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apostles: St. Matthew, was an apostle and evangelist, but no prophet : but St. John was an apostle, an evangelist, and a prophet likewise.
His three epistles take place, in order of time, next to the Apocalypse; the first of which is catholic, be, ing calculated for all times and places, and containing the most excellent rules for the conduct of a Christian life, pressing to holiness and pureness of manners, and not to be satisfied with a naked and empty profession of religion; not to be led away with the crafty insinuations of seducers; and cautioning men against the poi. sonous principles and practices of the Gnostics. The apostle here, according to his usual modesty conceals his name, it being of more consequence to a wise man what is said, than he who says it. It appears from St. Augustine, that this epistle was anciently inscribed to the Parthians, because, in all probability, St. John preached the gospel in Parthia. The other two epistles are but short, and directed to particular persons; the one a lady of great quality, the other to the charitable and hospitable Gaius, the kindest friend, and the most courteous entertainer of all indigent Christians, in those primitive times.
We are told by Eusebius and St. Jerom, that St. John, having perused the other three gospels, approved and confirmed them by his authority; but observing, at the same time, that these evangelists had omitted several of our blessed Saviour's transactions, particularly those which were performed before the Baptist's imprisonment, he wrote his gospel to supply what was wanting in them: and because several Heretics were at that time sprung up in the church, who denied the divinity of our blessed Saviour, he took care to guard against these heresies, by proving that our great Redeemer was God from everlasting. He largely records our Saviour's discourses, but takes little notice of his miracles, probably because the other evangelists had so fully and particularly written concerning them.
Previous to his undertaking the task of writing his gospel, he caused a general fast to be kept by all the Asian churches, to implore the blessing of heaven on so great and momentuous an undertaking. When this was done, he set about the work, and compleated it in so excellent and sublime a manner, that the ancients generally compared him to an eagle's soaring aloft amongst the clouds, whither the weak eye of man was not able to follow him. “ Amongst all the evangelical writers,” says St. Basil,” “none are like St. John, the son of thunder, for the sublimity of his speech, and the height of his discourses, which are beyond any man's capacity fully to reach and comprehend." “ St. John, as a true son of thunder,” says Epiphanius, by a loftiness of speech peculiar to himself, "acquaints us, as it were out of the clouds and dark recesses of wisdom, with the divine doctrine of the Son of God, the glorious Saviour of mankind.”
Thus we have given the character of the writings of this great apostle and evangelist, who as we have hinted before, was honoured with the endearing title of being the beloved disciple of the Son of God; and was a writer so sublime as to deserve, by way of eminence, the character of St. John the Divine.
THE LIFE OF ST. PAUL,
The Apostle to the Gentiles. This eminent and laborious apostle was a native of Tarsus, and a descendant from the ancient stock of Abraham. He was born about two years before the blessed Jesus, and belonged to the tribe of Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob, who thus prophecied of him, Benjamin shall raven as a wolf; in the morning he shall
devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil; a prophetic character which Tertullian and others will have to be accomplished in this apostle : for in his youth, or the morning of his days, he persecuted the churches, destroying the flock of the Almighty ; devouring the prey : in his declining age, or evening of his days, he became a physician of the nations, feeding and distributing with the greatest care and assiduity, · the sheep of CHRIST, the great Shepherd of Israel.
The place of this apostle's nativity, was Tarsus, the metropolis of Cilica, situated about three hundred miles distant from Jerusalem ; it was exceedingly rich and populous, and a Roman minicipium, or free corporation, invested with the privileges of Rome by the two first emperors, as a reward for the citizens' firm adherence to the Cæsars, in the rebellion of Crassus. St. Paul was therefore born a Roman citizen, and he often pleads this privilege on his trials.
The inhabitants of Tarsus usually sent their children into other cities for learning and improvement, especially to Jerusalem, where they were so numerous that they had a synagogue of their own, called the synagogue of the Cilicians. To this capital our apostle was also sent, and brought up at the feet of that eminent rabbi Gamaliel, in the most exact knowledge of the law of Moses : nor did he fail to profit by the instructions of that great master; for he so diligently conformed himself to his precepts, that, without boasting, he asserts of himself, that touching the righteousness of the law, he was blameless, and defied even his enemies to alledge any thing to the contrary, even in his youth. He joined himself to the sect of the Pharisees, the most strict order of the Jewish religion ; but, at the same time, the proudest, and the greatest enemies to CHRIST and his holy religion, as evidently appears by the cha. racter given of them by the evangelists, and our Lord's description of that self-righteous sect.
Respecting his double capacity, of Jewish extraction and Roman freedom, he had two names, Saul and Paul, the former Hebrew, and the latter Latin. It was common for the descendants of Benjamin to give the name of Saul to their children ever since the time of the first king of Israel, who was chosen out of that tribe; and Paul was a name as common amongst the Romans. We must also consider his trade of tent-making as part of his education, it being the constant practice of the Jews, to bring up their children to some honest calling, that, in case of necessity, they might provide for themselves by the labour of their own hands, without being burthensome to the public.
Having obtained a thoroughknowledge of the sciences cultivated by the Jews, and being naturally of a very hot and fiery temper, Saul became a great champion for the law of Moses, and the tradition of the elders, which he considered as a zeal for God. This rendered him impatient of all opposition to the doctrine and tenets he had imbibed, and a vehement blasphemer and persecutor of Christians, who were commonly reputed the enemies and destroyers of the Jewish economy. We must not however consider our apostle as guilty of the pride and hypocrisy of the Pharisees; for he declares, that he had ever been careful to act in conformity to the dictates of his conscience, by which he thought himself bound to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. It was therefore the prejudice of his education, and the natural warmth of his temper, that excited him to those violent persecutions of the Christians, for which he became so famous in the infancy of the church.
We find that the first action he engaged in, was the disputation he and his countrymen had with the martyr Stephen, concerning the Messiah. The Christian was too hard for them in the disputc; but they were too powerful for him in their civil interests; for being enraged at his convincing arguments, they car
vied him before the high-priest, who by false accusations condemned him to death. How far Saul was concerned in this cruel action; is impossible to say ; all we know is, that he kept the raiment of them that slew him, and, consequently, was accessary to his death.
The enemies of the church having thus raised a storm of persecution against it, it increased prodigiously, and the poor Christians of Jerusalem were miserably harrassed and dispersed. In this persecution, our apostle was principal agent, searching all the adjacent parts for the afflicted saints, beating some in the synagogue, compelling some to blaspheme, confining some in prison, and procuring others to be put to death for their profession: nor could Jerusalem and the adjacent parts confine his fiery zeal ; he applied to the Sanhedrim, and procured a commission from that court, to extend his persecution to Damascus. How eternally insatiable is the fury of a misguided zeal! how restless and unwearied in its designs of cruelty ? It had already sufficiently harrassed the poor Christians at Jerusalem, but not content with that, it persecuted them to strange cities, even to Damascus itself, whither many of them had fled for shelter, resolving to bring them back to Jerusalem, in order to their punishment and execution there.
We think it necessary to observe here, that the Jew= ish Sanhedrim had not only the power of seizing and scourging offenders against their law within the bounds of their own country, but, by the connivance and favour of the Romans, might send into other coun: tries, where there were any synagogues that acknowledged a dependence in religious affairs upon the coun. cil of Jerusalem, to apprehend them : and accordingly Saul was sent to Damascus, to apprehend what Christians he could find in that city, and bring them bound to Jerusalem, to be tried and punished.
It was however Saul's peculiar happiness, that the