Page images

iety to preserve the converts in the purity of the faith. The beautiful Epistle to Philemon, displays the singular union of courtesy, kindness, and benevolence, which characterized the Apostle in private life. The first of the Catholic Epistles, that of St. James, was also given to the Churches at this period. The doctrines of St. Paul, on justification by faith, without the deeds of the law of Moses, appear to have been so misinterpreted; as if the Apostle had taught the opinion of salvation without holiness of life. Though the grace and mercy of God are the sole causes of the system of redemption; holiness is the only means by which that redemption may be secured, Holiness is the root of both present and future happiness, and is the one great object of the Gospel. It cannot there. fore excite surprize, that the Catholic Epistles should be principally written to enforce these practical duties.

XV. In this last Chapter I have endeavoured to give a brief history of the Christian Church to the present day. The fourteenth Chapter ended with the release of St. Paul from his first imprisonment, and the writing of the Book of the Acts, by his companion St. Luke. While the Apostle was waiting in Italy for Timothy, he had the opportunity of calmly considering the state of his countrymen. He ob served their hatred towards himself their contempt towards him as an apostate, and deserter of the cause of the Sanhedrim their inferior ideas of the Messiah the approaching ruin of Jerusalem, and the consequent dispersion of his people. Impressed with sorrow for their condition, he made his last, and perhaps his greatest effort, to convince them of the real nature of the spiritual Being whom they ought to expect; as the causer of a greater deliverance, than the rescuing of their degraded country from the dominion of Rome. Avoiding all mentioning of his own offensive name, he wrote his Epistle to the Hebrews, to prove the truth of the doctrine upon which alone Chris

tianity is established, the divinity and atonement of Christ, the word of God, the personal and manifested Logos of their own Scriptures. The Epistle to the Hebrews may be considered the key to the Old Testament, and the most important of all the inspired writings, to him, who would understand clearly the Scripture doctrine of the person of Christ.

It is not improbable that St. Paul proceeded from Italy to the various places to which he intimated his desire to travel, and to others, which are mentioned in ecclesiastical history as the scenes of his labours. The reasons, upon the authority of which it is believed by many, that he now travelled to Britain, Jerusalem, Antioch, to certain towns in Asia, to Greece, and Rome, will be found in the notes, from the second to the twelfth sections.

On his second visit to Rome, the Apostle was again imprisoned, in the general persecution of the Christians under Nero. In the anticipation of approaching death, he wrote his second Epistle to Timothy. In this letter he takes his farewell of his friend, and of the Church, and expresses his joy at the prospect of a painful death with that lofty, yet humble and well-founded confidence, which is the privilege of a Christian only. The philosopher and the Deist may meet death with fortitude, with serenity, and hope: the soldier may meet it with cheerfulness, as the result of his duty-the peasant may meet it with courage, as his unavoidable destiny-but it is granted to the Christian alone, to add to these enviable qualities the confidence, the triumph, and the joy. "I know in whom I have believed," is the dying exclamation of the apostolic hero; and the crown which he anticipated was not only laid up for him, but for all who build on the same foundation, and hope for the same immortality.

The approaching death of St. Paul, and the near destruction of Jerusalem, evidently rendered this the most appropriate period, when the rest of the Apostles who were

still alive, might usefully address their general Epistles to the Christian Churches. We are accordingly now presented, with the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude. The prejudices of the former Apostle against the Gentiles had subsided, and he addresses himself jointly to them, with the Jewish converts, to encourage them to holiness and to patience under suffering. In his second Epistle he reminds them of the danger of apostacy, and the end of the Jewish dispensation, and of the visible world.

[ocr errors]

About the same time St. Jude writes his Epistle, to guard the converts against every doctrine, however specious it might appear, which tended to diminish the sanctions of holiness. This was the one, great, sole, object of all religion: and no purity of faith, no zealous attachment to a party, an opinion, or a creed, can be substituted for the indispensa→ ble sacrifice of ourselves to God.

The sixteenth section brings us to the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul, the two principal leaders of the army of the Church militant upon earth. It is probable that none of the Apostles, except St. John, was now left alive. The appeal of the Spirit of God to the Jews, was now terminated. St. Peter had opened the kingdom of heaven to his people; St. Paul had invited and adjured them to enter inthey had refused to accept the invitation; and the wrath came upon them to the uttermost. They wander among us, the outcasts of mankind. The contempt of the nations has begun only to subside into pity with the existing generation. For the first time since the fall of Jerusa lem, their Christian brethren regard them, with uniform benevolence, and incipient respect.

The eighteenth section contains the Book of the Revelations. I believe it, with Dr. Clarke, to have been in tended to supply the place of a continued succession of prophets in the Christian Church. I have divided it, with some variations, according to the theory of its interpretation, submitted to the world by our latest and most popular

commentator Mr. Faber. The reader is supposed to have perused the volumes of this learned, though not always satisfactory, hierophant.

The opinion that the apostacy of papal Rome is an-, nounced in the Book of Revelations, has been long and rightly received among the Churches. Mr. Croly has favoured me with some very curious and valuable observations on this point. He is of opinion that the principal portions of the Apocalypse refer exclusively, to the corruptions of the western Church. He has kindly permitted me to lay before the biblical Student the analysis of his ingenious system of interpretation. I trust his labours will be received with general approbation, when they are submitted, to the public (y).

Contrary to the usual mode of arrangement, I have placed the Epistles of St. John after the Apocalypse. The difference of the style in the composition was one of my principal arguments for so doing. The language of the Book of Revelations appeared to be the result of less intercourse with the Greeks, than that of the Epistles; which bear much resemblance to the style of St. John's Gospel, the last in date of the inspired writings. The powerful recommendations also to love and truth and union among Christians, which abound in the Epistles of St. John; appeared to be a preferable legacy to the Churches of God, than even the prophecies of the Apocalypse. Whether there be prophecies, they shall cease--charity never faileth.

The completion of the Canon of the New Testament having been noticed in the twentieth section, I have concluded the work with a brief review of the history of the Christian Church, from the close of the apostolic age to the present period. One day with our Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. Though the fire by night, and the pillar of cloud by day, no longer. guides the visible Church through the wilderness of this world-He that keepeth his spiritual Israel can neither,



[ocr errors]

slumber nor sleep. As surely as he led his people in the olden time from Egypt to Canaan, so certainly will God overrule the evil of our state of trial, and direct the nations of a Christian world to truth and peace, to union, and to mutual love. Individual holiness and political happiness must prevail upon earth. The province of this planet shall be re-conquered from the power of evil, which has so long led it captive. The tree of life will be again planted in the Paradise of earth, and all mankind, renovated in holiness, and serving their only great God in spirit and in truth, shall become one religious family of one merciful Father.

Such are the sublime representations of the plans of Providence, which appear to be revealed in Scripture respecting mankind. When we remember the greatness of the Deity, and the mystery of the continuance of evil; they will appear as rational as they are scriptural. They are founded upon the supposition, that evil would not have been permitted; unless greater eventual benefit would be thereby secured, to all accountable beings. By the atonement of Christ alone, (the one great truth of Scripture,) evil will be conquered, and universal happiness secured. Shadows, clouds, and darkness rest upon the future. We must die, we must rise again with enlarged and renovated faculties, before we can thoroughly comprehend the government of the moral universe, which is thus but partially revealed to us in Scripture. The Revelation, which I have been endeavouring to illustrate, is the beginning of the golden thread, by which we shall be enabled, when we inherit our immortality, to trace the whole labyrinth of the plans of God. The eternal contemplation of our Jehovah, and the perpetual improvement of our reason, as well as our exemption from the possibility of evil, are among the noblest of our anticipated privileges hereafter. The best and greatest of our present privileges, is, the power of securing the expected happiness of the future, by our right use of the mercies of God, in this stage of our existence.

« PreviousContinue »