By this catholic spirit the apostles at Jerusalem appear to have been influenced; for no sooner had St. Peter explained to them what had passed, than they all cheerfully acquiesced and glorified God for having given repentance unto life unto the Gentiles. Let those whose blind partiality for their own opinions induces them to depreciate the labours of all who differ from them, however these labours may promote the interests of christianity, carefully consider the conduct of the apostles in cheerfully sacrificing their prejudices to the glory of Christ, and to the salvation of mens' souls. And may we learn to regard each other in the same spirit of love with which our common Lord views all his followers.

About the year of our Lord 43 or 44, Herod Agrippa drew the sword against the church, and finding that the death of James, the brother of John, gratified the Jews, farther to ingratiate himself with that stubborn people, he committed Peter to prison. Afflicted and alarmed at the martyrdom of James, the church made fervent supplication for the life of Peter. Their prayers were heard; he was freed by an angel from his chains, and, after informing the other apostles of his gracious deliverance, he retired from Jerusalem to parts where he might serve the Lord without molestation.

At this time he is said to have visited Rome, and to have staid there several years; but this is highly improbable. In the year of our Lord 62, when St. Paul entered that city as the prisoner of Jesus Christ, the Jews living in it appear to have been entirely ignorant of Christians, except as a sect every where spoken against. But we cannot believe that they could have been thus ignorant had so eminent a character as St. Peter, distinguished as the apostle of the circumcision, previously visited that place, and much less had he made any considerable stay there.

In the year of Christ 51, we find St. Peter at Jerusalem, when the controversy between the judaizing christians and the Gentiles was submitted to the decision of the apostles. St. Peter was the first who offered his sentiments on the point in question. He argued, that as the Lord had graciously purified the hearts of the Gentiles by faith, and had attested that grace by miraculous gifts, it would be tempting God to insist on their observance of circumcision, and other rites of the ceremonial law. These he declared to be a yoke that neither they nor their fathers had been able to bear. To St. Peter's counsel, modified by St. James, and confirmed by the account which Paul and Barnabas gave of what the Lord had done among the Gentiles by their ministry, they all agreed; and the Gentile christians were only commanded to abstain from idolatry and fornication, and from eating blood and

strangled animals. The two first were evidently incompatible with christianity, and the two last were enjoined as temporary regulations, necessary to preserve peace in the church; for it was evident that no familiar association could subsist between Jews and Gentiles, if meats were served up at table which the Jews could not see without abhorrence. Nor can this regulation be censured. Aware by experience of the force of their national prejudices, it became the wisdom and piety of the apostles to bear with their weak brethren, and as no plea of conscience could be urged by the Gentiles for eating such meats, their abstaining from them was a tribute due to the mother church.

Not long after, St. Peter visited the christians at Antioch, and associated freely with them, until some zealots came from Jerusalem, and induced him to withdraw from their society. This disingenuous conduct gave offence to the Gentiles, and cherished the prejudices of the Jews; and as it threatened to impair the usefulness of St. Paul's ministry, it drew from him a just reproof. To this reprehension St. Peter seems to have submitted with a meekness and candour becoming his character. The error into which he fell shows strongly the infirmity adhering to the best of men, and the necessity of bringing the highest human authority to the test of scripture; and also that an undue regard to the opinions of others may prove a snare to minds inaccessible to every other mode of attack. In St. Paul we recognise with pleasure the first protestant of the church of Christ.

Hitherto we have followed the records of the inspired penmen, but we must now be led by guides of inferior authority; our history will, therefore, be as brief as it is precarious. Where St. Peter continued to exercise his ministry we cannot pretend to determine. The pretensions of the church of Rome to the long continued services of this apostle are generally discredited by protestant writers. Nor are we disposed to give more credit to Eusebius, when, on the authority of Metaphrastus, he affirmed that St. Peter preached in Britain. From the circumstance of his being distinguished as the apostle of the circumcision, we incline to think that Judea, Samaria, Syria, together with Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bythinia (to the Jewish strangers of which countries his epistles are addressed) were the principal scenes of his ministry. In the latter part of his life, he appears to have spent some time at Rome, and there he received the honour of martyrdom. His contest with Simon Magus in that city we pass over in silence, as a pious fraud of later times, which can add nothing to the solid greatness of our apostle's character.



A champion like Peter, who fought in the hottest front of the battle, could not but draw upon himself the fury of his enemies. Orders were issued to apprehend the apostles; and St. Ambrose tells us that by the pressing solicitations of the church, he was persuaded to look for some secure retreat, and was passing through the gates of Rome, when he met the venerable form of his Master, who told him he was going to Rome, 'to be crucified a second time.' This vision St. Peter is said to have considered as a reproof of his cowardice, and returning again into the city, was apprehended, and thrown with St. Paul into the Mamertine prison. Here he continued eight or nine months, preaching to the prisoners, and such as resorted to him; and during his imprisonment he is supposed to have written his second epistle, in which he speaks of his martyrdom as nigh at hand. On the return of Nero from Acaiah, he was ordered for execution, and expired on the cross on the top of the Vatican Mount. If he was crucified with his head downward, we attribute it to the contempt and rage of his persecutors, rather than to his own desire, as the reason assigned for so extraordinary a request, namely, that he was unworthy to suffer in the same posture as his Lord, appears too weak for the mature wisdom of the aged apostle.

Such was the glorious death by which St. Peter finished the career of his illustrious labours. From the beginning to the end of it, he was distinguished by his Master's confidence, and the marked deference of his brother apostles. Both these circumstances indicate some personal superiority in St. Peter, which chiefly consisted, however, in the boldness and simplicity of his character, the strength of his faith, and the ardour of his love and zeal. His faults were the result of the same natural constitution of mind to which we ascribe his peculiar excellencies. The first were corrected, and the last improved, as he grew in knowledge and in grace. His epistles have all the features of a bold and vigorous mind. The fire of his imagination is mellowed by time; and, with all the richness of mature wisdom and piety, he lays open a heart full of affection and solicitude for the welfare of the flock. But we lay down our pen, impressed with a sense that it is not for men of our stature to appreciate his merits, and that his praise as well as his reward, is not of man but of God.




THE history of the learned, able, and accurate Mosheim, published in this city, has, no doubt, been perused, with pleasure and edification, by many of your readers. Judging, however, from what has come to my knowledge, that work, so subservient to the cause of truth and religion, may, it is feared, have, in some instances, weakened the faith of feeble minds. This unhappy effect has resulted, not from any fault in the historian, but from a full and candid display of the truth.

Mosheim has, without concealment or palliation, exposed to view that corrupt and deplorable state in which the christian church existed for many centuries. His faithfulness as an historian should not be censured, but applauded. The truth ought to be told, and the event left with the great Head of the church. But still it may justly be feared, that weak and uninformed minds have, from the accounts given of the wicked lives of the clergy, and the general prevalence of vice among professors, been led to question the truth of christianity. My object is to show, that the suspicions secretly entertained, or openly avowed, by such minds, are unreasonable and unfounded.

The state of the church, during the period contemplated, was deplorable indeed. The ignorance, laziness, luxury, ambition, and wickedness of the clergy were almost incredible; and the vices and crimes of all other ranks of people abounded in proportion to those of their spiritual teachers. From this state of things in the church what conclusion shall we draw? Shall we make one derogatory to the honour and divine authority of christianity? Shall we say that a religion whose professors are so vicious and abandoned cannot claim a heavenly origin? By no means. While we weep over this period of the church, and mourn that men calling themselves by the sacred name of Christ, should by their wicked lives so belie their profession, and open the mouths of blasphemers, we are confident that no real dishonour attaches itself to our holy religion. The moral influence is a good criterion by which to judge of any religion. But to ascertain this you must not only look at the lives of its professors, but contemplate the natural tendency of its doctrines and precepts. If the tendency, as well as the lives of its professors, be immoral, you may at once reject its claims to divinity. But if their wickedness be unauthorized

by its precepts, and can find no countenance from its doctrines, an unfavourable conclusion cannot with justice be drawn. The dishonour is apparent not real. Apply this rule to the christian religion. Can you discover any immoral tendency either in its doctrines or in its precepts? Show the precept that allows, the doctrine that countenances ambition, luxury, avarice, sensuality, pride, uncleanness, injustice, spiritual tyranny, or any vice. Search the scriptures, and you will find that the christian system, in all its parts, is eminently calculated to promote justice, equity, humility, gentleness, meekness, benevolence, and every other virtue conducive to the happiness of society. The religion of Jesus, then, is not responsible for the crimes of its professors.

But, it may be asked, can we believe that a religion coming from God should have so little influence as christianity had in that period, in forming the manners and conduct of men? Admit, that the corruptions of the christian church become an insuperable objection to its divine authority. What is the consequence of pursuing the principle on which this conclusion is grounded? Then, natural religion cannot be from God; for these men were the subjects of this as well as of revealed religion. Then, reason cannot be from God; for these men were rational creatures as well as professors of religion. The force of such conclusions cannot be evaded by saying, that the perversion of reason, and the corruption of natural religion, were owing to the belief of christianity. This is giving up the principle from which objections are derived against christianity; for it is grounded on the supposition, that a gift or religion coming from God cannot be abused. Now, if you allow that reason and natural religion may be abused, and thence infer that the abuse of them makes not against their divine origin, you ought, in justice, to allow that revealed religion may be abused, and that the abuse of it cannot make against its claims to divine authority. But if you will insist, that the corrupt lives of its professors prove that it cannot be from God; then, to be consistent with yourselves, you should, on the very same principle, maintain, that natural religion and reason cannot be from God; because every professor of christianity is, and must be, a subject of reason and natural religion, and, therefore, they are responsible for his conduct as much as christianity. Revealed religion makes no opposition either to reason or to natural religion. On the contrary, it supposes man to be a rational creature, addresses him as such, and maintains, that enlightened reason must approve of all its doctrines and precepts when rightly understood: and it, moreover, incorporates the whole of natural religion with

« VorigeDoorgaan »