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Whatever difference of spirit may present itself in comparing the evangelic history of Peter's early conduct with the writings that convey the sentiments of his matured mind, this alteration ought to be attributed to the gradual influence of the system of opinions he had embraced; and if we are asking, What was the tendency of that system ? nothing can be more fair than to mark its operation upon a mind so peculiarly susceptible of strong excitements. Thus for example, if, notwithstanding the existence of certain formal precepts of a contrary aspect, the real operation of Christianity had been of a kind to cherish contumacious, ambitious, or virulent dispositions, nothing could have prevented the display of that result, after it had been ripened by the various occasions and trials of thirty years. Chief of the new sect, and distinguished among his colleagues by the delegation to his hands of certain awful powers, Peter, vehement and heady, would have become arrogant, jealous in the defence of his supremacy, and (like prelates of after ages) a strenuous asserter of apostolic authority. This we say, must infallibly have happened, human nature being the same in that age as in every other, if the natural operation of common motives had not been effectively counteracted by the system to which this ardent spirit was devoted. It is in fact, a circumstance highly remarkable, that neither of the epistles
of Peter. contains the slightest allusion to the special distinction conferred upon him by his Master; nor indeed any general assertion of the sovereign dignity of the apostolic office. Humility itself breathes its sweetness in that one passage which refers to pastoral power. Or if we do not feel at once the full force of this proof of the meekness and simplicity that the Gospel engendered, let us place these epistles by the side of some specimens of episcopal letters, belonging to the second and third centuries.
We well know what are those points of collision that bring fire from the soul of the fanatic : the power and cruelty of the oppressor he can speak of only in terms of sympathetic rancour. But it was not thus that Peter refers to the authorities under which Christians had already suffered the most exasperating injuries ; nor was it in any such mood that he laid down the rule of patience in tribulation, wrongfully inflicted. It is quite certain or as certain as any moral evidence founded on the constant laws of the moral world can make it-That the aged writer of the two epistles in question had not received an aggravation of the native faults of his character from Christianity; but on the contrary, that these tendencies were corrected, nay dispelled by its operation. Evidence of this sort can never approach nearer to conclusiveness than it does in the instance before us; and we hesitate not to draw from it an absolute historic inference—That the Gospel, such as it was in the age of Peter, had no malign or fanatical quality.
6 “ Your Presbyters I exhort, who am a fellow-presbyter, &c. .... Keep the fold of God-exercising the episcopal office not from compulsion; but readily and piously, Karà Deov: neither from sordid motives; but in the spirit of fervour; nor yet as domineering over the heritage (TWV kanpor).”—Thus speaks the “Prince of the Apostles"the “Vicar of Christ”—the "holder of the keys"—the "first Sovereign Pontiff;"—yes, the leader of the Popes!—and the predecessor of the Gregorys, the Innocents, the Leos, the Alexanders, of Rome!
A style far more becoming to ghostly lords than that of the Apostle was very soon adopted by Church dignitaries, a sample of which will properly be adduced on a future occasion.
A very peculiar style, and a peculiar spirit too, distinguish the Epistle of JAMES. Besides the vigour, spirit, and simple majesty of the language, which carries us back to the age of the prophets, there is, throughout it, a bold and strait-forward good sense that scatters at a stroke the pretexts of hypocrisy, and the illusions of religious conceit. This venerable writer enters the Churchi, scourge in hand, to drive thence those corruptions which most readily find a lodgement under sacred roofs. Nevertheless the mode of reproof, and its terms, bespeak affection, as much as fidelity. James is severe, or rather penetrating; but not acrid or virulent. Especially he assails the characteristic faults of the Jewish mind-the religious arrogance, presumption, and laxity ;-the asperity of mutual crimination, and that disposition (so remarkable in this people, and the parent of faction) to assume, individually, a vindictive and intolerant jurisdiction over other men's conduct and opinions. If among the Jewish converts, as is probable from other evidence, the bad passions that infest spurious piety were then making their appearance in the infant Church, this apostolic writer at once discerned the incipient mischief, and employed all his energy for its exposure and repression.
The pretexts of hollow piety are the main subjects of the epistle of James ; but a single passage, of a different purport, catches the eye, in which the enemies of the Gospel are brought under rebuke. " Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. — Ye have condemned and killed the just, and he doth not resist you." If this commination be viewed in a general light only, as applicable to all instances of oppressive arrogance, it will come under the rule that is applicable to very many passages of the Scriptures, in which God, the Friend and Avenger of the poor and needy, utters, by the mouth of the prophet, the fierceness of his displeasure against the proud and the rapacious :-the style, the terms, and the matter of blame, are altogether in harmony with what we find so frequently in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the minor prophets. This language then, of stern condemnation, is not to be attributed to the writer as characteristic of his personal
dispositions, until we have disproved his claim to be considered as the messenger of Heaven.
But there is room to believe that a more special reference is contained in the passage. The epistle was written, as it seems, a few years only (not more than eight) before the destruction of Jerusalem, and at a time when, forewarned as they had been by the Lord, and probably in a manner more explicit than appears in the Gospels, the Apostles could entertain no doubt of the near approach of the awful catastrophe of the nation. The signs of the coming desolation, were then gathering upon the heavens. -- James, head of the Church at Jerusalem, and constantly resident there, could not look upon the infatuated Rulers of the people without descrying, as if inscribed upon the front of their pride and sumptuous magnificence, the divine sentence of reprobation, which so soon was to take effect.—He beheld these men adding to all their other crimes, the deeper guilt of rejecting the Messiah, and of persecuting his followers.--How then could he be silent when he saw Christians themselves, with a servile easiness, flattering the very persons upon whom the wrath of Heaven was just about to alight ?- Do not, he asks, these same arrogant chiefs oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats ?-and is it in deference even to your persecutors, that ye despise the poor, and thrust him down in your assemblies to the