Imatges de pÓgina

the only people who, before the introduction of the gospel, enjoyed the knowledge of the true God, and a revelation of his will, and as the christian preachers themselves appealed to that revelation in proof of their doctrine, the Gentiles naturally paid a great regard to the opinion of the Jews in matters of religion, and especially to their interpretations of the ancient oracles. Hence some of the Gentile converts, especially in the churches of Galatia and Phrygia, who before their conversion were extremely ignorant in religious matters, hearkening to the Judaizing teachers, received circumcision, and thereby bound themselves to obey the law of Moses, in the persuasion that it was the only way to secure the favour of the Deity.

According to this view of the matter, the controversy which in the first age disturbed the Christian church, was not, as Locke supposes, whether the Gentiles, in their uncircumcised state, should be admitted into the church, and enjoy equal privileges with the Jews ; and whether it was lawful for the Jews to hold religious communion with them, while they remained uncir. cumcised; but plainly, whether there was any church but the Jewish, in which men could be saved. For when the Judaizers taught the Gentile brethren, except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved, they certainly meant that salvation could be obtained no where, but in the Jewish church.

In this controversy, the unbelieving Jews, and all the Judaizing Christians, ranged themselves on the one side, strongly and with united voices affirming, that Judaism was the only religion in which men could be saved ; that there was no gospel church different from the Jewish, nor any revealed law of God but the law of Moses; and that the gospel was nothing but an explication of that law, of the same kind with the explications given of it by the prophets. On the other side, in this great controversy stood the apostles and elders, and all the well-informed brethren, who, knowing that the Jewish church was at an end, and that the law of Moses was abrogated, strenuously maintained, that a new church of God was erected, in which all mankind might obtain salvation by faith without circumcision ; and that the gospel was the only law of this new church. They therefore maintained the freedom of the Gentiles from the law of Moses in all its parts, and boldly asserted, that the gospel alone was sufficient for the salvation of the Gentiles ; consequently, that they were under no obligation to have recourse to the Levitical sacrifices and purifications, for procuring the pardon of their sins.

The controversy concerning the obligation of the law of Moses, viewed in the light wherein I have placed it, was a matter of no small importance, since on its determination depended, whether the law of Moses or the gospel of Christ should be the religion of the world. No wonder, therefore, that St. Paul introduced this controversy in so many of his epistles; and that he wrote three of them in particular, for the express purpose of confuting an error so plausible and so pernicious : I mean his epistles to the Romans, to the Galatians, and to the Hebrews. These learned epistles, in process of time, produced the desired effect. By the strength of the arguments set forth in them, and by representing the same things every where in his preaching and conversation, the apostle enlightened many of the Jewish converts; and these well-instructed Jewish brethren, in their several churches, effectually opposed the errors of the Judaizers: by all which, Judaism hath at length been banished from the christian church, in which for a while it had taken root, through the misguided zeal of the Jewish converts; and the gospel now remains the only revealed religion, authorized by God, and obligatory on men.


Of the Occasion of writing the Epistle to the Romans.

The controversy concerning the law of Moses, described in the foregoing section, was agitated very early at Rome, where the Jews being rich and factious, disputed the matter with greater violence than in other churches. And the unbelieving part, taking a share in the controversy, they occasioned such tumults, that the emperor Claudius, in the eleventh year of his reign, banished the contending parties from the city. So the Roman historian Suetonius informs us, who, confounding the Christians with the Jews, calls the whole by the general name of Jews, and affirms that they were excited to these tumults by Christ, ( Christo impulsore, Claud. c. 25.) because he had heard, I suppose, that Christ was the subject of their quarrels.

Among the banished from Rome was Aquila, a Jew, born in Pontus, and his wife Priscilla; both of them Christians. These came to Corinth, about the time St. Paul first visited that city; and being of the same occupation with him, they received him into their house, employed him in their business, and gave him vages for his work, with which he maintained himself all the

[ocr errors]

time he preached the gospel to the Corinthians. During his abode with them, Aquila and Priscilla, no doubt, gave the apostle a full account of the state of the church at Rome, before its dispersion : and, among other things, told him, that the unbelieving Romans, following the Greeks, affirmed the light of natural reason to have been from the beginning a sufficient guide to mankind in matters of religion: that, being great admirers of the Greeks, they considered their philosophy as the perfection of human reason, and extolled it as preferable to the gospel, which they scrupled not to pronounce mere foolishness: that, on the other hand, the unbelieving Jews, no less prejudiced in favour of the law of Moses, affirmed, it was the only religion in which men could be saved; and condemned the gospel as a detestable heresy, because it did not adopt the sacrifices, purifications, and other rites enjoined by Moses. They farther told the apostle, that many, even of the converted Jews, extolled the institutions of Moses, as more effectual for the salvation of sinners than the gospel, and, in that persuasion, pressed the Gentiles to join the law with the gospel, that, by its sacrifices and purifications, the gospel might be rendered a complete form of religion: that the Gentile converts, who knew their freedom from the law of Moses, despised their Judaizing brethren as superstitious bigots, while the others regarded them as profane, for neglecting institutions which they esteemed sacred: that those who possessed spiritual gifts, had occasioned great disturbance in the church, each extolling his own gifts, and striving to exercise them in the public assemblies, without giving place to others: Lastly, that some, both of the Jewish and Gentile believers, reckoning it disgraceful to obey constitutions made by idolaters, had, in several instances, contemned the wholesome laws of the state, and were in danger of being punished as evil doers, to the great scandal of the Christian name.

As the apostle had not been in Rome, when he wrote this cpistle, some persons, well acquainted with the affairs of the church there, must have made him acquainted with all the particulars above mentioned. For his letter to the Romans was evidently framed with a view to these things. If so, who more likely to give the information, than Aquila and Priscilla, with whom the apostle lodged so long? And though the Roman brethren were then dispersed, consequently the apostle had no opportunity of writing to them as a church; yet the disorders which prevailed among them, having made a deep impression

on his spirit, we may suppose he resolved to embrace the firs opportunity of remedying them. Accordingly, during his second visit to the Corinthians, having heard that the church was re-established at Rome, St. Paul wrote to the Romans this excellent and learned letter, which bears their name; wherein, at great length, he discoursed of the justification of sinners; answered the objections made to the gospel doctrine of justification; proved from Moses and the prophets the calling of the Gentiles, the rejection of the Jews, and their future restoration; and gave the Roman brethren many precepts and exhortations, suited to their character and circumstances.

From the pains which the apostle took in this letter, to prove that no Gentile can be justified by the law of nature, nor Jew by the law of Moses, and from his explaining in it all the divine dispensations respecting religion, as well as from what he says, chap. i. 7. 13, 14, 15. it is reasonable to think it was designed for the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles at Rome, as well as for the brethren ; who therefore would shew the copies which they took of it to their unbelieving acquaintance. And inasmuch as the apostle professed to derive his views of the matters contained in this letter, from the former revelations, and from inspiration, it certainly merited the attention of every unbeliever to whom it was shown, whether he were a Jewish scribe, or a heathen philosopher, or a Roman magistrate, or one of the people; some of whom, I make no doubt, read it. And though, by reading it, they may not have been persuaded to embrace the gospel immediately, the candid and intelligent, by seriously weighing the things written in it, must have received such instruction in the principles and duties of natural religion, as could hardly fail to lead them to see the absurdity of the commonly received idolatry; which was one good step towards their conversion.—To conclude: As in this learned letter, the principal objections, by which Jews and Deists have all along impugned the gospel, are introduced and answered, it is a writing which the adversaries of revelation, who pretend to oppose it on rational principles, ought to peruse with attention and candour.

The commentators observe, that although the apostle, in the inscription of this letter, hath asserted his apostolical authority, to make the Romans sensible, that the things written in it were dictated to him by the Spirit; yet, as he was personally unknown to the greatest part of them, he does not teach, exhort, and rebuke them with that authority which he uses in his letters to the churches of his own planting, but he writes to them in a mild and condescending manner, in order to gain their affection.


Of the Time and Place of writing the Epistle to the Romans. The first time Paul visited Corinth, he found Aquila and Priscilla, lately come from Italy, in consequence of Claudius's edict, (Acts xviii. 2.) which was published in the eleventh year of his reign, answering to A. D. 51. (See Pref. 1 Cor. sec. I.) Probably the apostle arrived at Corinth in the summer of that year. And as he abode there more than eighteen months, before he set out for Syria, (Acts xviii. 18.) he must have left Corinth in the spring of 1. D. 53.-In his voyage to Syria, the apostle touched at Ephesus, then sailed straight to Cesarea. From Cesarea he went to Jerusalem, and after that to Antioch. And having spent some time there, he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening the disciples, Acts xviii. 21, 22, 23. Then passing through the upper coasts, he came to Ephesus, Acts xix. 1. His voyage from Corinth to Cesarea, and his journey through the countries just now mentioned, may have been performed in a year and ten months. Wherefore, if he sailed from Corinth in February 53, he may have come to Ephesus in the end of the year 54. And seeing he abode at Ephesus about three years, (Acts xx. 31.) before he went into Macedonia, his arrival in Macedonia (Acts xx. 1.) must have happened in the year 57. At this time the apostle went over all these parts, and gave them much exhortation, before he went into Greece, Acts xx. 2. Probably this was the time he preached the gospel in the borders of Illyricum, Rom. xv. 19. And as these transactions would take up the summer of the year 57, wc cannot suppose he came into Greece sooner than in the autumn of that year. The purpose of his journey into Grecce, was to receive the collections which the churches of Achaia had made for the saints in Judea, 2 Cor. ix. 3.–5. Having therefore abode three months in Greece, (Acts xx. 3.) he departed with the collections early in the year 58.-The time of the apostle's departure from Greece with the collections, being thus fixed, there can be no doubt concerning the date of his epistle to the Romans; for he told them he was going to Jerusalem, when he wrote it, Rom. xv. 25. But now I go to Jerusalem, ministring to

« AnteriorContinua »