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to them in calling them to be partakers in the blessings of the gospel, in consequence of his eternal purpose to glorify his grace in their sanctification and salvation, through the blood of his Son and the communication of his Spirit. [verse 3.. 14.]
2. He assures them of the fervency of his prayers for them, that they might have a clear knowledge of the great objects of their hope and expectation; and, from an experimental sense of the exceeding greatness of the power of God, might have a fixed regard to the supreme authority and dignity of Christ, who, by that power, is raised from the dead, and exalted to be head over all things to the church. [verse 15 to the end.]
3. To magnify the riches of divine grace, and to affect them with a more grateful sense of their obligations to it, the apostle leads them to reflect upon that wretched state of moral death in which the gospel found them; and shews them it was owing to the rich mercy and the great love of God that they were raised in Christ from death to life, and in the whole of their salvation it was evident that they were saved by grace, and not by works or any righteousness of their own. [chap. ii 1..10.]
4. He represents the happy change that was thus made in their condition; that they who once were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and afar off from God were now received into his church, and had an equal right to all the privileges of it with the Jewish converts; the middle wall of partition having been broken down by Christ in favour of the believing Gentiles, who, being reconciled to God, were no more strangers, as they had been formerly, but were united in one body under Christ, the common head of all believers; and, being animated by one Spirit, and built upon the same foundation, were made an holy temple in the Lord. [verse 11 to the end.]
5. To encourage and confirm the Gentile converts in their adherence to the gospel, and recommend it more to their regard, the apostle, in the strongest terms, expresses the sense he had of the divine goodness in appointing him to be the apostle of the Gentiles, and authorizing him to preach among them the unsearchable riches of Christ; and declares how great an honour he esteemed it to be employed in making known the calling of the Gentiles to be joint-heirs with the Jews in all the blessings of the Messiah's kingdom, though he had suffered greatly for it, and was now in bonds on this account. [chap. iii. 1..12.] And then,
6. He entreats them not to be discouraged at the sufferings he underwent for his regard to the Gentiles; but rather to consider it as an honour to them, that, in the stedfastness with which he suffered, they had such a confirmation of the truth of his doctrine, and of the sincerity of his concern for their spiritual advantage, in proof of which, he closes this part of his epistle with a most affectionate and earnest prayer for their establishment in the Christian faith, and their advancement in the knowledge and experience of the love of Christ, of which he speaks in the most lofty and exalted terms, as far surpassing all conception, concluding, in the warmth of his devotion, with a grand and suitable doxology. [verse 13 to the end.] And now
The other part of this epistle, which is practical, is contained' in the three remaining chapters; in which the apostle gives them several weighty exhortations and advices for the direction of their lives and manners, that they might be regular in their practice; and tells them of the Christian duties that were required of them, to which the consideration of their privileges should engage them, pointing out to them the means and motives that were proper to promote the observance of them; and urging the great care and caution they should use to behave suitably to the profession which they made, and to the character which they bore. And here,
1. The apostle, from the consideration of his own sufferings, as well as of the many important respects in which all true Christians are united, after a general exhortation.
to them to walk worthy of the excellency of their calling, particularly urges them to mutual forbearance and unity of Spirit, as being joined together in one church, and called to partake of the same privileges in Christ without distinction of either Jew or Gentile and as a powerful inducement to their cultivating such a disposition, he represents the glorious foundation which Christ, as the great head of the church, has laid for it, in the variety of gifts and graces he has bestowed, and in the sacred offices he has appointed; which, being all derived from the same Spirit, and designed for the same end, were all to be employed for the advancement of his interest and kingdom, and for the better edification of the whole church, till, in the unity of the faith, they should grow up into one perfect body under Christ their head; and so must have a tendency to promote their present union, and to inspire them with the most endearing affection to each other. [chap. iv. 1.. 16.]
2. He presses them, as having learned Christ, and been enlightened by the gospel, to shew the difference there was between them and the unconverted Gentiles, by an unspotted purity and holiness of behaviour, and not to walk like those from whom they were so happily distinguished by knowledge and grace; and cautions them in particular against lying, excess of anger, and stealing, and that corrupt communication to which the heathens were notoriously addicted, but which were inconsistent with the character of Christians, and grievous to the Holy Spirit. [verse 17.30.]
3. He further cautions them against all malice, and urges them to mutual love and readiness to forgive, in consideration of the divine compassions manifested in the gospel, and then pursues his exhortations to abstain from all inordinate desires, and from all manner of uncleanness and immodesty, as well in words as actions, in which, however, they had shamefully indulged themselves in the darkness of heathenism; the light of Christianity displayed them in such odious colours, as plainly shewed them to be unbecoming their profession, and no way reconcilable with the obligation they were under to walk as children of the light [verse 31 to the end, and chap. v. 1..14.]
4. He recommends it to them, in consideration of their character and circumstances, to be prudent and circumspect in their whole conversation, as those who were instructed in the will of God; and not to seek for pleasure in a dissolute excess, but, guarding against all intemperance, to make it the delightful business of their lives to express their gratitude to God, under the influences of his Spirit, by praising him for all his mercies; and while they were thus careful of their duty to God, he also urges them not to be negligent of the duties which they owed to one another as members of society, but to behave with due submission to each other in their several stations. [verse 15..21.] And then,
5. Having hinted at the relative duties of society in general, he descends to particulars; and, beginning with the duties of husbands and wives, he recommends it to husbands to love their wives, in imitation of the love which Christ bears to the church, and presses upon wives the correspondent duty of conjugal subjection, in imitation of the subjection which the church pays to Christ the head of it. [verse 22 to the end.] From whence he passes on to the mutual duties of children, and parents, and of servants, and masters, giving suitable admonitions to each, and adding proper arguments to enforce them. [chap. vi. I..9.] And after this, for a conclusion of the whole,
6. He gives a general exhortation to them all, of whatever condition or relation in life, to prepare for a strenuous combat with their spiritual enemies, by putting on the whole armour of God, and living in the exercise of those Christian graces which were necessary for their defence and safety; and having, among other things, exhorted them. to fervency in prayer, he particularly recommends himself to their remembrance at the throne of grace, that he might carry on the important work in which he was engaged
with freedom and fidelity, whatever he might suffer for it; and, leaving it to Tychicus, (by whom he sent this epistle) more fully to inform them of every circumstance. related to him, he closes his epistle with an apostolical benediction, not only to themselves, but to all that love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. [verse 10 to the end.]
The occasion of the epistle to the Philippians is peculiarly pleasant. The brethren at Philippi, having heard of Paul's imprisonment at Rome, sent Epaphroditus, one of their most esteemed pastors, to that city, to comfort him by making known to him their love, and by supplying him with money, that he might want nothing necessary to render his confinement easy. [ch. iv. 18.] In making this present to the apostle, all the brethren of that church, no doubt, contributed according to their ability; but none more liberally, we may believe, than Lydia, who was the apostle's first convert there, and who shewed such attachment to Christ, that she constrained his servants to lodge. in her house all the time of their first abode at Philippi. The bishops, likewise, and deacons, shewed equal forwardness with the other brethren in expressing their respect for the apostle by so seasonable a gift, as may be gathered from his mentioning them particularly in the address of his letter. This new instance of the Philippians' love to the apostle, and of their zeal for the gospel, making a deep impression on his mind, he wrote to them the letter bearing their name, in which he first of all commended their faith, and their earnest desire to contribute to the spreading of the gospel. Next, as news which he knew would be most acceptable to the Philippians, he informed them that he had preached with great success at Rome, and that his imprisonment, instead of hindering, had furthered the gospel, by making it known even in the palace itself. Then he expressed his hopes of being soon released, in which case he promised to visit them; but, in the mean time, he would send Timothy to comfort them. Also he thanked them, in the most handsome manner, for their kind remembrance of him, and for their care in supplying his wants; telling them, at the same time, that through their liberal gift, he had every thing which his present situation required.
From the manner in which the apostle expresses himself on this occasion, it appears, that before he received the Philippians' present, he was in great want even of necessaries, which may seem strange, considering how numerous and rich the brethren at Rome must have been. But we should remember, that as Paul had not converted the Romans, he did not think himself entitled to maintenance from them; that, being a prisoner, he could not work, as in other places, for his own support; that from the churches where enemies and opposers had raised a faction against him he never would take any thing; and that the Philippians were the only church with which he communicated as concerning giving and receiving. This honour he did them, because they loved him exceedingly, had preserved his doctrine in purity, and always had behaved as sincere Christians.
The excellent character of the Philippians may be understood from the manner in which this epistle was written. For while most of his letters to other churches contain reprehensions of them, either for their errors or for their bad conduct, no fault is found with any of the Philippians; but, on the contrary, this letter is entirely employed in commending them, or in giving them exhortations and encouragements to duty. Forthough the apostle entertained a good opinion of the Philippians, he by no means wished them to rest satisfied with their present attainments, but told them that he himself constantly endeavoured to make further progress in virtue, and ordered them all to walk by the same rule.
The affectionate and encouraging strain in which the letter to the Philippians is written, was, in part, owing to the good account which Epaphroditus, one of their pastors, had given of their behaviour. But having brought word also that the
judaizing teachers were endeavouring to introduce themselves among the Philippians, the apostle judged it necessary to put them on their guard against persons whose whole business was to destroy the purity and peace of the churches. And therefore, in the third chapter it is observable, that the apostle's zeal for the truth, and his great love to the Philippians, led him to speak of these corrupters of the gospel with more bitterness than in any of his other letters. Perhaps, also, he was directed to do so by a particular impulse of the Spirit, who judged it proper that this sharpness should be used for opening the eyes of the faithful, and making them sensible of the malignancy of the false teachers, and of the pernicious tendency of their doctrine.
As to the time when the epistle to the Philippians was written, it is generally believed to have been towards the end of the apostle's first confinement. For when he wrote it, he had good hope of being released, [chap. i. 25, ii. 24.] but did not expect to be set at liberty immediately. For, said he, [chap. ii. 19.] I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may have good courage when I know your affairs. Wherefore, since Timothy was to bring him an account of the affairs of the Philippians, the apostle certainly expected his return before he himself was released, or, at least, before he left Italy. From Heb. xiii. 23, we learn that Timothy was actually sent to Philippi; consequently we may suppose that the apostle, who was released according to his expectation, waited for Timothy's return at some place in Italy, that they might set out together for Judea. And the apostle's release happening, as is generally believed, in the spring of A. D. 62, the epistle to the Philippians may have been written in the summer or autumn of A. D. 61.
In the epistle to the Colossians, the apostle, having joined Timothy's name with his own in the inscription of the epistle, begins with expressing his thankfulness to God for calling them into his church, and giving them a share in the important blessings of the gospel; at the same time declaring the great satisfaction with which he heard of their faith and love, and assuring them of his constant prayers that they might receive larger supplies of divine wisdom and' grace to enable them to walk worthy of their high character and hopes as Christians. [chap. i. 1..14.] And to make them more sensible of the excellence of this new dispensation into which they were admitted, he represents to them, in very sublime terms, the dignity of our Saviour's person, as the image of God, the creator of all things, and the head of the church, whose death God was pleased to appoint as the means of abolishing the obligation of the Mosaic law, which separated between the Jews and the Gentiles, and of reconciling sinners to himself. [verse 15..23.] From this view of the excellency of Christ's person, and of the riches of redeeming grace, the apostle takes occasion to express the cheerfulness with which he suffered in the cause of the gospel, and his earnest solicitude to fulfil his ministry among them in the most successful manner; assuring them that he felt the most tender concern both for them and the other Christians in the neighbourhood, that they might be established in their adherence to the Christian faith. [verse 24 to the end, chap. ii. 1..7.]
Having given these general exhortations, the apostle proceeds to caution the Colossians against suffering their minds to be corrupted from the simplicity of the gospel, either by Pagan philosophy or by Jewish tradition, reminding them of the obligation which their baptism laid them under of submitting to Christ as the only law-giver and head of his church, who had totally abolished the ceremonial law, and discharged them from any further regard to it. [verse S..19.] And since, upon embracing Christianity, they were to consider themselves as dead with respect to any other religious profession, he shews the absurdity of being still subject to the appointments of the Mosaic law, and cautions them against those corrupt additions to Christianity which some were
attempting to introduce, especially by superstitions of their own devising. And, as the most effectual means for their security, he exhorts them, as they were risen with Christ, to keep their thoughts fixed on him as the Lord and life, and on that better world whither he was ascended, and to which they had the prospect of being admitted. verse 20 to the end, chap. iii. 1..4.] From this glorious hope, the apostle presses them to guard against every degree of uncleanness, malice, covetousness, falsehood, and whatever was inconsistent with the purity of that new dispensation into which they were entered; and exhorts them to abound in the practice of meekness, forbearance, humility, and love, and to accustom themselves to those devout exercises and evangelical views which would have the most direct tendency to improve the Christian temper. [verse 5..17.]
After these general precepts, the apostle proceeds to recommend to the Colossians such a care in discharging the duties correspondent to the several relations of life, as would be most honourable to their Christian profession; and particularly enumerates those of husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants. And to assist them in the performance of these duties, he exhorts them to be constant in prayer; and, for the credit of their religion, advises them to maintain a prudent obliging behaviour to their Gentile brethren: [verse 18 to the end, chap. iv. 1..6.]
The apostle closes his epistle with recommending to them Tychicus and Onesimus, of whom he speaks in very honourable terms, and to whom he refers them for a more particular account of the state of the church at Rome; and, having inserted salutations from Aristarchus, Epaphras, one of their ministers, (who was then with Paul) and others, he gives directions for reading his epistle at Laodicea, addresses a solemn admonition to Archippus, and concludes with his salutation written with his own hand. [verse 7 to the end.]
Philemon, to whom the epistle was written, will be more particularly spoken of in the nineteenth chapter. That it was written from Rome about the same time with that to the Colossians may be gathered from the following circumstances. Like the epistle to the Colossians, this was written when the apostle was in bonds, verse 1, 10, 13, 23, and when he had great hopes of obtaining his liberty, verse 22. Timothy joined Paul in both epistles. Epaphroditus, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, joined in the salutations in both. Lastly, Onesimus, the bearer of this, was one of the messenger's by whom the epistle to the Colossians was sent.
Doddridge observes, that this epistle, considered as a mere human composition, is a master-piece of its kind. For if it is compared with an epistle of Pliny, supposed to have been written on a similar occasion, Lib. ix. Epis. 21, that epistle, though penned by one who was reckoned to excel in the epistolary style, and though it has undoubtedly many beauties, will be found, by persons of taste, much inferior to this animated composition of the apostle Paul.
The epistle to the Hebrews is believed to have been written after the apostle's release from his first imprisonment, and before he left Italy on his return to Asia. This epistle was probably directed to such of his Hebrew brethren as resided in Judea, where the Jewish converts were almost incessantly persecuted by their unbelieving countrymen. The manifest design of Paul in the epistle to the Hebrews is to confirm the Jewish Christians in the faith and practice of the gospel of Christ, which they might be in danger of deserting, either through the insinuations or ill treatment of their persecutors.
It was natural for the defenders of the Mosaic law to insist upon the divine authority of Moses, the distinguishing glory and majesty which attended its first promulgation