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Timothy, 2nd Epistle to.
St. Peter, 1st Epistle of.
THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.
This book is professedly a continuation of the Gospel of St. Luke (i. 1), and is,
The following summary of the first fifteen chapters will exhibit the develop-
The Ascension, viewed not merely as the end of Christ's life on earth, but as con-
fall. It is evident that the accusation of the false witnesses was a caricature of what Stephen had said ; something like it, though totally different in spirit. He is martyred by the Jews
VII. This ends the close connection of the Church with the Temple. The Church begins to expand. A general persecution of the “Nazarenes” by the Sanhedrim causes the Gospel to be preached in Samaria. The light begins to lighten the Gentiles. This appears still further in the history of the Ethiopian eunuch, who carries the Gospel to a distant land
VIII. Conversion of St. Paul
IX. St. Peter is taught that the King of the Jews is the Saviour of all men i
and that His spirit can be given to the Roman soldier. Baptism of Cornelius..
X. The Christians at Jerusalem were startled, but acquiesced. Still they seem not to have imagined that uncircumcised Gentiles could belong to their society. There must still be a church at Jerusalem, they thought, to testify to the glory of the Covenant. Thus there seemed to be two churches,—of the Circumcision and of the Uncircumcision. It was at Antioch that the fusion took place, and circumcised and uncircumcised alike were called by the common name of “ Christians.” The Gentiles testify their fellowship by sending alms to the Jewish brethren at Jerusalem
.. XI. St. James the Great martyred by Herod Agrippa I., who attempts the life of St. Peter also. Death of Herod ..
XII. Opening of the mission to the heathens
XIII., XIV. The Judaizers appear for the first time. The Pharisees, apparently resentful of the admission of the Gentiles to equality with themselves, endeavour to impose observance of the Law upon them. This question is disposed of at the Council of Jerusalem
XV. The portions of this Book appointed for the Epistles in the Church Services are all taken out of these early chapters. They are as follows :i. 1-11
Ascension Day. 15–26
St. Matthias, ii. 1-11
Whit-Sunday. v. 12-16
St. Bartholomew. vii. 55—60
St. Stephen. viii. 14-17
Tuesday in Whitsun Week. ix. 1-22
Conversion of St. Paul. x. 34-43
Monday in Easter Week. 34-48
Monday in Whitsun Week. xi. 22-30
St. Barnabas. xi. 27-xii, 2
St. James. xii. 1-11
St. Peter. xiji. 26-41
Thursday in Easter Week.
In this first part of the Acts it will be seen that Peter is in every way the foremost and most important person, and by him the foundations of both Churches are laid, but only the foundation of that of the Gentiles. He gathered in the first-fruits; the harvest was reserved for another, and he not one of the original twelve. Christ had already led captive a man who should accomplish for Him a far mightier work than theirs-Saul of Tarsus. He was a Jew who had received a Greek education, and inherited, from some unknown cause, the right of a Roman citizen. He is now appointed, in the Providence of God, the great Apostle of the heathens, and the history of the Acts thenceforth occupies itself with his doings. The other Apostles fall into the background; their deeds are unknown to fame, and only written in Heaven. Meanwhile he ad. vanced victoriously from city to city, planting the banner of the cross in Corinth, the capital of the world's luxury; in Athens, of its learning; in Ephesus, of its superstition; and in Rome, of its power.
I shall make no remarks on St. Paul's conversion, or his first missionary journey, but proceed to speak of him in reference to his Epistles. These will be considered in chronological order, as far as it can be ascertained.* Take up his history, then, at Acts xvi. 9. The Apostle was in the middle of his second great journey. Led by a vision, he determined to cross over into Macedonia. He landed for the first time in Europe, A.D. 52, eighteen years after his conversion. The Church of Philippi was the first fruit of his European labours (Acts xvi. 13 ff), though not the first to which he addressed an Epistle. He left Philippi and came to Thessalonica (Acts xvii. 1). To the Church which he founded there his first Epistles were addressed.
EPISTLES OF ST. PAUL'S SECOND AND THIRD JOURNEYS.
THE EPISTLES TO THE THESSALONIANS.
THESSALONICA had formerly belonged to the kingdom of Macedon. When the Romans conquered that kingdom, and reduced it to a Roman province, they made Thessalonica one of the seats of government. It was a city very favourably placed for a flourishing trade, and, from the accounts which are left, it appears to have been wealthy, populous, and thoroughly dissolute. It lay on the great high road which stretched across Greece to Asia Minor. Its present name is Saloniki, and even under Turkish rule it retains much of its former greatness, having 75,000 inhabitants (Eng. Cyclopædia, “ Thess."), of whom 20,000 are said to be Jews. St. Paul found in this, the second European city which he visited, a Jewish synagogue (wherever ten Jewish families were resident they were bound to form one). The Apostle's stay was very brief one, probably only three Sabbaths (Acts xvii. 2); but the word of grace was so effectual, that in this short time he laid a sure and strong foundation. As he preached Jesus and the Resurrection, some of the Jews believed, but more of the devout Greeks,” that is, Greeks who, without actually becoming Jews, had yet, like
* In our Bibles they are not arranged according to the order in which they were written. That to the Romans comes first, on account of the importance of the city to which it was addressed, as well as of the subject on which it treats. After the Epistles to Churches, come those to Bishops, Timothy and Titus, then the private letter to Philemon. Then follows the Epistle to the Hebrews, placed here because the authorship is a matter of question ; then the Catholic Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude; and, finally, the Book of Christian Prophecy, the Apocalypse, or Revelation of St. John the Divine.
Here, too, it should be remarked that the notes attached to the end of each Epistle in our English Bibles are of no authority at all. They were added long afterwards, and nearly all of them are wrong.
Cornelius, attached themselves to the worship of the one true God. This class ever proved the best recipients of the Gospel; they had no Jewish prejudices or obstinacy, while at the same time they knew the Scriptures. The success of St. Paul's preaching among these stirred up the envy of the unbelieving Jews, and they assaulted the house in which the Apostle was lodging. The same malignant spirit which they had shown toward the Lord, they showed toward His disciples. To avoid their hatred, St. Paul left the city and went to Berea, where, for once, he found the Jews ready to receive truth : thence he proceeded to Athens. His yearning toward the infant Church which he had left gave him no rest. He endeavoured to return, but was prevented, we know not how (1 Thess. ii. 18). There remained, therefore, nothing but to send Timothy from Athens, to learn what was their present position, and how they bore the persecutions to which they were exposed. He himself went on to Corinth, and there Timothy came to him bringing a favorable report (Acts xviii. 5; 1 Thess. i. 3, iii. 6-10). From Corinth, then, St. Paul wrote his First Epistle to them, having special reference to the glad tidings which Timothy had just brought him (A. D. 54). The Second followed soon after. These are very much the earliest of the Apostle's writings. The next, the Epistle to the Galatians, did not follow for some years.
The account of St. Paul's ministry which is given in the Acts, affords a key to the right understanding of these Epistles. The cardinal points of his preaching at Athens were “ Jesus and the Resurrection,” and the day of Retribution which shall come to every soul of man (Acts xvii. 18, 31). Such also, no doubt, were the topics upon which he enlarged at Thessalonica (see ch. xvii. 3). There was no need to argue with Jews that Christ should come; they knew that. His work was to show that Jesus the crucified was this Christ. It was this part of his teaching which, now and always, offended them. Their idea of Christ was as different as the night from the day. No wonder that, with the words of Our Saviour before him, the Apostle saw in their fierce opposition, as well, probably, as in the growing godlessness of the empire of the Cæsars, indications of the end of the age, which Our Lord had declared should come in that generation (Matt. xxiv. 34).
He had cnlarged first upon the great facts of the Gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and also upon the day of the Lord which was at hand. This appears from the narrative (xvii. 6, 7). The Jews thereupon had pretended to regard him as a revolutionist, stirring up rebellion against Cæsar.
And these great points form the subject of the Epistle. There is no discussion of the doctrine of justification, of the relation of the Gospel to the Law, or of the constitution of the Church. The time for all this was not come. The Apostle occupies himself with the love of God, the Atonement wrought by Christ, the sanctification by the Spirit, the judgment of the quick and the dead. He enlarges upon these things with the sole object of confirming their faith and ensuring their obedience.
And even here he finds it needful affectionately to warn them against error. His preaching had been misunderstood ; they were in danger of perverting it most mischievously. Some of them were regarding Christ as a mere earthly, and not heavenly king, and were expecting a millennium, soon to be brought in. Then they were in sore perplexity concerning their friends and kindred departed, lest they should have no share in Jesus' glorious appearing. To calm their fears on this point, he wrote that remarkable passage, 1 Thess. iv. 13-18.