of the truths of the gospel wherewith they were to enlighten others, and confirming those truths by signs and wonders, and miracles innumerable.
Because the Author of the Christian religion left nothing in writing for the instruction of the world, the apostles and others, who were witnesses of his holy and benevolent actions, his miracles, his sufferings, his resurrection and ascension, and who heard his divine discourses, besides preaching these things to all nations, have taken care that the knowledge of them should not be left to the uncertainty of a vague tradition, handed down from age to age. Four of these witnesses wrote, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, histories of Christ’s ministry, to which the name of gospels hath been given; being the same which are in our possession at this day. In these excellent writings, every thing relating to the Lord Jesus is set forth in a plain, unadorned narration, which bears the clearest marks of authenticity. In like manner, that the revelation of the gospel doctrines, which was made to the apostles by the Spirit, and which they delivered to the world, in their discourses and conversation, might not be left to the uncertainty of tradition, but be preserved uncorrupted to the end of time, the Holy Ghost moved certain of these divinely-inspired teachers to commit their doctrine to writing, in epistles; some of which they addressed to particular churches, others to particular persons, and others to believers in general; all which are still in our possession.
Inasmuch, then, as in the four gospels and in the Acts, we have the history of our Lord’s ministry and of the spreading of the gospel in the first age, written by inspiration; and, seeing that, in the apostolical epistles, the doctrines and precepts of our religion are set forth by the like inspiration, these writings ought to be highly esteemed by all Christians, as the rule of their faith and practice; and no doctrine ought to be received as an article of faith, nor any precept acknowledged as obligatory, but what is contained in them. With respect, however, to the gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles, let it be remarked that, while the greatest regard is due to them, especially to the gospels, because they contain the words of Christ himself, we are not in them to look for a full account of the gospel scheme. Their professed design is to give, not a complete delineation of our religion, but the history of its Founder, and of that illustrious display which he made of his glory, as the Son of God and Saviour of the world, together with an account of the spreading of the gospel after our Lord’s ascension. The gospel doctrine is to be found complete only in the epistles, where it is exhibited with great accuracy by the apostles, to whom the Holy Ghost revealed it, as Christ had promised.
With regard to the authenticity of these epistles, we may observe, with Dr. Whitby, that if we consider all the writings which pass for authentic records in the world, we shall find there is not any reason to conceive them such, which is not, with advantage, applicable to these books. All the arguments which can be offered to prove a book or writing genuine, are only of two kinds; external, from the testimony of persons who lived near to the times of the author; and internal, from the things contained in, and asserted by, those writings, and the firm belief they obtained among them to whom they were directed and committed. The external testimonies have their force partly from the number and eminence of the testators, their nearness to the times when such writings are said to have been composed, or published from the original copies preserved by those to whom they were at first committed; and partly from the general reception and citation of them as the writings and records of such authors. Now, with respect to these external evidences, no writings can compare with these epistles, they having all the circumstances by which any writing can be proved genuine, and many others of great weight, which are peculiar to them, and which no other writings can pretend to.
First. They have all the circumstances by which any writing can be proved genuine. 1. Their originals were preserved in their respective churches till Tertullian’s time, who speaks thus to the heretics of his age, namely, of the third century: “Go to the apostolical churches, where their authentic epistles are still recited, representing the voice and face of each of them.” 2. They were not doubted of, but, as Clement and Origen say, (excepting only the epistle to the Hebrews,) were generally received by all orthodox Christians throughout the world. 3. The writers by whom they were cited lived either in those times when they were written, as Clemens Romanus, or in the very next age, as Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Irenæus; who were, therefore, styled apostolical men. 4. Those who cite these writings were eminent, both for their learning, and for their sufferings for the faith contained in them; or for their opposition to it, as Celsus was. Now, surely, we have unquestionable certainty of books which have been handed down to us by the tradition of all ages of the church, inserted in all her catalogues, cited by all her writers, as books of divine authority, and by her very adversaries; preserved so long in their originals, and of the authenticity of which no doubt was ever entertained by any genuine member of the Church of Christ. But, besides this, it must be observed,
Secondly. There are many circumstances of great weight, which are peculiar to these writings; as, 1. A general dispersion of them throughout all those places where any were converted to that faith which the apostles preached; for the apostles, says Irenæus, “first preached the gospel, and afterward, by the will of God, in Scripturis nobis tradiderunt, delivered it to us in writing, to be hereafter the pillar and foundation of our faith,” lib. 3. cap. 1. Eusebius bears the same testimony, Hist. Ecclesiastes lib. 3. cap. 37. 2. The translation of them into other languages; as into the Syriac, a translation so ancient, that it leaves out the second epistle of Peter, the second and third epistles of John, and the Revelation, as being books which, for a time, were controverted in some of the eastern churches; and into Latin, styled, in Jerome’s time, “the old translation;” and very probably made when the Latin Church was first planted, it being the custom of all churches to read the Scriptures on the Lord’s day, which certainly they would not do in a language not understood by those that heard 2:3. The constant reading of them, in public and in private, in their assemblies, and in their families and closets. “On Sundays,” saith Justin Martyr, “all the Christians in the city or country meet together, and then we have read unto us the writings of the prophets, τα απομνημονευματα των αποστολων , the monuments of the apostles;” and having read them, they publicly expounded them to the people. They were also read by the most eminent and pious Christians every day, ut discat unusquisque ex Scripturis sanctis officium suum, “that every one may learn his duty from the Holy Scriptures.” Consti. of Clement, lib. 6. cap. 27. 4. The dreadful torments which the Christians chose to suffer, rather than they would desert the faith contained in these books, or deliver them up to their tormentors, and the infamy of those that did so, they being branded with the odious name of traditores, or “deliverers up,” namely, of the sacred writings. Now, what writings in the world have been so generally dispersed, so much perused by all sorts of persons, friends, foes, asserters of and enemies to the faith of Christians? What laws or writings have been so early translated into other languages? Who were so much concerned to peruse any laws or writings, as all Christians were to peruse the laws of Christ? Who suffered so much for any books, as the Christians did for theirs? Since, then, this early reading of these records, in public and in private, by the Christians, this general dispersion of them through all Christian churches, this quick translation of them into other languages, this constant suffering for them, are all corroborating circumstances of the unquestionable evidence all Christians had obtained that they were genuine and authentic writings, and indeed what they pretended to be; it is also clear that these records are more worthy to be received as genuine, and books of unquestionable truth, than any profane writings in the world.
We come now to speak of the internal arguments which are usually offered to prove other writings genuine. These are taken from the things contained in them; such as that they were proper to the times in which the authors were supposed to write, and free from every thing not well consistent with those times, which are mean and trifling circumstances, compared to those internal arguments which these epistles afford; that they are the authentic records of those apostles whose names they bear; and that those things which they assert, especially respecting the gifts and powerful operations of the Holy Ghost, both exercised by them, and conferred on others, with all the other facts which they attest, were unquestionably true. For,
1. It is not once or twice, it is not by the by; but it is frequently, professedly, and upon all occasions, that they refer to those miraculous powers and spiritual gifts, as yielding a full proof and confirmation of the testimony they bore to Christ; and that “Christ was among them;” and as a demonstration of the truth of their apostleship against all opposers, and of the preference of that faith which was attended with such gifts and powers, above the Mosaic law, which some desired to observe; spending whole chapters in discoursing of these spiritual endowments, distinguishing them somewhat nicely into gifts, administrations, and operations, ranking them under nine several heads, (1 Corinthians 12:8-10,) and specifying the very names of those who did by office exercise them; and showing the necessity there was of this variety of gifts and operations in the body; appealing to the senses, the consciences, and the experience of those to whom they wrote, touching the truth and certainty of what they asserted respecting these spiritual gifts. See especially Romans 15:18-19; 1 Corinthians 9:1-2; 1 Corinthians 12:4, &c.; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Galatians 3:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:5.
2. These men, in these very writings, speak confidently of the “testimony of their conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity they had their conversation in the world;” that they wrote no other thing than what their converts did acknowledge, and they trusted would acknowledge, to the end; that they were “made manifest” to God, and they “trusted were also made manifest” in the consciences of those to whom they wrote; representing it as a great absurdity that they should be found false witnesses to God, and distinguishing themselves from others, whom they call false apostles and deceitful workers, by this very character of their sincerity. See 2 Corinthians 1:13; 2Co 5:11 ; 1 Corinthians 15:15; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2Co 4:2 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:3-10. Now, with what face could they have asserted these things, if they had known that in these very epistles they had declared (for instance, respecting their miracles) what even the senses and experience of those to whom they wrote must assure them were the greatest falsehoods? Or how could they to whom they wrote give credit to such impudent untruths as these must be, if the relations which they made of these miraculous operations had been mere fictions? This, therefore, is a farther evidence of their sincerity and truth in these relations.
3. Let us observe how the apostle treats those churches of Corinth and Galatia, respecting which he speaks most copiously of these operations of the Holy Ghost, and how they stood affected to him. The Corinthians are represented by him as schismatical; (1 Corinthians 1:0.;) as carnal; (chap. 3.;) as glorying in an incestuous person; (chap. 5.;) as contentious, to their own shame, and the scandal of Christianity; (chap. 6.;) as murmurers, tempters of Christ, fornicators, idolaters, partakers of the table of devils; (chap. 10.;) as coming to the Lord’s supper, not for the better, but for the worse, offending in it both against the rules of charity and temperance, and also against faith, in not discerning the Lord’s body; (chap. 11.;) as guilty of emulations, schisms, and contentions, touching spiritual persons, and of vain glory in the exercise of their spiritual gifts; (chap. 12., 14.;) and as deniers of that resurrection which was the great foundation of all the future hopes of Christians, chap. 15. In his second epistle he declares his fears that he might find among them debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, back- bitings, whisperings; and that he should find among them many who had not yet repented of the fornication and lasciviousness which they had committed, (2 Corinthians 12:20.) And for these things, if not reformed, he threatens he will use sharpness, and come to them with a rod, chap. 10:6; 13:2. .He charges the Galatians with apostacy; (chap. 1:6;) and represents them as foolish and bewitched in falling from that gospel by which they had received spiritual gifts, to the beggarly elements of the law, (chap. 3:1-16.) Now, how could the Corinthians be guilty of such emulations about spiritual persons, or such disorders in the exercise of their spiritual gifts, provided there were among them no such persons, and they had no such gifts? How could they fear the lashes of his rod, on the account of crimes of which they neither were nor could be guilty? Why should they not be rather for Cephas, or Apollos, than for Paul, if Paul imposed upon them with false stories and sensible untruths? Or why should not the Galatians even quit that gospel, in which he endeavoured to confirm them only by an appeal to that which they must know to be a lie? Moreover, the affections of the members of these churches were not so firm to him, and their esteem of him was not so great, as that he might securely lessen it by venturing on such arts of falsehood; for he found some of these Corinthians puffed up against him, and preferring others much before him; (1 Corinthians 4:18;) charging him with lightness and inconstancy; (2 Corinthians 1:17;) and with walking according to the flesh, (chap. 10:2.) He complains that they were straitened in their bowels of affection toward him, and that the more he loved them, the less he was beloved by them; (chap. 12:15;) that they questioned his apostleship, and even sought a proof of Christ’s speaking in him, (chap. 13:3.) He represents the Galatians as questioning his apostleship and doctrine, or thinking him much inferior in both to others; (chap. 1.;) and as supposing he dissembled with them, and elsewhere preached himself that circumcision he condemned in them, (chap. 2.; 5:11.) Now, under these circumstances, could he hope to repair his credit with them, and to establish the apostleship they questioned, by an appeal to, and relation of, such things as both their senses and experience showed to be manifest untruths? But,
4. If it could be supposed that these churches were so stupid and insensible that they did not, or so partially affected to the apostle that they would not, take notice of these things; these epistles inform us of other subtle and industrious adversaries, men zealous to oppose and adulterate the gospel which he preached, and desirous to find occasion to lessen the promoters of it, and to advance themselves above them; false apostles, and deceitful workers, who transformed themselves into the apostles of Christ, when in truth they were ministers of Satan; men who corrupted the word of God, and sought to corrupt others from the simplicity that is in Christ, (2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 10:12, &c.; 11:12, 13, 15.) Among the Galatians also there were evil agents, who troubled them, and would pervert the gospel of Christ, false brethren, who came in privily to spy out their liberty, and desired to exclude the apostles, that they might be affected (or loved) by them, chap. 1:7; 2:4; 4:17. Now, if he himself had been a vain talker and deceitful worker, one who endeavoured to impose upon them with false tales, with what face could he object those things to others of which he himself was so guilty? Or how could they, whom he confidently accused as guilty of these things, neglect this obvious reply to such an accusation, that he himself, in his appeal to the miraculous operations of the Holy Ghost for confirmation of his doctrine and apostleship, had done the very thing he laid to their charge? We have no reason to suspect that all, or any, of these adversaries neglected any pains to search into the truth of what Paul thus offered to confirm his doctrine and magnify his office, and to vindicate himself from the aspersions which they cast upon him. Since, then, we never find the truth of these relations questioned by any of those Jews who thirsted for his blood, or by those Judaizing Christians who so vehemently inveighed against his doctrine, his person, and his office; and since we are assured by the event, that if they ever made any such attempts they all proved ineffectual to impair the credit of those writings in the Christian world; it may be certainly concluded that these epistles could not be convicted of falsehood, but contained matter of unquestionable truth in these assertions, touching the powerful operations of the Holy Ghost.
Lastly. Let us consider what the apostles suffered for this testimony, and what it cost them to propagate this faith throughout the Christian world, and in what tragical expressions they are set forth in Scripture. “God,” saith Paul, “hath set forth us, the apostles, last, as it were appointed to death; for we are made a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men,” &c., 1 Corinthians 4:9-13. See also 1Co 15:31 ; 2 Corinthians 6:4-5; 2 Corinthians 1:8. And in the eleventh chapter he gives such a dreadful account of his own afflictions as can scarcely be read without trembling. Now, by what motive could they be actuated in the publication of that faith, for which they suffered all that wit and malice could inflict upon them, but the conviction of the truth of what they published; seeing they actually lost all in this, and could expect no blessings in another world for calling God to witness to a lie? The moralists assure us, that it is impossible for men to act without the appearance of some good to be pursued by that action; that love of life, and a desire of self-preservation, is common to us with brutes; and it is natural both for them and us to endeavour to avoid misery and torments. If, then, the apostles did actually abandon all the enjoyments and expectations both of this and of a better life, and wilfully subject themselves unto the worst of misery and torments, in propagation of a testimony from which they could expect no profit or advantage, they must be even bereft of common sense, renounce the natural instincts of mankind, and be in love with misery and ruin. It is indeed possible for men to lay down their lives for false opinions, provided they believe them true; but if the apostles were guilty of practising any cheat at all in this matter, it must have been of a known imposture, and they must have sacrificed their lives for what they knew to be a falsehood, that is, for a thing from which they could expect no good at all; a conduct which seems so inconsistent with the common principles of reason and self- love that it is quite incredible that any should be guilty of it. And this, it is hoped, may be sufficient to convince any reasonable person that these epistles were the genuine writings of the apostles, and that the truth of what they so copiously assert concerning the miraculous gifts and operations of the Holy Ghost, vouchsafed to the believers of these times, cannot be reasonably contested.
Archdeacon Paley, in the conclusion of his “Horæ Paulinæ,” having given a short, but comprehensive view of the evidences by which the authenticity of St. Paul’s epistles is established beyond all possibility of doubt, thus proceeds: “If it be true that we are in possession of the very letters which St. Paul wrote, let us consider what confirmation they afford to the Christian history. In my opinion, they substantiate the whole transaction. The great object of modern research is, to come at the epistolary correspondence of the times. Amidst the obscurities, the silence, or the contradictions of history, if a letter can be found, we regard it as the discovery of a landmark; as that by which we can correct, adjust, or supply the imperfections and uncertainties of other accounts. One cause of the superior credit which is attributed to letters is this; that the facts which they disclose generally come out incidentally, and therefore without design to mislead the public by false or exaggerated accounts. This reason may be applied to St. Paul’s epistles with as much justice as to any letters whatever. Nothing could be farther from the intention of the writer than to record any part of his history. That his history was, in fact, made public by these letters; and has, by the same means, been transmitted to future ages, is a secondary and unthought-of effect. The sincerity, therefore, of the apostle’s declarations, cannot reasonably be disputed. But these letters form a part of the monuments of Christianity, as much to be valued for their contents, as for their originality. A more inestimable treasure the care of antiquity could not have sent down to us. Besides the proof they afford of the general reality of Paul’s history, of the knowledge which the author of the Acts of the Apostles had obtained of that history, and the consequent probability that he was what he professes himself to have been, a companion of the apostles; besides the support they lend to these important inferences, they meet specifically some of the principal objections upon which the adversaries of Christianity have thought proper to rely. In particular, they show,
1. “That Christianity was not a story set on foot amidst the confusion which attended, and immediately preceded, the destruction of Jerusalem; when many extravagant reports were circulated, when men’s minds were broken by terror and distress, when, amidst the tumults that surrounded them, inquiry was impracticable. These letters show incontestably that the religion had fixed and established itself before this state of things took place.
2. “Whereas it hath been insinuated, that our gospels may have been made up of reports and stories which were current at the time, we may observe that, with respect to the epistles, this is impossible. A man cannot write the history of his own life from reports; nor, what is the same thing, be led by reports to refer to passages and transactions in which he states himself to have been immediately present and active. I do not allow that this insinuation is applied to the historical part of the New Testament with any colour of justice or probability; but I say, that to the epistles it is not applicable at all.
3. “These letters prove that the converts to Christianity were not drawn from the barbarous, the mean, or the ignorant set of men, which the representations of infidelity would sometimes make them. We learn from letters the character not only of the writers, but, in some measure, of the persons to whom they are written. To suppose that these letters were addressed to a rude tribe, incapable of thought or reflection, is just as reasonable as to suppose Locke’s Essay on theHuman Understanding to have been written for the instruction of savages. Whatever may be thought of these letters, in other respects, either of diction or argument, they are certainly removed as far as possible from the habits and comprehension of a barbarous people.
4. “St. Paul’s history, I mean so much of it as may be collected from his letters, is so implicated with that of the other apostles, and with the substance, indeed, of the Christian history itself, that I apprehend it will be found impossible to admit St. Paul’s story (I do not speak of the miraculous part of it) to be true, and yet to reject the rest as fabulous. For instance: Can any one believe that there was such a man as Paul, a preacher of Christianity, in the age which we assign to him, and not believe that there were also at the same time such men as Peter, and James, and other apostles, who had been companions of Christ during his life, and who, after his death, published and avowed the same things concerning him which Paul taught?
5. “St. Paul’s letters furnish evidence (and what better evidence than a man’s own letters can be desired?) of the soundness and sobriety of his judgment. His caution in distinguishing between the occasional suggestions of inspiration, and the ordinary exercise of his natural understanding, is without example in the history of human enthusiasm. His morality is everywhere calm, pure, and rational; adapted to the condition, the activity, and the business of social life, and of its various relations; free from the over- scrupulousness and austerities of superstition, and from (what was more perhaps to be apprehended) the abstractions of quietism, and the soarings or extravagances of fanaticism. His judgment concerning a hesitating conscience; his opinion of the moral indifference of many actions, yet of the prudence and even duty of compliance, where non-compliance would produce evil effects upon the minds of the persons who observed it, is as correct and just as the most liberal and enlightened moralist could form at this day. One thing I allow, that his letters everywhere discover great zeal and earnestness in the cause in which he was engaged; that is to say, he was convinced of the truth of what he taught; he was deeply impressed, but not more so than the occasion merited, with a sense of its importance. This produced a corresponding animation and solicitude in the exercise of his ministry. But would not these considerations, supposing them to be well founded, have holden the same place, and produced the same effect, in a mind the strongest and the most sedate?
6. “These letters are decisive as to the sufferings of the author; also, as to the distressed state of the Christian Church, and the danger which attended the preaching of the gospel. See Colossians 1:24; 1Co 15:19 ; 1 Corinthians 15:30-32; Romans 8:17-18; Romans 8:35-36; 1 Corinthians 7:25-26; Philippians 1:29-30; Galatians 6:14; Gal 6:17 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:4. We may seem to have accumulated texts unnecessarily; but, besides that the point which they are brought to prove is of great importance, there is this also to be remarked in every one of the passages cited, that the allusion is drawn from the writer by the argument on the occasion; that the notice which is taken of his sufferings, and of the suffering condition of Christianity, is perfectly incidental, and is dictated by no design of stating the facts themselves, a circumstance which adds greatly to the value and credit of the testimony. In the following quotations, the reference to the author’s sufferings is accompanied with a specification of time and place, and with an appeal for the truth of what he declares, to the knowledge of the persons whom he addresses, 1 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Timothy 3:10-11. I apprehend, that to this point, as far as the testimony of St. Paul is credited, the evidence from his letters is complete and full. It appears under every form in which it could appear, by occasional allusions and by direct assertions, by general declarations and by specific examples.
7. “St. Paul, in these letters, asserts, in positive and unequivocal terms, his performance of miracles, strictly and properly so called, Gal 3:5 ; 1 Corinthians 2:4-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; Hebrews 2:4; Romans 15:15; Romans 15:18-19; 2 Corinthians 12:12. ‘Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you, in all patience, by signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.’ These words, ‘signs, wonders, and mighty deeds’ ( σημεια και τερατα , και δυναμεις ,) are the specific, appropriate terms throughout the New Testament, employed when public, sensible miracles are intended to be expressed. And it cannot be shown that they are ever employed to express any thing else. Further: these words not only denote miracles as opposed to natural effects, but they denote visible, and what may be called external miracles; as distinguished, first, from inspiration. If St. Paul had meant to refer only to secret illuminations of his understanding, or secret influences upon his will or affections, he could not with truth have represented them as ‘signs and wonders,’ wrought by him, or ‘signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds’ wrought among them. Secondly, from visions. These would not by any means satisfy the force of the terms, ‘signs, wonders, and mighty deeds;’ still less could they be said to be wrought by him, or wrought among them; nor are these terms and expressions anywhere applied to visions. Upon the whole, the matter admits of no softening qualification or ambiguity whatever. If St. Paul did not work actual, sensible, public miracles, he has, knowingly, in these letters, borne his testimony to a falsehood; and, in some instances, has advanced his assertion in the face of those persons among whom he declares the miracles to have been wrought.
“Here then we have a man of liberal attainments, and, in other points, of sound judgment, who had addicted his life to the service of the gospel. We see him, in the prosecution of his purpose, travelling from country to country, enduring every species of hardship, encountering every extremity of danger, assaulted by the populace, punished by the magistrates, scourged, beaten, stoned, left for dead; expecting, wherever he came, a renewal of the same treatment and the same dangers; yet, when driven from one city, preaching in the next; spending his whole time in the employment, sacrificing to it his pleasures, his ease, his safety; persisting in his course to old age, unaltered by the experience of perverseness, ingratitude, prejudice, desertion; unsubdued by anxiety, want, labour, persecutions; unwearied by long confinement, undismayed by the prospect of death. Such was St. Paul. We have his letters in our hands; we have also a history purporting to be written by one of his fellow-travellers, and appearing, by a comparison with these letters, certainly to have been written by some person well acquainted with the transactions of his life. From the letters, as well as from the history, we gather, not only the account which we have stated of him, but that he was one, out of many, who acted and suffered in the same manner; and that of those who did so, several had been the companions of Christ’s ministry, the ocular witnesses of his miracles, and of his resurrection. We moreover find this same person referring in his letters to his supernatural conversion, the particulars and accompanying circumstances of which are related in the history, and which accompanying circumstances, if all or any of them be true, render it impossible to have been a delusion. We also find him positively, and in appropriate terms, asserting that he himself worked miracles, strictly and properly so called, in support of the mission which he executed; the history meanwhile recording various passages of his ministry which came up to the extent of this assertion. The question is, whether falsehood was ever attested by evidence like this? Falsehoods, we know, have found their way into reports, into tradition, into books; but is an example to be met with of a man voluntarily undertaking a life of want and pain, of incessant fatigue, of continual peril; submitting to the loss of his home and country, to stripes and stoning, to tedious imprisonment, and the constant expectation of a violent death, for the sake of carrying about a story of what was false, and of what, if false, he must have known to be so?” Horæ Pauline, chap. 16. pp. 405-426.
Such are some of the incontrovertible arguments which have been urged in proof of the truth of Christianity; arguments which all unprejudiced persons must acknowledge to be perfectly conclusive; and which, at the same time that they evince its truth, demonstrate its infinite importance, and the indispensable obligation which lies upon all to whom it is proposed to receive it in faith, love, and sincere obedience; persuaded that those who do not will assuredly meet with the punishment they have deserved, “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9. For if the Gentiles were given up to “vile affections and a reprobate mind” only for sins committed against the dim and uncertain light of nature; if the Jews received just punishment for “every transgression of the law,” delivered by Moses to them, “how shall we escape if we neglect this great salvation which at the first was spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed by them that heard him, God bearing them witness with signs and wonders, and divers miracles and distributions of the Holy Ghost?”
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS.
WITH respect to the order in which the epistles of St. Paul were written, it is worthy of observation, that although this epistle to the Romans is placed first, yet, as is observed by most of the ancient commentators, it was not the first which St. Paul wrote; the two epistles to the Thessalonians, and those to the Corinthians, the epistle to the Galatians, the first to Timothy, and that to Titus, being written before it. It is probable, therefore, that it was placed first, either because it was written to the imperial city, which then ruled almost the whole known world; or, as seems more likely, on account of its peculiar excellence, the great importance of the subjects discussed in it, and the comprehensiveness of its plan. It appears to have been written when Paul was travelling through Greece, probably from Corinth, after he had finished his tour in Macedonia, about A.D. 60. The chief arguments in proof of this have been intimated in the note on Acts 20:3. And, to what is there observed, it may be here added, that the salutations from Gaius, the apostle’s host, and from Erastus, chamberlain of the city, (Romans 16:23,) are further proofs that this epistle was written from Corinth. For that Gaius lived there seems plain from 1 Corinthians 1:14; as did Erastus likewise, 2 Timothy 2:14. Besides, Phœbe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea, the eastern port of Corinth, having been the bearer of this letter, Corinth, by that circumstance also, is so plainly pointed out as the place where it was composed, that there was no occasion for the apostle to be more particular. It was written to the Christians at Rome, before he had seen them, (chap. Romans 1:11,) and before he went up to Jerusalem; for he was then but going thither; (chap. Romans 15:25;) and purposed from thence to go by Rome to Spain, Acts 28:28.
Although the Scriptures do not inform us at what time, or by whom, the gospel was first preached at Rome, yet, from the following circumstances, it is probable that the church there was one of the first-planted Gentile churches, and that it soon became very numerous. “When St. Paul wrote this epistle to the Romans, their faith was spoken of throughout the whole world; (Romans 1:8;) and many of them possessed spiritual gifts; (Romans 12:6;) and their obedience was known to all men, Romans 16:19. Further: the fame of the church at Rome had reached the apostle long before he wrote this letter; for he told them, he had a desire for many years to come to them, Romans 15:23. The gospel, therefore, was introduced into Rome very early, perhaps by some of the disciples who were scattered abroad after Stephen’s death, in the end of the reign of Tiberius. Or the founding of the Roman church may have happened even before that period; for among the persons who heard Peter preach on the day of pentecost, and who were converted by him, ‘strangers of Rome’ are mentioned, Acts 2:10; Acts 2:41. These Roman Jews, on their return home, no doubt preached Christ to their countrymen in the city, and probably converted some of them; so that the church of Rome, like most of the Gentile churches, began in the Jews. But it was soon enlarged by converts from among the religious proselytes; and, in process of time, was increased by the flowing in of the idolatrous Gentiles, who gave themselves to Christ in such numbers that, at the time St. Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans, their conversion was much spoken of. These facts merit attention, because the opposers of our religion represent the first Christians as below the notice of the heathen magistrates, on account of the paucity of their numbers, and the obscurity with which they practised their religious rites. But if the faith of the Roman brethren was spoken of throughout the whole empire, at the time this letter was written, the disciples of Christ in Rome must have been numerous, and must have professed their religion openly; for the turning of a few obscure individuals in the city from the worship of idols, and their worshipping the true God clandestinely, could not be the subject of discourse in the provinces.” Macknight.
St. Paul’s chief design in this epistle was to show, 1. That neither the Gentiles by the law of nature, nor the Jews by the law of Moses, could obtain justification before God; and that therefore it was necessary for both to seek it from the free mercy of God by faith. 2. That God has an absolute right to show mercy on what terms he pleases; and to withhold it from those who will not accept it on his own terms. The epistle consists of five parts:
I. The introduction, Romans 1:1-15.
II. The proposition briefly proved: 50. Concerning faith and salvation; 2. Concerning the equality of believers, Jews or Gentiles, Acts 28:16-17.
III. The treatise: 1. Concerning justification, which is, (1.) Not by works; (Acts 28:18;) for the Gentiles; (Romans 2:1-10;) the Jews; (Acts 28:11-29;) and both together, are under sin, Romans 3:1-20: (2.) But by faith; (Acts 28:21-31;) as appears by the example of Abraham and the testimony of David, Romans 4:1-25. Romans 4:2. Concerning salvation, chap. 5-8. 3. Concerning the equal privileges of Jewish and Gentile believers, chap. 9-11.
IV. The exhortation, Romans 12:1; Romans 2:1. Concerning faith and its fruits, love and practical holiness, Acts 28:3-21; Rom 13:1 to Romans 10:2. Concerning salvation, Act 28:11 to Acts 14:3. Of the conjunction of the Jews and Gentiles, chap. Romans 14:1; Romans 15:13.
V. The conclusion, Acts 28:14; Romans 16:27.
To express the design and contents of this epistle a little more at large: the apostle labours throughout to fix in those to whom he writes a deep sense of the excellence of the gospel, and to engage them to act suitably to it. For this purpose, after a general salutation, (Romans 1:1-7,) and profession of his affection for them, (Acts 28:8-15,) he declares he shall not be ashamed openly to maintain the gospel at Rome, seeing it is the powerful instrument of salvation, both to Jews and Gentiles by means of faith, Acts 28:16-17. And, in order to demonstrate this, he shows,
1. That the world greatly needed such a dispensation, the Gentiles being in a most abandoned state, (Acts 28:18-31,) and the Jews, though condemning others, being themselves no better; (Romans 2:1-29;) as, notwithstanding some cavils, which he obviates, (Romans 3:1-8,) their own Scriptures testify; (Acts 28:9-19;) so that all were under a necessity of seeking justification by this method, Acts 28:20-31. Acts 28:2. That Abraham and David themselves sought justification by faith, and not by works, Romans 4:1-25. Romans 4:3. That all who believe are brought into so happy a state as turns the greatest afflictions into matter of joy, Rom 5:1 to Romans 11:4. That the evils brought on mankind by Adam are abundantly recompensed to all that believe in Christ, Acts 28:12-21. Acts 28:5. That, far from dissolving the obligations to practical holiness, the gospel increases them by peculiar obligations, Romans 6:1-23.
In order to convince them of these things the more deeply, and to remove their fondness for the Mosaic law, now they were married to Christ by faith in him, (Romans 7:1-6,) he shows how unable the motives of the law were to produce that holiness which believers obtain by a living faith in the gospel; (Romans 7:7-25; Romans 8:1-2;) and then gives a more particular view of those things which rendered the gospel effectual to this great end, Acts 28:3-31. That even the Gentiles, if they believed, should have a share in these blessings; and that the Jews, if they believed not, should be excluded from them; being a point of great importance, the apostle bestows the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters in settling it. He begins the ninth chapter by expressing his tender love and high esteem for the Jewish nation; (Acts 28:1-5;) and then shows, 1. That God’s rejecting a great part of the seed of Abraham, yea, and of Isaac too, was an undeniable fact, Act 28:6 to Acts 13:2. That God had not chosen them to such peculiar privileges for any kind of goodness, either in them or their fathers, Act 28:14 to Acts 24:3. That his accepting the Gentiles, and rejecting many of the Jews, had been foretold both by Hosea and Isaiah, Acts 28:25-31. Acts 28:4. That God had offered salvation to Jews and Gentiles on the same terms, though the Jews rejected it, Romans 10:1-21. Romans 10:5. That, though the rejection of Israel for their obstinacy was general, yet it was not total; there being still a remnant among them who did embrace the gospel, Romans 11:1-10. Romans 11:6. That the rejection of the rest was not final, but in the end all Israel should be saved, Acts 28:11-31. That, meantime, even their obstinacy and rejection served to display the unsearchable wisdom and love of God, Romans 11:32-36.
The rest of the epistle contains practical instructions and exhortations. He particularly urges, 1. An entire consecration of themselves to God, and a care to glorify him by a faithful improvement of their several talents, Rom 12:1 to Romans 11:2. Devotion, patience, hospitality, mutual sympathy, humility, peace, and meekness, Act 28:12 to Acts 21:3. Obedience to magistrates, justice in all its branches, love, the fulfilling of the law, and universal holiness, chap. Rom 13:1 to Romans 14:4. Mutual candour between those who differed in judgment, touching the observance of the Mosaic law; (Romans 14:1-23; Romans 15:1-17;) in enforcing which, he is led to mention the extent of his own labours, and his purpose of visiting the Romans, in the mean time recommending himself to their prayers, Acts 28:18-31. And, after many salutations, (Romans 14:1-16,) and a caution against those who caused divisions, he concludes with a suitable blessing and doxology, Acts 28:17-27.