There is no doubt but that the apostolic letters were plain and of easy apprehension, as respected the style and sentiment, to the persons who first received them, though some of the things contained in them might be difficult to be comprehended or fully understood, even by them. The difficulties that lie in our way of perfectly understanding them, though much greater than those in the way of the persons to whom they were first sent, are not at all insurmountable. The golden key of interpretation is very similar to the golden rule of morality. To ascertain what we ought to do to others, on moral principle, we must place ourselves in their circumstances; and to ascertain the meaning of the apostolic espistles, we must place ourselves in the circumstances of the persons to whom they were written. So far a resemblance exists between the golden key and the golden rule. But to develope this prionciple and to exhibit its practical use, we shall lay before the reader a few considerations which will embrace the chief difficulties in our way, and the best means of surmounting them. What we advance on this subject may be considered as an answer to the question, How shall we place ourselves in the circumstances of the persons addressed?
In the first place, then, we are to remember that these letters were written nearly eighteen centuries ago. This fact has much meaning in it. For it follows from it, that, excepting the prophetic part of those writings, not a word or sentence in them can be explained or understood by all that has happened in the world for eighteen hundred years. We might as well expect to find the meaning of Cicero's orations, or Horace's epistles, from reading the debates of the British Parliament or of the American congress of last year, as to expect to find the meaning of these epistles from the debates and decisions of the Council of Nice or of Trent, or of Westminster; from the ecclesiastic history, the moral philosophy, or the scholastic divinity of any age since John the apostle breathed his last.
From the above fact it follows, that the most accurate acquaintance with all those questions of the different sects, with all their creeds and controversies which have engrossed so much of the public attention, if it does not impede, most certainly does not facilitate, our progress in the knowledge of the apostolic epistles. As the apostles did not write with any of our questions before their minds, or with a reference to any of our systems, it is presumptuous in the extreme to apply what they have said on other questions, to those which have originated since. And as they did not write with any design of making out a system of doctrine, it is preposterous to attempt to make out a system for them, and oblige them to approve it.
In the second place; as the apostles wrote these letters with a reference to their own times, to the character and circumstances of the people with whom they were conversant, a knowledge of the character and circumstances of those people is of essential importance in order to understand the letters addressed to them.
By the character of the people, we mean not only their character at the time the letter was written, but also their previous character; what sort of persons they were before their conversion, as respected religion and morality; what their peculiar views and prejudices, and what their attainments in the learning and science of their age and country. By the circumstances of the people, we mean not merely their political and commercial standing, but as regards unity of views and co-operation; whether they were living in peace and harmony among themselves; whether they were persecuted by those of different sentiments, or whether they were enjoying tranquility unmolested from without.
In the third place, a knowledge of the character and circumstances of the writer of an epistle is of essential importance in understanding it. His character as respects style and method; what his peculiar art of reasoning and modes of expression; what relation he bears to the persons addressed; whether personally acquainted with them, or by report; whether their father or brother in the faith; whether his letter is the first or second to them, or one of a series not extant; whether it was solicited on their part, an answer to one from them, or written of his own accord; whether he addresses them alone, or others in conjunction with them; and whether he writes in his own name or associated with others, and what their character and standing.
In the next place, great attention must be paid to his design in writing to them at that time. It must be ascertained whether he writes with a reference to their whole circumstances, or to some one or more urgent consideration; whether that consideration was one that respected themselves merely, or others equally with them; whether he aimed at the full accomplishment of his design in one letter, or in others; or whether he reserved some things to a special interview, or to some persons soon to visit them.
In the fifth place, the reader must recollect that no one sentence in the argumentative part of a letter, is to be explained as a proposition, theorem, proverb, or maxim, detached from the drift and scope of the passage. Indeed, neither words nor sentences in any argumentative compositon have any meaning but what the scope, connexion, and design of the writer, give them. Inattention to this most obvious fact has beclouded the apostolic epistles, has introduced more errors into the views, and unmeaning ceremonies into the practice, of professing Christians than any other cause in the world. To this the cutting up the sacred text into morsels, called verses, has greatly contributed. Many passages, otherwise plain and forcible, have been weakened and obscured by this absurd interference.
The difficulties in the way of our understanding these epistles, may be easily gathered from the preceding items. We must place ourselves in Judea, in Rome, or in Corinth, and not in these places in the present day; but we must live in them nearly 2000 years before we lived at all. We must mingle with the Jews in their temple and synagogues. We must visit the temples and altars of the Pagan Gentiles. We must converse with Epicuran and Stoic philosophers, with Pharisees and Sadducees, with priests and people that died centuries before we were born. We must place before us manuscript copies of these epistles written without a break, a chapter, or a verse. We must remember what the writers spake to the people before they wrote to them. We must not only attend to what they said and wrote, but to what they did. And we must always bear in mind the numerous and diversified enemies, in authority and out of it, with whom they had to conflict. Now all thse are apparently great difficulties, and, at first view, would seem to put the golden key of interpretation out of the reach of all.
They are not, however, insurmountable. In reading any epistle, on any subject, written by any person, we are accustomed to attend to all these things, in substance, if not in form. Indeed, these are but the dictates of common sense, regarded by every person in the common occurrences of every day. Who is there that reads a letter from any correspondent without placing before his mind the character, views, and all the circumstances of the writer? Who is it that reads a letter addressed to himself or any other person, that does not attend to his own circumstances or those of the person addressed, with a reference to the items of corresondence? Does he not regard the date, the place, the occasion, and the apparent design of the communication? Does he divide the letters into chapters and verses, and make every period, or semicolon in it, a proverb, like one of Solomon's; a theorem, like one of Euclid's; an axiom, like one of Newton's. Does he not rather read the whole of it together and view every sentence in it, in the light of the whole, and with a reference to the main design? Most certainly he does. All that is contended for, in these remarks, is, that the same common sense should be applied to the apostolic epistles which we apply to all other epistolary communications.
We have said that the above-mentioned difficulties are not insurmountable; and in proof that they are not, and that we may place ourselves in the circumstances of those addressed in the epistles, with more ease than at first sight appears; we would call the reader's attention to the documents which the New Testament itself furnishes, to aid us in an effort of so much importance.
In the first place, then, the historical and epistolary books of the New Covenant afford us the necessary documents to place ourselves in the circumstances of the persons addressed, in all those points essential to an accurate apprehension of what is written to them. It presupposes that the reader is in possession of the ancient oracles, or that he has, or may have the information contained in them. As much is recorded of the peculiar character and views of the Jews and Gentiles in the apostolic age, of the sects and parties of both people, as is necessary to understand the allusions to them in these writings; and in proportion to the important bearings that any historic facts have upon the apostolic epistles, is the amount of information afforded. For example; there is no historic fact which explains so much of Paul's epistles as the opposition which the Jewish brethren made to the reception of the Gentile converts into the Christian congregations, on the same footing with themselves; and there is no historic fact in the history of the lives and labors of the apostles, so fully and frequently presented to the view of the reader as this one.
Indeed the number of facts necessary to be known in order to our associating around ouselves the circumstances of those addressed, in most of the apostolic epistles, is by no means great. It is rather the importance than the number of them, which illustrates these writings. A few facts belonging to the apostolic commission explains a large proportion of the writings of the apostles. For instance, they were to announce and proclaim to Pharisees, Sadducees, Samaritans, and men of all nations, that Jesus the Nazarene was the Son of God, and Saviour of men. When this was done, and some of all these people were persuaded of the truth of this propostion, the next work of the Apostles was to associate them in one religious community, by opening to their apprehension the import and design of the facts which they already believed. In making one new religious body or association of persons, whose former views, prejudices, partialities, and antipathies were so discordant, lay the chief difficulty, and constituted the most arduous part, of the apostolic labors. The Jew with great reluctance abandoned his prejudices against the Gentile, and the Gentile with no less difficulty was reconciled to the Jew. The Jew conceited that it would be an improvement upon the Christian religion, to incorporate with it a few of the essentials of Judaism; and the Gentile fancied that some of his former much loved philosophy would be a great acquisition to a Christian congregation. The infidel, or unbeliving Jews, attacked their brethren who associated with the Apostles, first by arguments, and lastly by physical force; and the Gentile philosophers and magistrates alternately ridiculed and persecuted such of their brethren as united with this sect every where spoken against. The apostles labored to keep the doctrine of the Messiah pure from any mixture with Judaism and Gentile philosophy, and to fortify the minds of the disciples with arguments to maintain their controversy against their opponents, and with patience and resolution to persevere amidst all sufferings and persecutions. Now these few facts, so frequently and fully stated in these writings, go a great way in explaining whole epistles, and many passages in others.
But in a preface to one of the epistles, we can illustrate and apply thse principles to much better advantage, than in such general remarks; and for this purpose we shall present the reader with a short preface to the Epistle to the Romans, which has generally, both by the ancients and moderns, been considered the most obscure and difficult of all the epistles.
I. The main question discussed in the four narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; or the grand topic of debate from the time John the Immerser appeared in the wilderness of Judea, till the resurrection of Jesus, was, Whether Jesus the Nazarene was the Messiah? The Jews on the one part, and the Saviour and his Apostles on the other, were the only persons engaged in the controversy--the principal parties in this discussion. Hence it was altogether confined to the Jews. Indeed they only had the means of determining this point, as they were in possession of the oracles which foretold his coming, identified his person, and attested his pretensions.
II. The grand topic of debate from the resurrection of Jesus till the Calling of the Gentiles, an interval of several years, was, Whether Jesus who was crucified had actually arisen from the grave and ascended into heaven? This, though different in form, was, in effect, the same as the preceding. It was differently proposed and argued, though tending to establish the same grand point. The Jews in Judea, the Samaritans, and the Jews in all the synagogues among the Gentiles, whither the Apostles went, were the only persons who took an active part in this controversy.
III. After the calling of the Gentiles, and the number of disciples amongst the Jews had greatly augmented, a new question arose, which, amongst the converts generally, and especially among those of the Jews, occupied as conspicuous a place as the first question did among the Jews in Judea. This question is as prominent in many of Paul's epistles as the former is in the historic books of this volume. It is this: Whether the Gentile converts had a right to be considered the people of God, equally to the Jewish believers; or whether they should be received in the christian congregations of believing Jews, without submitting to any of the Jewish peculiarties, on the same footing with the circumcised and literal descendants of Abraham.
IV. Many questions grew out of this one, which for a long time occuped the attention of the Christian communities throughout the world, and called for the attention of the apostles. But as Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, he was obliged to take a more active part in these discussions, and thus we always find him the bold and able advocate of their rights, however, or by whomsoever assailed. To this question we are doubtless indebted for much of the information which this apostle has given us, as it was the occasion of so much being written, on many topics connected with it, such as--
1st. The genius and design of circumcision. 2d. The promises made to Abraham. 3d. The nature and design of the Law of Moses, or Old Covenant. 4th. The righteousness of the Law, and the righteousness of Faith; or justification by works, and justification by grace. 5th. The Jewish priesthood and sacrifices. 6th. The sacrifice of Christ. 7th. The grace of God, or the divine philanthropy. 8th. The election and calling of the Jews. 9th. The nature, design and glory of the Christian constitution and assembly: and many other topics subordinate to, and illustrative of, the one grand question concerning the reception of the Gentiles.
To simplify still farther, and comprehend under a few heads, the whole apostolic writings; it may be said that there are three gospels with their circumstances, which engross the whole volume.
The first is the glad tidings, emphatically and supereminently so called, concerning Jesus of Nazareth, exhibited and proven to be the only begotten Son of God, sent to bless the people amongst whom he appeared, who credited his pretensions. The second is the glad tidings of salvation to the Gentiles, called "the Gospel of their Salvation." This exhibits Jesus as the Saviour of the world, and his death as a propitiation for the sins of the whole world. The third gospel is that developed in the Revelation of John, in the common version called "the everlasting gospel," or good news, that the long apostacy, that the long dark night of anti-Christian superstition, tyranny, and usurpation, has ceased, and that the kingdoms of the whole world have become the one kingdom and empire of Jesus, the King of kings.
The circumstances that gave rise to these three gospels constitute the shade in the picture of God's philanthropy. The development of the character and condition of the human family, relative to these three gospels, in connexion with them, engross the whole apostolic writings.
On this, a hint or two must suffice. As to that which is by way of eminence called the Gospel,--the degenerate and apostate state of the most enlightened and favored nation amongst men, the descendants of the Father of the Faithful, form the contrast, and, as a foil, set off and brighten this most splendid of all exhibitions of the mercy of God; from which springs all other good news to men.
As to the second gospel or good news--The deplorable condition, the ignorance of God, and the nameless vices of the Gentile world; their long alienation from God, and scandalous idolatry, constitute a theatre on which to exhibit to advantage the glad tidings of God's gracious purposes towards them from the beginning, evinced in sending his Son to make a propitiatory sacrifice for their sins, and in calling himself the God of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews.
And as to the third gospel--The awful apostasy of the professed Christian communities, and gross departure from the letter and spirit of the Christian institution; their schisms, strifes, and persecutions, which this apostacy has given rise to; the long rejection and continued infidelity of the Jews, with awful grandeur prepares the way for the proclamation of the everlasting good news--the joyful era when it shall be sung, "Babylon the Great is fallen, NEVER more to arise." The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord, and his saints shall triumph with him for a thousand prophetic years!--These engross the whole apostolic writings.
The first of these three has been fully discussed and established in the testimonies of the four evangelists. The second is recorded in the book of the Acts of Apostles, and developed in the epistles. The third, in some passages of the epistles, but particularly and fully in the last revelation made to the apostle John.
The Epistle to the Romans is altogether devoted to the second--and was written with a design to prove, that the believing Gentiles are, equally with the Jews; entitled to all the rights and immunities of citizenship in the kingdom of God's own Son.
This brings us to the Epistle to the Romans; in reference to which let it be remembered--that although the term Roman, in its most restricted sense, denoted a Pagan citizen of Rome; yet both Jews and proselytes who lived there, were called Romans as well as the Pagan citizens of Rome. Hence Luke informs us that Roman sojourners, both Jews and proselytes, heard Peter announce the glad tidings on Pentecost in Jerusalem. Hence we may conclude that a congregation in Rome was formed soon after the return of the Roman Jews from Jersualem. Though the congregation in Rome was at first composed exclusively of Jewish disciples; after the calling of the Gentiles, and especially at the time when Paul wrote this letter, it was composed of Jews and Gentiles.
Without going into a long detail of particular proofs to come at the design of the apostle, in writing this letter, we may readily gather from the epistle itself, that the Jewish and Gentile disciples in this congregation were not perfectly reconciled on account of certain questions and debates, involving the Jewish peculiarity; that the great question between the Jews and Gentiles was not decided in this congregation, though so eminent in the Christian faith; that Paul wrote with a reference to the actual condition and circumstances of this people, according to the best information he had respecting them, not having been himself at Rome. As this congregation was placed in so conspicuous a place, and was known to the whole Christian communities throughout the Roman empire, the settling of this question at Rome was a great object; and as the apostle, though anxious to visit the city, had been prevented for a long time, he conceived the noble design of settling the difficulties between the Jewish and Gentile brethren in this city, by a long and argumentative epistle, embracing all the points of chief difficulty between the Jews and Gentiles in Rome, and elsewhere. Such was the design of writing this letter, as many circumstances mentioned in it, and all evidences, internal and external, evince.
Having formed such a design, the apostle was at no loss how to execute it. He was well skilled in all the questions and customs, and expert in all the arguments of the Jews in support of their peculiarity. He knew all that a judaizer, or an infidel Jew could say, in support of their darling themes. Besides, as the judaizer, who aimed at bringing the Gentiles under the law, argued from the same topics that the infidel Jew handled to shew the superiority of the Jew's religion and to oppose the Christian, the apostle so arranges his arguments as to silence both. He was well aware that this letter would soon become public property, and that it would be read by all parties, as well as by the brethren to whom it was addressed; for all would be anxious to know what "the apostate Jew," as some called him, or the great "apostle to the Gentiles," had to say with reference to these questions. He writes with all these things before his mind.
It is worthy of notice, that the apostle does not attempt to settle such questions merely, or, indeed, at all, by his apostolic authority. Though his decision, without assigning a single reason for it, would be final amongst all Christians who recognized him as an apostle; yet he does not attempt to settle the point in this way. He appears as a logician, and meets oppostiion, not by a decree, but by argument. In this way he enlightens and confirms the Christians in the faith, and qualifies them to convince and silence those who would not receive the decree of an apostle, as that from which there is no appeal.
Now placing before our eyes the congregation of Christians in the great city of Rome, the mistress of the world, A. D. 57, every day visited by travelling Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, from all nations; considering the notoriety of this congregation, having the eyes of the philosophers, priests, and illustrious men of Rome fixed upon it; bringing near to ourselves the prejudices of Jews and Gentiles against each other in former times, and the high conceptions of the former, as being the only people, righeous, elected, approved, and beloved of God; remembering, too, their contempt of the Gentiles, rulers and ruled; their keen sensibility on every topic affecting their national honor: at the same time fixing our eyes upon the author of this letter, his deep knowledge of the human heart, his profound acquaintance with the Jews' religion, and with the character and feelings of his countrymen; his tenderness towards his brethren of the Jews; his zeal for their conversion: Keeping all these things in remembrance, and above all, his design in writing this letter, let us attempt an analysis of the argumentative part of it.
1st. After his introduction and usual salutation, he gives a minute exhibition of the religious and moral character of the Gentile world.
2d. Then he delineates the religious and moral character of the Jewish people.
His design in this part of the epistle is to prove, that the mass of the Jews and Gentiles were equally vile and obnoxious to divine vengeance; that neither of them could constitute any claim on the righteousness of God; that they were equally destitute of national righeousness, and of every plea predicated upon their own character or works. He also shews that individuals amongst Jews and Gentiles, who acted in conformity to their means of knowing the character and will of God, were also equal in the Divine estimation. In a word, he proves the Gentiles and Jews, whether considered nationally, or individually, as "without any difference" respecting the great question which he discusses. He proves them "all under sin," and that God is equally "the God of the Gentiles, as well as of the Jews."
3d. He, in the next place, exhibits "the righteousness of faith" as equally accessible to them both, as bearing the same aspect to them nationally and individually. In establishing these two points, the difficulties existing between Jews and Gentiles, converted to Christianity, is decided. For let it be admitted that the Jews and Gentiles before converted to Christianity, were without difference; that when converted to Christianity, they were without difference as respected the righteousness of faith; and the consequence would be, that they should, without difference, be admitted into the Christian communities. This is the scope, design, and termination of the argumentative part of the letter, which closes with the end of the eleventh chapter.
But the Jews had many objections to make to these grand positions which the apostle lays down; and in exhibiting their objections, they argued from various topics, which the apostle was obliged to discuss, before he could triumphantly establish his positions. The principal topics were, 1st. Circumcision; 2d. The Covenant with Abraham, his righteousness, and the promise of Canaan; 3rd. The Law at Sinai; and 4th. The election, and calling of the nation as the covenanted people of God. These embrace the chief topics of argument, and these Paul must meet and repel before he can carry his point argumentatively.
In the third chapter he meets the first objection. He introduces the Jew saying, "What profit is there in circumcision upon this hypothesis? This objection he meets, and while he acknowledges it was an advantage to the Jew in several respects, he shews it availed nothing against the question he discusses. That circumcision made no man righteous he fully proves; for in this respect the uncircumcised were as acceptable to God as the circumcised, and in some respects the uncircumcised condemned the Jew. After meeting a number of subordinate objections growing out of this one, and fully proving from David's own words, that the Jews were no better than the Gentiles, in the fourth chapter he meets the second grand objection; viz. What do we, on this hypothesis, say that Abraham, the father of the Jews, obtained from the covenants of promise, and the works enjoined upon him? He shews that neither his circumcision, nor any work originating from that covenant, was accounted to him for righteousness; but that his faith, which he had as a Gentile, or "before he was circumcised," was "accounted to him for righteousness," and that his becoming the heir of a world, or of the promises made to him, arose not from any of the Jews' peculiarities. And while meeting their objections on this topic, he introduces those drawn from the law, and shews most explicitly, that neither righteousness, nor the inheritance of Canaan, was derived through the law. That Abraham was righteous or had that righteousness in which the Gentiles are now accepted, and was secured of Canaan for his seed, without respect of law: for God gave Canaan to him and his seed by a PROMISE centuries before the law was promulged. And thus he makes the covenant with Abraham an argument in favor of his design; proving from it that the Gentiles were embraced as his seed. And here let it be noted, that the justification by works, and that by faith, of which Paul speaks, and of which our systems speak, are quite different things. To quote his words and apply them to our questions about faith and works, is illogical, inconclusive, and absurd.
In proof that the Gentiles were included in the promises made to Abraham, and actually participated in his faith, he introduces their "experience" in the beginning of the fifth chapter, and identifies himself with them. After detailing these, and shewing that Jesus died for them as well as for the Jews, and that they, being reconciled by his death, would be most certainly saved through him; from the twelfth verse to the end of the chapter, he shews the reasonableness of this procedure. For although the Jews might continue to cavil about the covenant of peculiarity with Abraham, he shews that the Gentiles were equally concerned in the consequences of Adam's fall, with the Jews; and this section of the letter is decisive proof of the correctness of his arguments from the covenant with Abraham. While on this topic he expatiates on the superabundance of favor that presents itself in the Divine procedure towards mankind, irrespective of national peculiarity, in a most striking contrast of the consequences of Adam's disobedience and the obedience of his antitype.
He meets an objection in the sixth chapter, to the superabundance of this favor, and expatiates on it to the close, and in the seventh resumes the nature and design of the law, and by placing himself under it, and shewing in himself the legitimate issue of being under it, proves its inefficacy to accomplish that which the Jews argued it was designed for.
In proving that the believing Jews were not under the law, he carries his arguments so far as to lay the foundation for the judaizers objecting that he represented the law as a sinful thing. He might say, "Is the law sin, then?" an apparently natural conclusion, from what he had said of its abrogation. This he refutes, and proves it to be "holy, just, and good." Then the judaizer retorts, "That which was good, then, was made death unto thee!" No, says Paul; but the law made sin death to me. This he demonstrates to the close of the chapter. In which he most lucidly represents the wretched condition of a Jew seeking eternal life by a law which made his sins deserve death, and which he was unable to obey. The law clearly demonstrated goodness, righteousness, and virtue, but imparted no power to those under it, by which they could conform to it.
Thus he is led, in the eighth chapter, to exhibit the privileges of the believing Jews and Gentiles as delivered from the law. In expatiating on the privileges and honors of these under the New Covenant, he represents them as the adopted sons of God, as joint heirs with Christ. He also shews that, while they continued in the faith and "jointly suffered" with the Messiah, they were considered as the people of God, the called, elected, justified, and glorified ones; and that no distress, nor power in the universe could separate such joint sufferers from the enjoyment of the love of God. On this point he is most sublime. But in representing the Gentile believers, as the called according to God's purpose, as the elected, justified, and glorified members of his kingdom, he wounds the pride of the infidel and judaizing Jew; he cuts the sinews of the pride of the Israelites, whose were the adoption, the glory of being God's people, the covenants, the law, the worship of God, the promises, the fathers, the Messiah! He invades all their prerogatives. This leads him to discuss their right to being always considered the covenanted people of God. He examines their arguments, points out their mistakes, and repels their objections, with great ability, tenderness, affection, and zeal, to the close of the eleventh chapter.
In the ninth chapter he meets three objections to his leading argument:--
1st. That on the hypothesis of God's choosing the Gentile nations, in calling them to be his people, his "promises to Israel (that is, to the nation) had fallen." This he refutes by shewing who are Israel in the sense of the promises.
2d. That, in choosing Jacob, and in excluding Esau from the honor of being the progenitor of the nation, as Paul represented it, and in now excluding Israel and choosing the Gentiles, there appeared to be injustice with God. Paul, from the lips of Moses, their own lawgiver, demonstrates that there was no injustice in this procedure; that his humbling the Egyptians and exalting Israel, was an act of justice as respected the Egyptians, and of merciful good pleasure as respected Israel; and that in so doing he advanced the knowledge of his character and exhibited his glory through all the earth.
3d. That from the principles which Paul exhibited as the basis of this procedure, that question might be put, "Why does he still find fault, for who has resisted his will?" The apostle, from the just and acknowledged principles of human action, shews the wickedness of such a question; that God had carried with much long suffering the Jews, long since ripe for destruction, for the purpose of making their example, or his procedure to them, of benefit to the whole human race; and of rendering conspicuous his mercy to such of the nation as believed in the Messiah, as also to the Gentiles. And all this he proves to have been foretold by their own prophets.
In the tenth chapter, he again exhibits the righeousness of faith as still accessible to both people, and the fatal ground of mistake which must consummate the ruin of Israel; and meets other objections growing out of the ancient oracles, which he applies in this case. In the eleventh he answers other objections, such as--"Has God cast off all his people?"-- "Have they stumbled on purpose that they might fall for ever?"--"Were the natural descendants of Abraham broken off from being his people, to make room for the Gentiles." After removing every objection to the calling of the Gentiles to be God's people "through the righteousness of faith," whether drawn from any thing in the past election, calling, or treatment of the Jews; from the promises made to their fathers, from their own prophets, or from the moral character of the God of all nations; after triumphantly proving the postitions with which he had set out, he concludes this chapter with appropriate admonitions to the Gentile believers against those errors which had been the ruin of Israel. He corrects some mistakes into which they might fall, from what he had said concerning the election and rejection of Israel. From this to the close of the letter, he admonishes and exhorts the brethren in Rome, both Jews and Gentiles, to bear with, and receive one another, irrespective of those peculiarities which had formerly been ground of umbrage or alienation. That as Christ had received them both to be his people, they should mutually embrace each other as such, and live devoted to him who had called them to the high honors and privileges which they enjoyed.
Such is the scope, design, and argument of this letter. To go farther into an investigation of it, would be to assume the office of a commentator, which is foreign to our purpose. These very general hints and remarks may serve to suggest to the reader, a proper course of reading and examining the apostolic letters, and to impress upon his mind the vast importance of regarding the design of each letter, and to guard against the ruinous course of making detached sentences the theme of doctrinal expositions; and of "classifying texts" under the heads of scholastic theology; a method, the folly and pernicious tendency of which, no language can too strongly express.