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to the Corinthians, were occasioned by reports which St. Paul had received of certain faults in those two churches, or are an answer to questions which had been specially put to him by those to whom he writes. The second to the Corinthians was also occasioned by a particular circumstance, —the collection that was making amongst them for the benefit of the Christians at Jerusalem. And lastly, the Epistle to the Hebrews is principally taken up with showing how the priesthood and ceremonies of the law were fulfilled in Christ, and therefore were no longer to be retained as a matter of religion. This also is a most important division; for it teaches us where the apostle is giving a general view of Christianity, and where he is dwelling on some particular point or points in it; and prevents us therefore from being surprised if we do not find all those things which we deem important insisted on in every Epistle. And further, by some of the Epistles being general, and others particular, we have a double advantage. We have, on the one hand, a complete view of the Gospel as a general guide to us all; and then we bave also particular lessons for more particular duties and situations, such as may often occur again, and for which a mere general picture of Christianity would hardly contain all the instruction which we require.
One thing further may be observed, in which
Paul, by the wisdom given to him, has done yet more for our benefit. From his babit of being frequently led away by some particular word to leave his immediate subject for that contemplation of Christ's Gospel in all its fulness, which was the subject ever nearest his heart, it has happened that, even in an epistle written upon some particular subject,—I had almost said, upon a matter of business, we have the most full and beautiful general views of the whole of Christianity. For instance, nowhere do we meet with fuller statements concerning our Christian hopes after death, concerning our forgiveness for Christ's sake, and our having to stand before his judgment, than in the fourth and fifth chapters of the second epistle to the Corinthians. Yet these, with the third chapter also, all arise out of a particular and personal matter, namely, his not having come to Corinth at the time that he had first purposed; a circumstance which had been laid hold of by his enemies, as proceeding either from fickleness or from a distrust of his own authority; and which leads him therefore to uphold the dignity of his ministry, and to contrast it with the humiliations and distresses to which himself and others engaged in it were continually exposed. And then when thinking of these, he goes on in the fulness of his heart to enlarge upon that eternal hope and love which supported him under them. So that, in
fact, the very portion of the second epistle to the Corinthians, which is perhaps to us most valuable, is, with respect to the particular object of the epistle, no more than a digression.
But in considering what St. Paul, by the wisdom given unto him, has left for our benefit, one point must not be left unnoticed. That divine wisdom is shown, not only in what he has written, but in what he has not written. Here is the great contrast between him and those Christian writers whom we call the Fathers. They holding the truths which St. Paul has taught, have left us those same truths--all the truths of Christ's Gospel,—put forth with great earnestness, and sometimes with great beauty. His hopes, his faith, his love unfeigned may be seen often in their pages, assuring us that the same Spirit of holiness and love, who had done so much for Paul, had filled their hearts also; that they were partakers with him of the same promises, and were servants of the same Master.
But what they did not partake of was that spirit of wisdom, which was given to Paul far more for our sakes than for his own, because his words were to be our guide for ever. Therefore in him there is not only all Christian truth, but it is free from the mixture of human foolishness and error. In his epistles all is equal; all is grave and sober, and wise and true; all is fitted to be an authority and a rule. Whereas in
those Christian writers who came after him, we find immediately the necessary mixture of human error: unwise sayings, hasty judgments, fanciful and exaggerated notions occur in the same writer, in the same writing, in the same page with the words of Christian truth and wisdom. There is much to admire in these writers, much to love ; but because of this mixture of error, they are not fitted to be an authority. The distinction is of immense importance, and one without which they cannot be read with advantage: while, on the other hand, he who amidst the goodness and the sense of the Fathers is grieved from time to time at those marks of human infirmity which make it clear that they are no staff to lean upon, he may turn with greater thankfulness to the epistles of St. Paul, and of the other Apostles, and may there find that which the human heart so eagerly craves for,—an authority which it may trust without reserve.
And this brings me to the last division of my subject. How can those writings be an authority, it
may be asked, in which are some things hard to be understood, and which may be wrested even to our destruction. They may indeed be so wrested by “the unlearned and unstable,” as the other Scriptures are also wrested; as every good gift of God has been, is, and will be. But why need we be “unlearned and unstable?” for “unlearned” does not here mean those who have not read many books,
nor got much of what is commonly called “learning.” Another ignorance is here spoken of: that ignorance which St. Paul meant, when he said, “Be ye not unwise but understanding what the will of the Lord is;" or, again, when he charged the Colossians “ to walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.” If we know nothing of God and duty, or if we are for ever wavering in our principles and practice, St. Paul's epistles, the words of Christ Himself, all may be wrested to our harm. More especially the particular passages which St. Peter no doubt had in view, when he spoke of
things hard to be understood.” For he doubtless meant that part of St. Paul's doctrine which St. James had heard so much misrepresented; his doctrine of justification by faith without the deeds of the law. Wrested indeed this doctrine has been by many at different ages of the Church, but only by the “unlearned and unstable,” by those who knew not God and Christ, or who followed Them wavering and with a double heart; by those who knew not what sin is, or if they knew, did not feel it. Not the unlearned in the common sense of the term; not the simple readers, who with little of outward help go to St. Paul's epistles for the words of comfort and of instruction: they are not the persons who have wrested to their destruction his most true and most holy doctrine. When they read that they are justified by faith