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EPISTLE OF ST. PAUL
WRIT IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 63, OF NERO IX.
SYNOPSIS. OUR Saviour had, so openly and expressly, declared, to his disciples, the destruction of the temple, that they could, by no means, doubt of it; nor of this consequence of it, viz. that the on, customs or rites of the mosaical law, as they are called, Acts vi. 14, and xxi. 21, were to cease with it. And this St. Stephen, by what is laid to bis charge, Acts vi. 13, 14, seems to have taught. And upon tiis ground it might very well be, that the apostles and church of Jerusalem required no more of the convert gentiles, than the ob servance of such things as were sufficient to satisfy the jews, that they were not still heathens and idolaters. But, as for the rest of the mosaical rites, they required not the convert gentiles (to whom the mosaical law was not given) to observe them. This being a very natural and obvious consequence, which they could not but see, that if by the destruction of the temple and worship of the jews, those rites were speedily to be taken away, they were not observances necessary to the people of God, and of perpetual obligation. Thus far, it is plain, the other apostles were instructed, and satisfied of the freedom of the gentile converts from complying with the ritual law. But, whether it was revealed to them, with the same clearness as it was to St. Paul, that the jews “ law.
too, as well as the gentiles, who were converted to the chris. tian faith, were discharged from their foriner obligation to the ritual law of Moses, and freed from those observances, may be doubted : because, as we see, they had not at all instructed their converts of the circuincision, of their being set at liberty from that yoke; which, it is very likely, they would not have forborn to have done, if they had been convinced of it themselves. For, in all that discourse concerning this question, Acts xv. 1-21, there is not one syllable said, of the jews being discharged, by faith in the Messiah, from the observance of any of the mosaical rites. Nor does it appear, that the apostles of the circumcision ever taught their disciples, or suggested to them, any such thing, which one can scarce imagine, they could have neglected, if it had been revealed to them, and so given them in charge. It is certain, their converts had never been taught any such thing. For St. James himself acquaints us, Acts xxi. 20, that the “ many thousands, that believed, were all zealous of the
And what his own opinion of those rites, was, way be seen, ver. 24, where he calls keeping this part of the law,
walking orderly:" and he is concerned to have St. Paul thought a strict observer thereof. All which could not bave been, if it had been revealed to bim, as positively and expressly as it was to St. Paul, that all believers, in the Mes. siah, jews as well as gentiles, were absolved from the law of Moses, and were under no obligation to observe those ceremonies any longer, they being now no longer necessary to the people of God, in this his new kingdom, erected under the Messiah; nor indeed was it necessary, that this particular point should have been, from the beginning, revealed to the other apostles, who were sufficiently instructed for their mission, and the conversion of their brethren, the jews, · by the Holy Ghost bringing to their minds (as was promised) all that our Saviour had said unto them, in his life-time here, amongst them, in the true sense of it. But the sending their to the jews with this message, that the law was abolished, was to cross the very design of sending them; it was to be speak an aversion to their doctrine; and to stop the ears of the jew's, and turn their hearts from them. But St. Paul, receiving his whole knowledge of the gospel, immediately from heaven, by revelation, seems to have this particular in
struction added, to fit him for the mission he was chosen to, and make him an effectual messenger of the gospel, by fur
nishing him presently with this necessary truth, concerning 1 the cessation of the law, the knowledge whereof could not 5. but come in time to the other apostles, when it should be
seasonable. Whether this be not so, I leave it to be considered.
This, at least, is certain, that St Paul alone, more than all the rest of the apostles, was taken notice of to have preached, that the coining of Christ put an end to the law, and that, in the kingdom of God, erected under the Messiah, the observation of the law was neither required, nor availed aught; faith in Christ was the only condition of admittance, both for jew and gentile, all, who believed, being now equally the people of God, whether circumcised, or uncircumcised This was that, which the jews,, zealous of the law, which they took to be the irrevocable, unalterable charter of the people of God, and the standing rule of his kingdom, could by no means bear. And therefore, provoked by this report of St. Paul, the jews, both converts as well as others, looked upon him as a dangerous innovator, and an
enemy to the true religion, and, as such, seized on him in T
the temple, Acts xxi. upon occasion whereof it was, that he was a prisoner at Rome, when he writ this epistle, where he seems to be concerned, lest now, he, that was the apostle of the gentiles, from whom alone the doctrine of their exemption from the law bad its rise and support, was in bonds, upon that very account, it might give an opportunity to those judaizing professors of christianity, who contended that the gentiles, unless they were circumcised after the manner of Moses, could not be saved, to unsettle the minds, and shake the faith of those, whom he had converted. This being the controversy, from whence rose the great trouble and danger that, in the time of our apostle, disturbed the churches collected from among the gentiles. That, which chiefly disquieted the minds, and shook the faith of those, who from heathenism were converted to christianity, was this doctrine, that, except the converts from paganism were circumcised, and thereby subjected themselves to the law and the jewish rites, they could have no benefit by the gospel, as may be seen all through the Acts, and in almost all St. Paul's episVOL. VIII.
tles. Wherefore, when he heard that the ephesians stood firm in the faith, whereby he means their confidence of their title to the privileges and benefits of the gospel, without submission to the law (for the introducing the legal observances into the kingdom of the Messiah, he declared to be a subversion of the gospel, and contrary to the great and glorious design of that kingdom) he thanks God for them, and, setting forth the gracious and glorious design of God towards them, prays that they may be enlightened, so as to be able to see the mighty things done for them, and the immense advantages they receive by it
. In all which he displays the glorious state of that kingdom, not in the ordinary way of argumentation and formal reasoning; which had no place in an epistle, writ as this is, all as it were in a rapture, and in a style far above the plain, didactical way; he pretends not to teach them any thing, but couches all, that he would drop into their minds, in thanksgivings and prayers, which affording a greater liberty and fight to his thoughts
, he gives utterance to them, in noble and sublime expressions, suitable to the unsearchable wisdom and goodness of God, shown to the world in the work of redemption. This, though perhaps at first sight, it may render his meaning a little obscure, and bis expressions the harder to be understood, yet, by the assistance of the two following epistles, which were both writ, whilst he was in the same circumstances, upon the same occasion, and to the same purpose, the sense and doctrine of the apostle here may be so clearly seen, and so perfectly comprehended, that there can hardly be a doubt left about it, to any one, who will examine them diligently and carefully compare them together. The epistle
to the colossians seems to be writ the very same time, in the same run and warmth of thoughts, so that the very same expressions, yet fresh in his mind, are repeated in many places; the form, phrase, matter, and all the parts quite through, of these two epistles do so perfectly correspond, that one cannot be mistaken, in thinking one of them very fit to give light to the other. And that to the philippians, writ also by St. Paul, during his bonds at Rome, when attentively looked into, will be found to have the same aim with the other two; so that, in these three epistles taken together, one may see the great design of the gospel laid down, as far surpassing the law,