Synopsis of the Holy Bible – or Brief Commentary on Several Books in the Old & New Testaments, 1812
On the several Books contained in the Old and New Testaments
GENESIS – This book is called Berescheth, i.e. In the beginning, by the Hebrews; and Genesis, i.e. Generation, by the Greeks; because it begins with the history of the creation of the world. It contains a history of two thousand three hundred and sixty years, from the beginning of the world to the death of the patriarch Joseph; the truth of all which it was not difficult for Moses to know, because it came down to his time through but a very few hands. For from Adam to Noah, there was but one man (Methuselah) who lived so long as to see them both. And so it was from Noah to Abraham; Shem conversed with both: As Isaac also did with Abraham and Joseph; from whom these things might easily be conveyed to Moses by Amram, who lived a long while with Joseph. We have here an authentic account of the creation of the world; the original innocence, and fall of man; the propagation of the human species; the rise of religion; the invention of the arts; the deluge; the restoration of the world: the division and peopling of the earth; the origin of nations and kingdoms; and the genealogy of the patriarchs from Adam to the grandsons of Jacob.
EXODUS – The Greek translators called this book Exodus, which signifies a going out, because it begins with the story of the going out of the children of Israel from Egypt. This book gives us, 1. The accomplishment of the promises made before to Abraham, to chap. xix and then, 2. The establishment of the ordinances which were afterwards observed by Israel: thence to the end. Moses in this book begins, like Cæsar, to write his own commentaries: and gives us the history of those things which he was himself an eye and ear witness of. There are more types of Christ in this book than perhaps in any other book of the Old Testament. The way of man’s reconciliation to God, and coming into covenant and communion with him by a Mediator, is here variously represented; and it is of great use to us for the illustration of the New Testament.
LEVITICUS – This book containing the actions of about one month’s space, acquaints us with the Levitical ceremonies used after the tabernacle was erected in the wilderness, and is therefore called Leviticus. The records of even those abrogated laws are of use to us, for the strengthening our faith in it, as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world; and of the increase of our thankfulness to God, for freeing us from that heavy yoke.
NUMBERS – This book is thus entitled, because of the numbers of the children of Israel, so often mentioned therein; an eminent accomplishment of God’s promise to Abraham, that his seed should be as the stars of heaven for multitude. It also relates two numberings of them; one at mount Sinai, chap.i. the other thirty-nine years after. And there are not three men of the same in the last account that were in the first. This book is almost equally divided between histories and laws intermixed. An abstract of much of this book we have in a few words, Psa.xcv.10, forty years long was I grieved with this generation; and an application of it to ourselves, Heb. iv.1. Let us fear lest we come short!
DEUTERONOMY – The Greek interpreters call this book Deuteronomy, that is, The second law, or A second edition of the law; because it is a repetition of many of the laws, (as well as much of the history) contained in the three foregoing books. They to whom the first law was given were all dead, and a new generation sprung up, to whom God would have it repeated by Moses himself, that it might make the deeper impression upon them. – It begins with a brief rehearsal of the most remarkable events, that had befallen them since they came from mount Sinai. In the fourth chapter begins a pathetic exhortation to obedience: From the 12th to the 27th are repeated many particular laws, enforced in the 27th and 28th, with promises and threatenings, which are formed into a covenant, chap. xxix.xxx. Care is taken in chap. xxxi to perpetuate the remembrance of these things among them, particularly by a song, chap. xxxii. concluded with a blessing, chap. xxxiii. All this was delivered by Moses to Israel, in the last month of his life.
JOSHUA – In this book and those that follow to the end of Esther, we have the history of the Jewish nation. These books, to the end of the Second Book of Kings, the Jewish writers call The first book of the prophets: as being wrote by prophets, men divinely inspired. Indeed it is probable they were collections of the authentic records of the nation, which some of the prophets were divinely directed and assisted to put together. It seems the substance of the several histories was written under divine direction, when the events had just happened, and long after put into the form wherein they stand now, perhaps all by the same hand.
JUDGES – This book contains the history of the Israelites under the Judges, which lasted two hundred and ninety-nine years: under Othniel, forty; under Ehud, eighty; under Barak, forty; under Gideon, forty; under Abimelek, three; under Tola, twenty-three; under Jair, twenty-two; under Jephtha, six; under Ibzan, seven; under Elon, ten; under Abdon, eight; under Samson, twenty. As for the years of their servitude, they co-incide with the years of some or other of the Judges. It is not improbably supposed, that the prophet Samuel was the penman of this book.
RUTH – This short history fitly follows the book of Judges, the events related therein happening in the time of the Judges. It was probably wrote by Samuel. The design of it is, 1. To lead us to Providence, acknowledging God in all our ways; 2. To lead to Christ, who descended from Ruth, and part of whose genealogy concludes the book.
I. SAMUEL – This book and the following bear the name of Samuel (though he wrote only a part of the former, and some other of the prophets, perhaps Nathan, the rest) because they contain first, a large account of Samuel, and then the history of the reigns of Saul and David, who were both anointed by him.
II. SAMUEL – This book is the history of the reign of David. It gives us an account of his triumphs and his troubles. In many instances, he appears as a great and a good man: yet it must be confessed he had great vices: so that his honour shines brighter in his Psalms than in his annals.
I. KINGS – The two books of Samuel are an introduction to the two books of Kings, as they relate the original of the royal government in Saul, and of the royal family in David. These two books give us an account of David’s successor Solomon, the division of his kingdom, and the several kings of Israel and Judah down to the captivity. And in these, special regard is had to the house of David, from which Christ came. Some of his sons trod in his steps, and their reigns were usually long; whereas those of the wicked kings were usually short: so that the state of Judah (in Israel all the kings were wicked) was not so bad as it would otherwise have been.
II. KINGS – The former book of Kings had an illustrious beginning in the glory of the kingdom of Israel. This has a melancholy conclusion, in the desolations of that kingdom first, and then of Judah. Here is Elijah fetching fire from heaven: Elisah working many miracles: Hazael anointed, for the correction of Israel; Jehu, for the destruction of the house of Ahab, and of Baal: The reigns of several kings, both of Judah and Israel: The captivity of the ten tribes: The glorious reign of Hezekiah; the wicked reign of Manasseh; the good one of Josiah; and the destruction of Jerusalem by the king of Babylon.
I. CHRONICLES – The chief design of these books is, to complete the history of the kings of Judah; to gather up fragments of sacred history, which were omitted in the books of Samuel and Kings; to explain some passages there mentioned, and to give an exact account of the genealogies. This was then a work of great necessity, to preserve the distinction of the tribes and families; that it might appear, Christ came of that nation, tribe, and family, of which he was to be born. And this account, having been hitherto neglected, is most seasonably mentioned in these books, compiled by Ezra after the captivity, because this was to be, in a manner, the last part of the sacred history of the Old Testament. If many things herein are now obscure to us, they were not so to the Hebrews. And all the persons here named were known to them, by those exact genealogies which they kept in their several families, and in public registers.
II. CHRONICLES – This book begins with the reign of Solomon, continues the history of the kings of Judah to the captivity, and concludes with the fall of that illustrious monarchy and the destruction of the temple. We had the history of the house of David before, intermixed with that of the kings of Israel; but here we have it entire: much is repeated here which we had before; yet many passages are enlarged on, and divers added which we had not before, especially relating to religion.
EZRA – The history of this book is the accomplishment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, concerning the return of the Jews out of Babylon, at the end of seventy years, and a type of the accomplishment of the prophecies in the Revelation, touching the deliverance of the Gospel Church from spiritual Babylon. Ezra preserved the records of that great revolution, and transmitted them to the church in this book. It gives us an account of the Jews’ return from their captivity, chap. i. ii. Of the building of the temple, notwithstanding the opposition it met with, chap. iii-vi. Of Ezra’s coming to Jerusalem, chap. vii. viii. Of his obliging those that had married strange wives to put them away, chap. ix. x.
NEHEMIAH – This book continues the history of the children of the captivity, the Jews lately returned out of Babylon. We have a full account of Nehemiah’s labors for them, in these his commentaries: wherein he records not only the works of his hands, but the very workings of his heart, inserting many devout reflections and ejaculations, which are peculiar to his writing. Twelve years he was the tirshatha, or governor of Judea, under the same Artaxerxes that gave Ezra his commission.
ESTHER – Both Jews and Christians have generally supposed Mordecai to be the writer of this book, which shews the care God had given over those Israelites, who were still scattered among the heathens. It is the narrative of a plot to cut off all the Jews, disappointed by a wonderful concurrence of providences. The name of God is not found in this, book; but the finger of God is, directing so many minute events for the deliverance of his people: The particulars are very encouraging to God’s people, in the most difficult and dangerous times.
JOB – The preceding books of scripture are, for the most part, plain and easy narratives, which he that runs may read and understand: but in the five poetical books, on which we are now entering, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Solomon’s Song, are many things hard to be understood. We are certain, that the book of Job is a true history. That there was such a man as Job, undeniably appears, from his being mentioned by the prophet, together with Noah and Daniel, Ezek. xiv.14. We are sure also that this book is very ancient, probably of equal date with the book of Genesis itself. In this noble poem we have, 1. A monument of primitive theology: 2. A specimen of gentile piety: for Job was not of the promised seed, no Israelite, no proselyte: 3. An exposition of providence, and a clear solution of many difficult passages therein: 4. A great example of patience and close adherence to God in the deepest calamities: and 5. An illustrious type of Christ, emptied and humbled, in order to his greater glory.
PSALMS – We have now before us one of the choicest parts of the Old Testament, wherein there is so much of Christ and his gospel, as well as of God and his law, that it has been called the summary of both Testaments. It is called The Psalms, in Hebrew Tehillim, which properly signifies Psalms of Praise, because many of them are such; but Psalms is a more general word, meaning all poetical compositions fitted to be sung. It is a collection of all the Psalms that were divinely inspired, composed at several times, by different persons, and on various occasions: and here put together, without any dependence on each other. Thus they were preserved from being scattered and lost, and kept in readiness for the service of the church. There is little in the book of Psalms of the ceremonial law. But the moral law is all along magnified and made honourable; and Christ, the foundation, corner, and top-stone of all religion, is here clearly spoken of; both his sufferings, with the glory that should follow, and the kingdom he should set up in the world.
PROVERBS – We have here a new way of writing, wherein divine wisdom is taught us in proverbs or short sentences, which contain their whole design within themselves, and are not connected with one another. And these proverbs of Solomon are not merely a collection of the wise sayings which had been formerly delivered, but were the dictates of the Spirit of God in Solomon: so that it is God by Solomon that here speaks to us. I say, to us,: for St. Paul says, The exhortation speaketh to us, as unto children The scope of all is, to direct us to order our conversation, that we may see the salvation of God.
ECCLESIASTES – The author of this book was Solomon, as is manifest both from the common consent of both Jewish and Christian writers, and from the express words of the first verse. That he wrote it in his old age is more than probable from divers passages in it: and that it was written by him, as a public testimony of his repentance and detestation of those wicked courses to which he had before addicted himself: wherein he followed the example of his father David, who, after his sad fall, penned the fifty-first psalm. There are some passages in it which seem impious; but it must be considered, that it is in part dramatical; that Solomon speaks most things in his own name, but some things in the names of ungodly men. The design of it is, to describe man’s true happiness, and the way leading to it: and to shew, that it is to be had only in the fear of God and obedience to his laws, which alone can give a man a cheerful enjoyment of his present comforts, and assurance of his everlasting happiness.
SONG OF SOLOMON – The form of this book is dramatical, wherein several parts are uttered in the name of several persons, who are chiefly the bridegroom and the bride, and the friends or companions of the one, and of the other. Nor is it declared what or when each of them speaks but that is left to the observation of the intelligent reader. The design of the book in general is to describe the love and happy marriage of two persons, but it is not to be understood concerning Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter, (although the occasion may be taken from that, or rather he makes an allusion to that) but concerning God, or Christ, and his church and people. This is sufficiently evident from the descriptions of the bridegroom and bride, which are such as could not with any decency be used or meant concerning Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter. There are many expressions and descriptions, which being applied to them, are absurd and monstrous. Hence it follows, that this book is to be understood allegorically concerning that spiritual love and marriage which is between Christ and his church, in the various conditions to which it is liable in his world.
ISAIAH – The holy prophets, whose writings are contained in the sacred scriptures, are sixteen. Of these Isaiah is first in place, and as may seem probable, in time also. It is certain he was a contemporary with Hosea. Compare Isai.i.1. with Hos.i.1. The Jews tell us that he was of the blood royal of Judah. But undoubtedly he was the prince of all the prophets, whether we consider the great extent and variety of his prophecies, the excellency and sublimity of those mysteries which were revealed to him and by him, the majesty and elegancy of his style, or the incomparable liveliness and power of his sermons. He so evidently and fully describes the person, and offices, and sufferings, and kingdom of Christ, that some of the ancients called him the fifth Evangelist. And it is observed that there are more quotations in the New Testament taken out of Isaiah, than out of all the other prophets.
JEREMIAH – Jeremiah, though a physician, could not save a dying state, their disease prevailing against every remedy; and indeed no wonder that all things were so much out of order, when the book of the law had been wanting above sixty years. He was called to be a teacher in his youth, in the days of good Josiah, being sanctified and ordained by God to his prophetical office from his mother’s womb, chap. i.5. in a very evil time, though the people afterward proved much worse upon the death of that good king. He threatened their destruction and captivity by the Chaldeans, which he lived to see, but foretells their return after seventy years; all which accordingly came to pass. He also, notwithstanding his dreadful threatening, intermixes divers comfortable promises of the Messiah, and the days of the gospel; he denounces also heavy judgments against the heathen nations, that had afflicted God’s people, both such as were near, and also more remote. Upon the murder of Gedaliah, whom the Chaldeans had made governor of Judea, he was forcibly carried into Egypt where (after he had prophesied from first to last between forty and fifty years) he probably died; some say he was stoned to death.
LAMENTATIONS – This book in Greek, Latin, and English, has its name from the subject matter of it, which is Lamentation. But in the Hebrew it takes its name from the first word of the book, as the five books of Moses do. – That it was wrote by Jeremiah none can question, because in the Hebrew it is styled, The book of Jeremiah. It is made up of complaints of the lamentable condition of the Jews; petitions to God for mercy; and prophecies both of their better estate, and the ruin of their enemies. The whole book lets us see from what an height of dignity, to what a depth of misery sin may bring a nation, how much soever interested in God; and directs us to our duty in a state of affliction.
EZEKIEL – The prophecies of this book were spoken and written in Babylon, to the Jews who were captive there. Ezekiel prophesied in the beginning of their captivity, to convince them, when they were secure and unhumbled; Daniel in the end of it, to comfort them, when they were dejected and discouraged. – There is much in this book which is very mysterious, especially in the beginning and latter end of it. But though the visions are intricate, the sermons are plain and the design of them is, to shew God’s people their transgressions. And though the reproofs and threatenings are very sharp, yet toward the close we have very comfortable promises, to be fulfilled in the kingdom of the Messiah, of whom indeed Ezekiel speaks less than almost any of the prophets.
DANIEL – Daniel was of the tribe of Judah, and it is thought, of the royal family. He lived a ling and active life in the courts and councils of some of the greatest monarchs the world ever had. It is generally supposed he lived to be very old, and died at Shushan in Persia. The first chapter of this book, and the three first verses of the second are in Hebrew: and so are the four last chapters: the rest of the book is in Chaldee. Daniel continues the holy story, from the first taking of Jerusalem by the Chaldean Babel, till the last destruction of it by Rome, the mystical Babel.
HOSEA – Hosea was the first of all the writing prophets, somewhat before Isaiah. And he is the most obscure of all, which arises from his concise and sententious style, peculiar to himself. He continued very long a prophet; the Jews say, he prophesied near fourscore and ten years. So that he foretold the destruction of the ten tribes, when it was at a great distance; and lived himself to see and lament it. The scope of his prophecy is, to reprove sin, and denounce judgments against a people that would not be reformed. Many passages in the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel seem to be borrowed from it.
JOEL – Joel speaks of the same judgments that Amos does; whence it is probable, they appeared about the same time. Amos in Israel, and Joel in Judah. Amos prophesied in the days of Jeroboam the Second (Amos vii.10) – In this prophecy, 1. The desolation made by armies of insects is described: 2. The people are called to repentance: 3. Promises of mercy are made to the penitent, and of the pouring out of the Spirit in the latter days – 4. The cause of God’s people is pleaded against their enemies, and glorious things are spoken of the Gospel-Jerusalem.
AMOS – Amos was contemporary with Hosea, Joel, and Isaiah, and prophesied a little sooner than Isaiah. His style is frequently concise and sententious, which makes it somewhat obscure. He brings many reproofs, allusions and arguments from his country-employment. But they are filled with admirable skill and beautiful with an inimitable eloquence. He begins with threatenings against the neighbouring nations. Then calls Israel to an account for their idolatry, ingratitude and incorrigibleness. He calls them to repentance, foretells the desolations that were coming upon them, declares some particular judgments, and after other reproofs and threatenings, concludes with a promise of the Messiah.
OBADIAH – Who Obadiah was, does not appear, neither the exact time when he prophesied. It is generally thought he was contemporary with Hosea, Joel, and Amos. This prophecy contains first, Threatenings against Edom; and secondly, Gracious promises to Israel.
JONAH – Probably Jonah himself was the penman of this book. In 2 Kings xiv.25, we find, that he was of Gath-hepher in Galilee, a city that belonged to the tribe of Zebulon. We find also, that he was a messenger of mercy to Israel in the reign of Jeroboam the Second. We have here a remarkable instance of God’s mercy toward repenting sinners. And in Jonah we have a most remarkable type of our Lord’s burial and resurrection.
MICAH – Micah was contemporary with Isaiah, and began to prophecy a little after him. What we find here in writing, is an abstract of what he preached, during the reign of three kings. The scope of all is 1. To convince Israel and Judah of their sins, and of the judgements of God ready to break in upon them; and 2. To comfort the righteous with promises of mercy and deliverance, especially with an assurance of the coming Messiah.
NAHUM – Nahum prophesies wholly of the destruction of Nineveh. He is supposed to have lived in the time of Hezekiah, and to have prophesied after the captivity of Israel, by the king of Assyria; which was in the ninth year of Hezekiah, five years before Sennacherib’s invading Judah.
HABAKKUK – It is probable, Habakkuk lived and prophesied in the reign of king Manasseh. His book is a mixture of the prophet’s addresses to God in the peoples name, and to the people in God’s name. The whole particularly refers to the invasion of the land of Judah by the Chaldeans: but it is of general use, especially to those who are tempted, concerning the prosperity of bad, and the troubles of good men.
ZEPHANIAH – Zephaniah was the last of the minor prophets, before the captivity. He is thought to have been the great grandson of Hezekiah, and was contemporary with Jeremiah and Ezekiel. He foretells the captivity of Judah by the Chaldeans, sets their sins in order before them, calls them to repentance, threatens the neighbouring nations, and gives encouraging promises of their return.
HAGGAI – Nine of the twelve minor prophets preached before the captivity; but the three last, some time after it. Haggai and Zechariah appeared about the same time, eighteen years after the return, and encouraged the people to re-build the temple. – Haggai’s prophecies were delivered within four months, in the second year of Darius; but we have Zechariah’s prophecies dated above two years after. They both prophesied of Christ. Haggai speaks of him as The glory of the latter house, Zechariah as The man, The branch. In them the light of the morning-star shone more bright than in the foregoing prophecies, as they lived nearer the time of the rising of the Sun of Righteousness.
ZECHARIAH – Zechariah prophesies more particularly concerning the Messiah than Haggai had done. In the five first verses of his prophecy, he declares the scope of it. Thence to the sixth chapter he relates the visions he saw, and the instructions he received by them. He shews the Jews their present duty, and encourages them to hop for God’s favour. He reproves for sin, threatens the impenitent, and encourages them that feared God with gracious promises.
MALACHI – Though Malachi be the last of the prophets, and in him prophecy ceased: yet the spirit of prophecy shines as clear, as strong, as bright, in him as in any that went before. The Jews, call him the seal of prophecy, because in him the succession of prophets came to a period: God wisely ordering, that prophecy should cease, some ages before the Messiah came, that he might appear the more conspicuous, and be the more welcome. Haggai and Zechariah were sent to reprove the people for delaying the re-building the temple: Malachi to reprove them for their neglect of it, now it was built, and for their profanation of the temple-service. And the sins he reproves are those complained of by Nehemiah, with whom he is supposed to have been contemporary. And now prophecy was to cease, he speaks more clearly of the Messiah, than any other of the prophets had done.
ST. MATTHEW – St. Matthew before his conversion was a publican, whose business was to gather tolls, or taxes for the state. He was called from his office by our Lord, to follow him; which call he immediately obeyed, and became his faithful disciple. – This Gospel (which means good tidings of our salvation by Jesus Christ) begins with Christ’s genealogy, birth and flight into Egypt: proceeds to his baptism, temptations, and calling of his disciples; relates at large his sermons, disputes, and parables with the interpretations of them: records many of his famous works and miracles: and concludes with a large account of his passion, death, and resurrection, and his solemn commission to his apostles.
ST. MARK – St. Mark is thought to have been a convert of St. Peter, and therefore called his son, 1 Pet. v.13. In his Gospel he is exceeding brief; he treats principally the same subjects as St. Matthew, and in many places adds some remarkable circumstances, omitted by him: particularly with regard to the apostles after they were called. He is said to be the founder of the church of Alexandria, in Egypt and that he died there and was buried
ST. LUKE – St. Luke was a physician by profession, and a follower and an assistant of St. Paul. In his gospel he treats principally of Christ and his offices, and chiefly in an historical manner: and also supplies what was omitted by St. Matthew and St. Mark. The occasion of his writing may be seen chap.i.1-4.
ST. JOHN – St. John was the beloved disciples of our Lord, and was usually present at Christ’s chief miracles. He lived longest of all the apostles. In Domitian’s time, he was banished to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the Revelation: after which, under Nerva, he was recalled to Ephesus (being about ninety-seven years of age) where he wrote this Gospel: some say at the entreaty of the Christians at Asia, for the refutation of Ebion, Cerinthus, and others who denied the divinity of Christ. Having therefore read the other three Evangelists, he supplies some things which were wanting in them; fully treats of the divinity of Christ, and refutes those who denied his Godhead.
THE ACTS – This book, in which St. Luke records the actions of the Apostles, particularly of St. Peter and St. Paul (whose companion in travel he was) is as it were the centre between the Gospels and the Epistles. It contains, after very brief recapitulation of the evangelical history, a continuation of the history of Christ, the event of his predictions, and a kind of supplement to what he had before spoken to his disciples, by the Holy Ghost now given to them. It contains also the seeds and first stamins of all those things which are enlarged upon in the Epistles.
ROMANS – That St. Paul wrote this epistle from Corinth we may learn from his commending to the Romans, Phebe, a servant of the church at Cenchrea (chap. xvi.1) a port of Corinth, and from his mentioning the salutations of Gaius and Erastus, (chap. xvi.23) who were both Corinthians. Those to whom he wrote seem to have been chiefly foreigners, both Jews and Gentiles, whom business drew from other provinces; as appears both by his writing in Greek, and by his salutations of several former acquaintance. – His chief design is to shew, 1. That neither the Gentiles by the law of nature, nor the Jews by the law of Moses, could obtain justification before God; and that therefore, it was necessary for both to seek it from the free mercy of God by faith. 2. That God has an absolute right to shew mercy on what terms he pleases, and to with-hold it from those who will not accept it on his own terms.
I. CORINTHIANS – Corinth was a city of Achaia, situate on the Isthmus which joins Peloponnesus, now called the Mores, to the rest of Greece. It was so advantageously situated for trade, that the inhabitants of it abounded in riches, which by too natural a consequence, led them into luxury, lewdness, and all manner of vice. The design of the apostle in this epistle is to beat down carnal wisdom and to exalt the powerful and simple preaching of Christ crucified; to instruct them in the doctrine of Christian liberty, of the sacraments of the Old and New Testament, of spiritual gifts, and of the resurrection of the dead.
II. CORINTHIANS – In this epistle, written from Macedonia, within a year after the former, St. Paul beautifully displays his tender affection toward the Corinthians, who were greatly moved by the seasonable severity of the former, and repeats several of the admonitions he had there given concerning his own; but in such a manner as to direct all he mentions of himself to their spiritual profit. The thread and connexion of the whole epistle is historical; other things are interwoven only by way of digression.
GALATIANS – This epistle is not written, as most of St. Paul’s are, to the Christians of a particular city, but those of a whole country in Asia Minor, the metropolis of which was Ancyra. These readily embraced the gospel; but after St. Paul had left them, certain men came among them, who (like those mentioned Acts xv) taught, That it was necessary to be circumcised, and to keep the Mosaic law. They affirmed, That all the other apostles taught thus: That St. Paul was inferior to them: And that even he sometimes practiced and recommended the law, though at other times he opposed it. – The first part therefore of this epistle is spent in vindicating himself and his doctrine: the second contains proofs from the Old Testament, that the law and all its ceremonies were abolished by Christ; and the third, practical inferences, closed with his usual benediction.
EPHESIANS – Ephesus was the chief city of that part of Asia, which was a Roman province. Here St. Paul preached for three years, and from hence the gospel was spread throughout the whole province. He begins this, as most of his epistles, with thanksgiving to God, for their embracing and adhering to the gospel. He shews the inestimable blessings and advantages they received thereby, as far above all the Jewish privileges, as all the wisdom and philosophy of the heathens. He proves that our Lord is the head of the whole church: of angels and spirits, the church triumphant; and of Jews and gentiles, now equally members of the church militant. In the three last chapters he exhorts them to various duties, civil and religious, personal and relative, suitable to their Christian character, privileges, assistance, and obligation.
PHILIPPIANS – Philippi was so called from Philip king of Macedonia, who much enlarged and beautified it. Afterwards it became a Roman colony, and the chief city of that part of Macedonia. Hither St. Paul was sent by a vision to preach; and here not long after his coming, he was shamefully entreated. Nevertheless, many were converted by him, during the short time of his abode there; by whose liberality he was more assisted than by any other church of his planting. And now they had sent large assistance to him (he being imprisoned in Rome) by Epaphroditus, by whom he returns them this epistle.
COLOSSIANS – Colosse was the city of the Greater Phrygia not far from Laodicea and Hieropolis. Though St. Paul preached in many parts of Phrygia, yet he had never been at this city. It received the gospel by the preaching of Epaphras, who was with St. Paul when he wrote this epistle. It seems the Colossians were now in danger of being seduced by those who strove to blend Judaism and heathen superstitions with Christianity. In opposition to them the apostle, 1. Commends the knowledge of Christ, as more excellent than all other, and so entire and perfect, that no other knowledge was necessary for a Christian. He 2. shews That Christ is above all angels, who are only his servants and that being reconciled to God through him, we have free access to him in all our necessities.
I. THESSALONIANS – This is the first of all the epistles which St Paul wrote. Thessalonica was one of the chief cities of Macedonia. Hither Paul went after the persecution at Phlippi. But he had not preached here long, before the unbelieving Jews raised a tumult against him and Silvanus and Timotheus. On this the brethren sent them away to Berea. Thence St. Paul went by sea to Athens, and sent for Silvanus and Timotheus, to come speedily to him. But being in fear lest the Thessalonian converts should be moved from their stedfastness, after a short time he sent Timotheus to them, to know the state of the church. Timotheus returning, found the apostle at Corinth: from whence he sent them this epistle, about a year after he had been at Thessalonica; – It contains exhortations to stedfastness, to a cheerful bearing of the cross, and to brotherly love, with divers comfortable directions.
II. THESSALONIANS – This epistle seems to have been written soon after the former, chiefly on occasion of some things therein, which had been misunderstood. Herein he, 1. Congratulates their constancy in the faith, and exhorts them to advance daily in grace and wisdom. 2. Reforms their mistakes concerning the coming of our lord. And 3. Recommends several Christian duties.
I. TIMOTHY – The mother of Timothy was a Jewess, but his father was a Gentile. He was converted to Christianity very early; and while he was yet but a youth, was taken by St. Paul to assist him in the work of the gospel, chiefly in watering the churches which he had planted. St. Paul had doubtless largely instructed him in private conversation for the due execution of so weighty an office. Yet to fix things more upon his mind, and to give him an opportunity of having recourse to them afterward, and communicating them to others, as there might be occasion; as also to learn divine directions in writings, for the use of the church and this ministers in all ages, he sent him this excellent pastoral letter, which contains a great variety of practical directions.
II. TIMOTHY – This epistle was probably wrote by St. Paul, during his second confinement at Rome, not long before his martyrdom. It is, as it were, the swan’s dying song. But though it was wrote many years after the former, yet they are both of the same kind, and nearly resemble each other.
TITUS – Titus was converted from Heathenism by St. Paul (Gal. ii.3.) and, as it seems, very early; since the apostle counted him as a brother, at his first going into Macedonia. And he managed and settled the churches there, when St. Paul thought not good to go thither himself. He had now left him at Crete, to regulate the churches; to assist him wherein he wrote this epistle, as is generally believed, after the first, and before the second to Timothy. The tenor and style are much alike in this and those, and they cast much light on each other, and are worthy the serious attention of all Christian ministers and churches in all ages.
PHILEMON – Onesimus, servant to Philemon, an eminent person in Colosse, ran away from his master to Rome. Here he was converted to Christianity by St. Paul, who sent him back to his master with this letter. It seems, Philemon not only pardoned but gave him his liberty; seeing Ignatius makes mention of him as succeeding Timotheus at Ephesus.
HEBREWS – It is agreed by the general tenor of antiquity, that this epistle was written by St. Paul; whose other epistles were sent to the Gentile converts; this only to the Hebrews. And, indeed, all the Episcopies, except one, have Paul’s name to the epistle. – The apostle observing that the Hebrews were falling from the faith into Judaism, by reason of the cruel persecutions which they suffered, takes occasion in this epistle to stir them up to stedfastness; particularly by the excellency of Christ’s nature, person, and offices; by the degree of apostacy: by the power of faith, and by the reward of afflictions.
JAMES – This epistle is supposed to be written by James the son of Alpheus, the brother (or kinsman) of our Lord. It is called a General Epistle, because written not to a particular person or church, but to all the converted Israelites. Herein the apostle reproves that Antinomian spirit which had even then infected many, who had perverted the glorious doctrine of justification into an occasion of licentiousness. He also comforts the true believers under their sufferings and reminds them of the judgments that were approaching.
I PETER – There is a wonderful weightiness, and yet liveliness and sweetness in the epistles of St. Peter. His design in both is, To stir up the minds of those to whom he writes, by way of remembrance, (2 Pet. iii.1 and to guard them, not only against error, but also against doubting, chap. v.12.) This he does by reminding them of that glorious grace, which God had vouchsafed them through the gospel, by which believers are enabled to bring forth the fruits of faith, hope, love, and patience.
II PETER – This epistle, wrote not long before St. Peter’s death, and the destruction of Jerusalem, which the same design as the former, contains divers weighty directions, guards against impostors, describes the great day, and exhorts to perseverance.
I JOHN – The great similitude, or rather sameness both of spirit and expression, which runs through St. John’s Gospel, and all his epistles, is a clear evidence of their being written by the same person. In this epistle he speaks not to any particular church, but to all Christians of that age, and in them to the whole Christian church in all preceding ages. – Some have apprehended that it is not easy to discern the scope and method of this epistle. But if we examine it with simplicity, these may readily be discovered. St. John in this letter, or rather tract, (for he was present with part of those to whom he wrote) has this apparent aim. To confirm the happy and holy communion of the faithful with God and Christ by describing the marks of that blessed state.
II JOHN – This epistle, which was written to some Christian matron and her religious children, contains an exhortation to persevere in faith and love, and a caution against false teachers.
III JOHN – This epistle is inscribed to Gaius, wherein the apostle commends him for his zeal for the truth and his hospitality to the brethren; and advises him not to be discouraged at the perverse behavior of Diotrephes, but to follow the good example of Demetrius; and concludes with his usual salutations.
JUDE – This epistle greatly resembles the second of St. Peter, which St. Jude seems to have had in view when he wrote. Here are exhortations to contend for the faith, warnings and instructions for believers, and punishments denounced against the enemies of the church.
REVELATION – This book is written in the most accurate manner possible. It distinguishes the several things whereof it treats by seven epistles, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven phials; each of which seven is divided into four and three. Many things the book itself explains; as, the seven stars; the seven candlesticks; the Lamb, his seven horns and seven eyes, the incense; the dragon; the heads and horns of the beasts; the fine linen; the testimony of Jesus. And much light arises from comparing it with the ancient prophecies, and the predictions in the other books of the New Testament. – Herein our Lord has comprised what was wanting in those prophecies, touching the times which followed his ascension, and the end of the Jewish polity. Accordingly, it reaches from the Old Jerusalem to the New, reducing all things into one sum in the excellent order, and with a near resemblance to the ancient prophets. The introduction and conclusion agree with Daniel; the description of the man-child, and the promises to Sion, with Isaiah; the judgment of Babylon, with Jeremiah. Again, the determination of time, with Daniel; the architecture of the holy city, with Ezekiel, the emblems of the horses, candlesticks, &c. with Zechariah. Many things largely described by the prophets are here summarily repeated, and frequently in the same words. And it is scarce possible for any that either love or fear God, not to feel their hearts extremely affected in reading many parts of this book, particularly the former and latter parts of it. – It may be divided in the following manner: the 1st, 2nd and 3rd chapters contain the introduction; The 4th and 5th, the proposition: The 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th, describe things which are already fulfilled: The 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th, thing which are now fulfilling: The 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, things which will be shortly fulfilled: The 20th, 21st, and 22nd, things at a greater distance.