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EPISTLES TO THE THESSALONIANS.
the church, or, as Jude expresses it, “there are certain men crept in unawares :" and after the apostles passed away, there was not the same power to arouse the slothful, or to correct that which was evil. I shall here add a short sketch of the books of the New Testament, according to the order of time in which they were written, as far as it can be ascertained by those who have most closely examined the evidence. About A.D. 38, Matthew, by the direction of the Holy Spirit, wrote the history of what he had heard and seen. It is supposed that his Gospel was originally written in Hebrew ; but translated into Greek at a very early period.
In A.D. 54, Paul wrote, by the same inspiration, his epistle to the church of the Thessalonians, whom he had, a little while before, been the happy instrument of turning from the power of Satan to God. He rejoices over them with great joy, and is confident about their election of God; because they had received the gospel, not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; and became such faithful followers of the Lord, that they were examples to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. They had turned from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, with the happy confidence that he had delivered them from the wrath to come. Their state was a testimony to the comfort arising from this blessed hope, when in lively exercise. From the second epistle, we find their faith grew exceedingly, and their love abounded : but in the midst of all their joy they were taught this solemn truth, “The mystery of iniquity doth already work;” and prophecies concerning events still before us were committed to their faithful keeping. But even in this blessed church some of the brethren were walking in a disorderly manner, and the rest were commanded to withdraw from them. The fault among them seemed to be, that they were not quietly going on with their daily work, earning their bread by the labour of their hands; and for such a fault a man was not to be accounted as an enemy, but admonished as a brother. In A.D. 56, the first epistle to the Corinthians was written; and here it is that we have such a humiliating view of the failure of man, even as the temple of the Holy Ghost: it is the most lively picture of the lusting or warring of the flesh against the Spirit. The enemy too had been very busy in this part of the field, for the EPISTLES TO THE CORINTHIANS.
natural soil was a favourable one for him to work upon : and as the husbandman sows the seed inost likely to prosper in certain ground, so the subtle adversary did here. The philosophical spirit and habits of the Greeks, whereby they were divided into various schools, some preferring one master and some another, led to serious evil in the church gathered out of this learned and highly polished people. There were divisions or factions among the saints, some admiring the teaching of Paul, some that of Apollos, and so on. A worldly spirit was also among them; and Paul contrasts their condition with his own. They were full and rich, and reigned as kings (forgetting that one body of saints could not be rightly reigning before the rest, or while Christ was still rejected by the world) : they were accounted wise, and strong, and honourable, but the exact reverse of all this was the state of the Lord's faithful servants, and he entreats them to follow him. Their republican spirit was also stirred up by the devil; and there were some who were puffed up, and ready to despise the rule of the Holy Ghost through the apostle. And so, all through the epistle, there is nothing but exposure of evil, and the remedy of it all by the energy of the Spirit of God. In fact, in this short epistle, there seems to be a summing up of all the evils that can afflict the church of God internally. There was backwardness to judge the evil within the church; brother going to law with brother, disorder in the common relationships of life, offending weak brethren, questioning even Paul's apostleship, abuse of the Lord's supper and of the Pentecostal gifts, denial of the resurrection, or foolish reasoning about it, &c. But there was apostolical power to meet all this ; and Paul's letter was to serve as lasting instruction for the Church throughout all ages. He sends with it Timothy, to remind them of his ways and of his teaching ; and in order that he may spare them, he delays to go in person to Corinth. Such power was lodged in the apostles' hands as was never lodged any where else (1 Cor. v. 5; 2 Cor. i. 23 : xii. 1, 3, 10): and if such were the manifestations of evil in their days, we cannot be astonished at any that have taken place since. In A. D. 57, the second epistle to the Corinthians was written. It is as the pouring in of oil and wine after the salutary wounds made by the sword of the Spirit: it is the binding up of the broken-hearted and the comforting of them that mourn. It is full of consolation, mingled with the
EPISTLES TO THE ROMANS AND EPHESIANS.
most powerful exhortations and warnings : and from subsequent church history, we have reason to believe that the health of the church of Corinth was preserved as long as that of other churches. In A.D. 58, the seventh year of Nero's reign, the epistle to the Romans was written. The character of it is instruction and rebuke. It is possible the lion without kept the sheep clinging more closely to their shepherd, and more united in the fold : but all the precepts and warnings at the close showed that there was a danger of their going astray, and that there were precipices down which they might fall. Conformity to the world, self-esteem, neglect of their right places in the body, want of love, pride, insubjection, and all other evils might creep in amongst them and cause them to stumble by the way. Difference of judgment about things immaterial, and condemnation of one another on that account, had already sprung up; and the growth of these evils, we shall afterwards see, occasioned the most grievous sin among the Roman Christians.
In A. D. 61, the epistle to the church of Ephesus was written. The year before, on his way to Jerusalem, Paul had made a farewell address to the elders or overseers of this blessed flock, which it is most important to consider in these days when so much stress is laid upon apostolical succession (Acts xx. 17–38). Before he takes his leave of them he says, “ I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also, of your own selves, shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch,” &c. With this perilous prospect of evil from without and evil from within, he would surely have spoken of his appointed successors, if the safety of the church depended on them : but looking forwards rather to a succession of grievous wolves, and men speaking perverse things, he says, with the greatest distinctness and simplicity, “I commend you to God and to the word of his grace.” And in writing the next year to all the believers at Ephesus, it is still “ God and the word of his grace” that he sets before them, and not even the twelve that had received the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost (Acts xix. 6—7); or those who had been made overseers by the Holy Ghost (Acts xx. 28). This epistle is instruction for all ages. Chap. i.- What the church is, as the body of Christ. Chap. ii.—The way in which they formed a part of it; quickened with Christ-by grace—through faith-builded together for an
LAST EPISTLES OF PETER, PAUL, AND JUDE.
habitation of God through the Spirit. Chap. iii. -The wisdom and glory of God displayed in the church. Chap. iv, v.-The oneness of the body, and the walk of the children of God. The mystery of the union between Christ and his church. Chap. vi. -Final exhortations, suited to the church of God as to its earthly relationships and state of warfare.
About A.D. 64, it is supposed, that Luke wrote his two treatises to Theophilus; viz. the Gospel, and the Acts of the Apostles, for the use of the Greek believers. In the same year, probably, the epistle to the Hebrews was written, as mentioned before : also those to the churches of Philippi and Colosse ; and that to Philemon, on which I would gladly dwell did my limits permit.
About A.D. 65, it is said, Mark, who was imprisoned at Rome, was directed to write his Gospel for the use of the Christians there. In the same year Paul wrote his first epistle to Timothy and that to Titus, and Peter his first epistle. The year following Peter and Paul probably wrote their second epistles, shortly before their martyrdom. The epistle of Jude is supposed to have been written about the same time. The character of these three epistles is very marked; and there is a striking agreement between them. All contain the most distinct exhibition of evils already apparent in the church of God, with prophecies of coming danger and increasing evil. All of them, moreover, contain the plainest directions for the faithful till the end of the dispensation. The epistle of Jude is expressly addressed to those who are preserved in Christ Jesus, not to any particular church ; and in the midst of all the evils around them, they are thrown simply upon the words spoken by the apostles, directed to build up themselves on their most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, &c., and commended to no human care, but to Him who is able to keep them from falling.
The epistles of John, the Revelation, and the Gospel belong to a later period, and will be mentioned hereafter.
The foregoing chapter must be read by way of parenthesis, as it will enable you better to understand the state of the Christians, when the second general persecution came upon them in the reign of Domitian.
DOMITIAN, EMPEROR.—HIS CHARACTER.-HIS CRUELTY.-PER
SECUTION OF THE CHRISTIANS.—MURDER OF DOMITIAN.
NERVA, EMPEROR.-HIS CHARACTER. DEATH OF NERVA. DOMITIAN, who succeeded his brother Titus, A.D. 81, was the last and worst of the emperors distinguished as the twelve Cæsars. He had not lived on good terms with his father; and only the entreaties of Titus, during the Jewish war, had reconciled Vespasian to his disobedient son : yet, as we have said before, he was suspected of hastening the death of his affectionate brother. Domitian began his reign with some appearance of justice and mercy; but his real disposition was soon discovered : and it is probable the respect for him, as the son and brother of their most beloved emperors, preserved him from the rage of the people during sixteen years more effectually than the strong guard with which he was surrounded. Vespasian and Titus had encouraged literature ; and the latter was both a poet and an orator : but Domitian had never applied himself to study, and banished all learned men from his presence. Archery, horsemanship, and wrestling were his favourite pursuits; and he was so skilful in his aim, that he could send his arrows through the extended fingers of a slave, who stood for that purpose at a great distance. In his solitude he amused himself by catching flies, and sticking them through with a sharp bodkin ; so that when a servant belonging to the palace was asked if his master were alone, he replied, that “ he had not even a fly left to keep him company.” As we see Domitian's rapid progress in cruelty from these small beginnings, I hope my dear young friends will learn to love mercy, and not wilfully increase the groans of the creation, which is in the bondage of corruption and in pain on account of sin (Rom. viii. 20-22).
At the commencement of his reign, Domitian renewed an inquiry his father had before made, as to whether any of the royal line remained among the Jews, who would be likely to dispute his title to the possession of Judea. On this occasion, it is said, that some one, out of enmity to the Christians, brought forward the grandsons of Jude, the Lord's brother, as descendants of the house of David. Upon examination, they spoke to the emperor of Christ and his kingdom; and he, being