Page images
PDF
EPUB

of vengeance, as a sort of moral monster, whose whole will is evil alone, and that continually-who has no right to choose his most indifferent actions, who has forfeited his human rights, who is to be compelled to whatever his keeper approves, who deserves from all around him nothing but contempt, detestation, and avoidance. By punishing and tormenting him here, they think they are doing God service, (as they believe he himself punishes some of them everlastingly in future,) and they easily overcome their natural relentings by persuading themselves it is for the good of society; they forget that, as society is composed of individuals, whatever is the means of raising one mind or saving one human being, is a more certain good to the community, than all the chances of others being influenced by the warning of their sufferings. Why should it be supposed that this will be the case when, in general society, we daily see that it is not, even where the admonition is before their eyes? Do the terrible effects of drunkenness in the loss of health to the individual, in the ruin of families, in the poverty and degradation that ensue, deter others from the crime, even in the same neighbourhood, and with the consequences daily exposed to them? Does even the death of the infatuated man effect this? No, it must be by a principle within, and not by outward fear that the sinner can be restrained; and that principle within must be formed by the inculcation of a purer and better taste, by some idea of virtuous enjoyment, by the instructions of a practical religion, by a living faith, and not an abstract and metaphysical theology. He must be taught that he will bear the results of his own actions, that our Saviour came to save him from his sins by shewing him that repentance (not a mere feeling of sorrow, but the long and difficult process of forming new dispositions and habits) would regain the favour of God-but by no means to exculpate him while remaining in them, however correct his faith may be, from the future and inevitable issues of them. This religious creed gives a man an immediate motive for exertion and endeavours after a renewed life, because he feels it is by the mercy of God a thing put into his own power; while Calvinistic or orthodox views on the contrary, rest so much on a mysterious and heavenly change, that they produce continual deception, give rise to presumption in some, and reduce others to the borders of despair. Hence we may more safely trust to the silent advance of corrected opinions and improving habits, than to religious fervours excited by impassioned addresses to beings more accustomed to be governed by their feelings than their reason. An illustration of this might be found in the sudden conversions in scenes of terror, if the cases were coolly examined. Fear produces a tumult and agitation of mind, which in time must subside into a calm tranquillity, the natural and physical result of over-wrought feeling. This transition is, however, assumed as an evidence of supernatural interposition, and the guilty sufferer readily believes that which is so flattering to his hopes; and hence he is elated with transport by the reaction of his feelings, and the assurances of those who wield the consciences of men, and who even believe they have power to absolve the sinner, and to present him to his Maker, cleared from all imputation of guilt, as a fit object of the Divine approbation, and equally entitled to the rewards held out in the Scripture, as those addressed in the words, "Come, ye blessed of my Father," &c. These views, so false yet so inviting, are not the views that ever will reform sinners, and there is every reason to believe, that the inculcation of them is one cause of the hypocrisy, and affectation of piety and self-abasement, to cloak evil designs, which is known to have prevailed in some prisons, and which has driven some persons to the conviction that the prisoners are incapable of receiving religious impressions. They certainly are incapable of

understanding Calvinism or speculative and controversial inquiries, and the effect of attempting to force such considerations on depraved and unenlightened minds, will only be to add superstition and spiritual delusion to the darkness and ignorance already there; to produce a fanaticism scarcely less offensive, and in some instances more dangerous than the previous state of mind, and to revolt and astonish the good with the appalling spectacle of a person being made worse in proportion as he increases in religious information. The doctrines of predestination and election, of justification by faith, and others equally abstruse, are totally unfit for the ignorant, by their liability to abuse. This danger is increased by the constant tendency to excess of enthusiasm, which is common to those whose passions and feelings have not been regulated by the restraints which education imposes.

On all these accounts it becomes the duty of Unitarians to consider well the value of their peculiar principles, their purity, their benevolence, their clearness and simplicity, and their great practical efficacy; and when they look abroad on the wide field of vice and misery which stands in need of exactly such principles, on the unhappy multitude of ignorant prisoners whom these views would ameliorate and enlighten, if they could not entirely reform, and on the wide mass of darkness and superstition which may almost be said to cover the land, they will surely feel, and deeply feel, the necessity of their co-operation-of their best and most earnest exertions in this great cause of humanity and virtue. They will not stand by idle, while others, involved in all the difficulties of an intricate and unnatural theology, are yet making efforts for the benefit of their fellow-creatures, which are deserving of the highest praise. They will be ashamed of confining the pure light of an unincumbered Christianity merely to their own comfort and edification, and will be desirous to extend the blessing to all classes of society in the more extensive diffusion of their opinions. They will be anxious to commence this great and interesting experiment in prison discipline; nor will they any longer consider the smallness of their number as any valid excuse for farther delay. Let them, then, enter on the duty of instructing the sinful and wretched prisoners with their own mild and merciful creed, their practical and rational faith, their delightful and consolatory convictions. They are peculiarly called to the task, and let them not shrink from its execution, with all its attendant difficulties, when they consider how much even individual exertion has already effected. Theirs is a serious responsibility; for it is by the future prevalence of these very principles that penal laws are to be changed and purified; that capital punishments are to be put an end to, and that prison discipline is to become a system of reform, and a school of virtue. If there be any thing valuable and sacred in truth, any thing desirable and improving in a benevolent faith, and in a clear knowledge of the moral attributes of the Supreme Being, surely it is of importance to spread these opinions, which by confirming, not opposing, the light of reason and conscience, have a power which no other doctrines can have. These principles, we rejoice to see, are gaining ground in America, in the upper classes; and we trust the time is not far distant when they will benevolently extend them to the degraded and unfortunate portion of their community. We venture to prophesy that the experiment will not fail; and though their exertions may make no sudden conversions and little show, when compared with the wonders of Calvinism, yet they will at least be treading on safe ground, and laying a sure foundation for that real change of conduct and habits, without which the best efforts of philanthropy are misdirected and finally lost.

REMARKS ON THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PETER.

THIS interesting portion of Scripture, as we learn from the author's own words, is an Encyclical Epistle, addressed "to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia:" (ch. i. 1:) Silvanus was the bearer of it: (ver. 12) it was written, according to the subscription which we find in all our present copies, at Babylon; and Mark was present with the author at the time of its composition. (Ver. 13.) Here, then, is a combination of circumstances furnished by the Epistle itself, upon which any one at all conversant with such subjects may meditate, and rom which, with a good map of Asia, and a copy of the New Testament before him, he may learn all that can ever be known concerning the date and composition of this Epistle.

Some have thought that Peter wrote to all sorts of Christians without distinction; others, to such as had been converted from among the idolatrous Gentiles; and others, to Jewish proselytes only;* but all these opinions seem to be destitute of any real foundation. The persons to whom Peter wrote are called apeion, which signifies residents or settlers, in opposition sometimes to natives, and sometimes to descendants of the aboriginal inhabitants; and, in the connexion in which the term is used by the Apostle Peter, with the word diaσopas, it must mean dispersed Jews, or Jewish proselytes, who had taken up their abode in different parts of Asia Minor. Of these there were great numbers in the apostolic age scattered through all the countries mentioned by Peter in the inscription to his Epistle; but they had become, in many instances, as corrupt as the idolatrous Gentiles among whom they resided, and in some cases even more so; and hence the frequent allusions which Peter makes to the errors and vices from which they had been reclaimed by their conversion to the religion of Jesus; but that they still retained the outward marks of their descent from the family of Abraham, and were addressed as such by Peter, no one, I think, who reads the Epistle with attention, can entertain the smallest doubt. On this account the Apostle reminds them of their redemption from the "vain conversation received by tradition from their fathers,' (chap. i. ver. 18,) a mode of expression by which he intended to describe their deliverance from the bondage of the ceremonial law.

Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, and Bithynia, four of the countries mentioned in the inscription to this Epistle, extended over nearly half of that part of Asia which is now called Asia Minor; and the remaining one, to which Peter gives the name of Asia, probably included Phrygia, Mysia, Caria, and Lydia § so that the persons to whom the Epistle is addressed, whether they formed a small or a numerous body, were dispersed over a wide tract of country. But it is a singular circumstance that Peter altogether omits the southern states of Asia Minor-Cilicia, Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Lycaonia,

* Benson's "History of St. Peter," &c., prefixed to his "Paraphrase and Notes on the First Epistle of St. Peter," Sect. 2.

+ Schleusner in verb. Пapeπionμos.

"Vain conversation" Michaelis represents as denoting "idolatrous conversation;" (Introduction to the N. T. Vol. IV. chap. xxvii. sect. i.); but the Apostle Paul applies the term vain to disputes about the law. Tit. iii. 9. See also Schleusner in verb. Πατροπαράδοτος.

§ Adam's "Geographical Index :" Asia.

which were the only scenes of the Apostle Paul's labours in this portion of the world before the issuing of the apostolic decree; (Acts xiii. 13-xiv, 25;) and yet we know that Paul afterwards visited some of the states of Asia Minor which Peter mentions in the inscription to his Epistle. (Acts xvi. 6-8.) It is not unreasonable, then, to infer that the First Epistle of Peter was written in the interval between Paul's first and second journey into the states of Asia Minor; and that the object of its author in not inscribing it to the Christian converts resident in Lycaonia, and the states south of Mount Taurus, was, lest as the apostle of the Circumcision, he should be suspected of trespassing upon the province of Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles. No inference, indeed, can be more natural, or more accordant with the known state of the Christian church, and the terms upon which these two apostles agreed to conduct their respective labours for the conversion of the Jewish and Gentile world. (Gal. ii. 7—9.)

Although Peter had not visited the converts residing in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, before this Epistle was written, and probably never did visit them, yet these countries must have contained many believers in Christ, who had been eye-witnesses of this Apostle's labours during their visits to Judæa; and it is by no means improbable that Silas, the companion of Paul's journey, (Acts xv. 40,) was furnished with copies of this Epistle for distribution among the Jewish converts residing in those states through which it was the Apostle's intention to pass. When Paul left Antioch, in Syria, he appears to have had no design of extending his journey as far as Europe; for when he had passed through Syria and Cilicia, (Acts xv. 41,) and Lycaonia,† (xvi. 1,) and Phrygia and Galatia, (ver. 6,) and was come to Mysia, which lay at the North-Western extremity of Asia Minor, his intention seems to have been to return to Autioch by way of Bithynia, (ver. 7,) and the other states bordering upon the Euxine Sea; but the Spirit would not suffer him to carry this intention into effect. "A vision appeared to him in the night: there stood a man of Macedonia, and entreated him, saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us.'" (Ver. 9.) This vision induced Paul to abandon his design of visiting Bithynia, Pontus, and Cappadocia, during that journey, and led him to extend his course as far as Greece. If, however, the Epistle was written at a time when Paul intended visiting these states, Peter's insertion of them at the head of his Epistle is sufficiently accounted for, and is just what might have been expected under such circumstances.

But Silvanus was the bearer of this Epistle, and Mark was present with the author at the time of its composition. The next question, therefore, which demands our attention is this:-Were Mark and Silvanus ever in the company of Peter at a time when Silvanus was about to undertake a journey through the states of Asia Minor? and the following facts appear to me to afford a satisfactory answer to this question;

After the Council of Jerusalem Peter went down to Antioch. (Gal. ii. 11.) A deputation was sent by this council to the church at Antioch, consisting of Paul, Barnabas, Judas, and Silas; (Acts xv. 22;) and when the object of this deputation was accomplished, Silas remained at Antioch with Paul and Barnabas (ver. 34, 35). At this time also Mark was at Antioch, (ver. 37,) and Paul was just on the eve of his second journey with Barnabas :

* Of Paul's extreme jealousy with regard to foreign interference in the case of his own converts, no stronger proofs could be given, or need be required, than those which the Epistle to the Galatians furnishes.

+ Derbe and Lystra were both situated in Lycaonia,

But a dispute arose between them, which led to a separation. took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; and Paul chose Silas," (ver. 39, 40,) and "Barnabas entered upon a circuit through the staets of Asia Minor. Here, then, in all probability, was the journey on which Silvanus distributed copies of Peter's Epistle; for Silas and Silvanus were doubtless the same person, as any one may convince himself by comparing 2 Cor. i. 19, with Acts xviii. 1-5.

A formidable objection, however, presents itself in this stage of our inquiry, in the name of the place from which the Epistle is dated; for Peter seems to write not from Antioch, or any other city in Syria, but from Babylon. "The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you." (Ver. 13.)

This text has puzzled and confounded every commentator who has written upon it. Some interpreters, understanding the word Babylon in its literal sense, have contended that the Epistle must have been written either at Babylon in Assyria, or Babylon in Egypt. Others again, supposing the word Babylon to have been used figuratively, have understood it to denote Rome or Jerusalem. But there is no ground for believing that Peter was ever either in Assyria or Egypt. Ecclesiastical history does not contain the remotest hint from which it can be inferred that he visited either of these countries: nor can any rational motive be assigned why Peter should have dated his Epistle from Babylon, if it was written at Jerusalem or Rome. Arguing, then, on the supposition that Babylon is the true reading, it is incumbent upon us to shew, if possible, not only that Mark and Silvanus were with Peter at that place, but also that it was just at a time when Silvanus was about to undertake a long journey through the states of Asia Minor. Of this, however, we have by no means sufficient proof, as it will be the object of the following remarks to shew.

Silvanus was Paul's principal companion on his second journey into Asia Minor till he arrived in Greece. (Acts xviii. 1-5.) During this journey the Apostle wrote the two Epistles addressed to the Thessalonians, and probably one or two others. Those addressed to the Thessalonians were written in the joint names of himself, and Silvanus, and Timothy; (1 and 2 Thess. i. 1;) but, as we find no further mention of Silvanus after his arrival at Corinth, either in the Acts of the Apostles or in the writings of Paul, it seems reasonable to conclude that his personal connexion with the apostle ceased about this time, probably in consequence of his being superseded by Timothy, of whose peculiar fitness for the work in which he was engaged Paul speaks in the very highest terms. lose all traces from the time that he joined Barnabas in his voyage to the Of Mark we island of Cyprus, (Acts xv. 39,) till the second year of Paul's imprisonment at Rome, (Col. iv. 10, Philem. 24,) a space of about ten or twelve years, ending A.D.62. The interval may have been spent partly in the company of Barnabas, and partly in that of Peter, to the latter of whom Mark is represented, by the concurrent testimony of ecclesiastical antiquity, as bearing the office of interpreter. Assuming the year 54, then, as the date of the two Epistles to the Thessalonians, a period is left of no less than eight years, during which Mark and Silvanus may have been together in the company of Peter; and this would allow ample time for a visit either to Babylon in Assyria, or Babylon in Egypt, as well as for a mission to the churches of Asia Minor: but on this supposition, the First Epistle of Peter must have been written after Paul's second journey into Asia Minor, in which he is known to have been accompanied by Silvanus ; and in this case the omission of the southern states in the inscription occasions an insurmountable difficulty; for there is not a single atom of evidence to prove that Peter himself ever visited the

« PreviousContinue »