« PreviousContinue »
was not long before the apostle's death, which happened, as is generally agreed, in the thirteenth year of Nero.
82. From these observations it appears, that our best guide is Paul's being sent prisoner to Rome; which was in the first year of Festus, after he had been detained two years in prison, at Cæsarea, by Felix, Acts xxiv, 27; xxv, 26, 27; and this most probably corresponds with the fourth or fifth year of Nero, which was the fifty-ninth year from the nativity. Two years after, the seventh of Nero, and sixty-first of our Lord, he obtained his liberty, which was about thirteen years after the determination of the controversy about Mosaical institutions, Acts xv. Now, presently after his liberty, whilst he abode in some part of Italy, expecting the coming of Timothy, before he had entered upon the journey he had promised to the Philippians, chap. ii, 24, he wrote this epistle. The time being thus fixed, it
proper to consider, $3. What was the general state and condition of the Hebrews in those days? That the church had a great share of suffering, in the outrage and misery of those days, about the death of Festus, who died in the province, and the beginning of the government of Albinus, who succeeded him, none can question; vid. Joseph. Wars of the Jews, B. ï. This is what the apostle mentions, chap. x, 31—34, “Ye endured, &c.” And this was the lot of all honest and sober-minded men in those days, it being not a special persecution, but a general calamity that the apostle speaks of. For a direct attack upon the church was first made by Ananus, who was a rash young fellow, by sect a Saducee, and yet advanced to the priesthood. During the interval between the death of Festus, and the settling of Albinus, this cruel Saducee, placed in power by Agrippa. summons James before himself and his associates, where he is condemned, and immediately stoned.
$4. The churches at this time in Jerusalem and Judea were very numerous. The oppressors, robbers, and seditious of all sorts, being wholly intent upon the pursuit of their own ends, filling the nation with tumults and disorders, the disciples of Christ, who knew that the time of their preaching the gospel to their countrymen was but short, and even now expiring, followed their work with diligence and success, being not greatly regarded in the dust of that confusion which was raised by the nation, while rushing into its fatal ruin.
All these churches were, together with the profession of the gospel, zealously addicted to the observance of the law of Moses. The synod indeed at Jerusalem had determined, that the yoke of the law should not be put on the necks of the Gentile converts, Acts xv; but eighi or nine years after that, when Paul came up to Jerusalem again, chap. xxi, 20–22, James informs him, that the many thousands of the Jews who believed, did all zealously observe the law of Moses; and, moreover, judged that all those who were Jews by birth, ought to do so also; and on that account were like enough to assemble in a disorderly multitude, to inquire into the practice of Paul himself, who had been ill-reported of amongst them. On this account they kept their assemblies distinct from those of the Gentiles, all over the world.* All those Hebrews, then, to whom Paul wrote this epistle, continued in the use and practice of Mosaical worship, as celebrated in the temple, and in their synagogues, with all other legal institutions whatever. Whether they did this out of an unacquainted
*Hieron. in Gal. i.
ness with their liberty in Christ, or out of a pertinacious adherence to their own prejudicate opinions, I shall not determine..
$5. From this time forward, the body of the Jewish people saw not a day of peace and quietness; tumults, seditions, outrages, robberies, murders, increased all over the nation. And these things, by various degrees, made way for that fatal war; which, beginning about six or seven years after the death of James, ended in the utter desolation of the people, city, temple, and worship, foretold so long before by Daniel the prophet. This was that day of the Lord, the sudden approach of which the apostle declares to them, Heb. x, 36, 37, ‘For ye have need of patience; that “after ye have done the will of God, ye may receive “the promise; for yet a little while, and he that shall 'come will come, and will not tarry;' (lucypov ogov osov)
little while, less than you think of. The manner of it he declares, Heb. xii, 26, 28. And by this means, he effectually diverted them from a pertinacious adherence to those things, whose dissolution, from God himself, was so nigh at hand; which argument was also afterwards pressed by Peter, 2 Pet. iii.
Our blessed Savior had long before warned his disciples of all these things; particularly of the desolation that was to come upon the Jews, with the tumults, distresses, persecutions, and wars, which should precede it; directing them to the exercise of patience in discharging their duty, until the approach of the final calamity; and of which he advised them to free themselves by flight, or a timely departure out of Jerusalem and Judea, Matt. xxiv, 15—21. This, and no other, was the oracle mentioned by Eusebius, whereby the Christians were warned to depart out of Jerusalem. It was given, as he says, (TOS Sovip.cie) to approved
men amongst them. For, although the prophecy itself was written by the evangelists, yet the special meaning of it was not known and divulged amongst all. The leaders of them kept it secret for a season, lest an exasperation of the people being occasioned thereby, they should have been obstructed in the work which they had to do before its accomplishment; and this was the case relative to other things, 2 Thes. ïi, 5, 6.
when the present work of the church among the Jews was to come to its close, the elect being gathered out of them, and the final desolation of the city and people appearing to be at hand, by a concurrence of all the signs foretold by our Savior, those entrusted with the sense of that oracle, warned their brethren to provide for that flight, whereto they were directed. That this flight and departure probably with the loss of all their possessions, was grievous to them, may be easily conceived.
86. But what seems most especially to have perplexed them, was their relinquishment of that worship of God, whereto they had been so zealously addicted, That this would prove grievous to them, our Savior had before intimated, Matt. xxiv, 20. Hence were they so slow in their obedience to that heavenly oracle, although excited with the remembrance of what befell Lot's wife in the like tergiversation. Nay, as it is likely, from this epistle, many of them, who had made profession of the gospel, rather than they would now utterly forego their old worship, deserted the faith, and, cleaving to their unbelieving countrymen, perished in their apostasy; whom our apostle, in a special manner, forewarns of their inevitable and sore destruction, by that fire of God's indignation which was shortly to devour the adversaries, to whom they associated themselves, Heb. x, 25—31.
87. Paul, who had an inexpressible zeal, and overflowing affection for his countrymen, being now in Italy, considering the present condition of their affairs, how pertinaciously they adhered to the Mosaical institutions, how near the approach of their utter abolition was, how backward they would be while they possessed that frame of spirit, to save themselves by flying from the midst of that perishing generation; what danger they were in to forego the profession of the gospel, when it would not be retained without a relinquishment of their former Divine service and ceremonies, writes this epistle to them, wherein he strikes at the very root of all their dangers and distresses. For, whereas all the danger of their abode in Jerusalem and Judea, and so of falling in the destruction of the city and people; all the fears the apostle had of their apostasy into Judaism; all their own disconsolations in reference to their flight and departure, arose from their adherence to, and zeal for, the law of Moses; by declaring to them the nature, use, end, and expiration of his ordinances and institutions, he utterly removes the ground and occasion of all the evils mentioned.
This was the season wherein the epistle was written; and these are some of the principal occasions (though it had other reasons also, as we shall see afterwards) of its being written. And I no way doubt, (though the particular events of those days are buried in oblivion) but that through the grace of Him, who moved and directed the apostle to write, it was made signally effectual towards the professing Hebrews, both to free them from that yoke of bondage, wherein they had been detained; and to prepare them with cheerfulness to the observance of evangelical worship, leaving their countrymen to perish in their sin and unbelief.