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The Epistles

 (Arthur T. Pierson, D.D.)

The Epistles follow, in which the germs of truth, found in Christ’s teaching, are expanded and applied. There are five epistle writers, Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude. Paul’s great theme is Faith; Peter’s, Hope; John’s, Love; James deals with Good Works, which are the fruits of these graces; and Jude warns of the Apostasy, when false doctrine displaces truth and evil works displace good works and threaten even the life of the Church.

 

Romans treats of the Righteousness which is by faith, with much stress on Righteousness. God’s Law condemns all men as sinners; God’s Love offers to all Justification through Christ, and Sanctification by the Spirit, and final Glorification. Chapter xi gives a grand forecast of the ultimate restoration of the Jews to God’s favor.

 

The two Epistles to the Corinthians are full of the Holy Spirit as indwelling in believers, uniting them to God and hallowing even their bodies and their common toil; this same Spirit becomes to them Life from God, Light upon His Truth, and transforming Love.

 

Galatians is the companion Epistle to Romans and dwells upon the Righteousness which is by faith, with strong emphasis upon faith. In Romans, Righteousness is shown from God’s point of view; here, from man’s; and the danger of mixing up faith with the works of the law is plainly shown. He who is justified by faith must by faith be sanctified.

 

Ephesians presents the Oneness of believers with Christ and in Christ. It shows Jew and Gentile believers as one body, with Him as the Common Head, and gives rapturous glimpses into both the present powers and privileges, and the future glory of true believers.

 

Philippians presents the voluntary self-denial which counts all things loss for Christ, and the ultimate gain or compensation that repays such renunciation. It is the Christian’s balance sheet. Christ is seen so absorbing all love and devotion as that even suffering for His sake is joy.

 

Colossians reveals the completeness of all believers in Christ, as Ephesians does their oneness in Him. Its word is “pleroma,” or fulness. All, the fulness of God is in Christ, and hence, through Christ, in the believer, who has therefore no need of anything that this world, with its boasted wisdom, can offer.

 

The Epistles to the Thessalonians both treat of the Second Coming of the Lord, with its preparatory and consequent events. There is to be first a falling away and a revelation of the man of sin, but at His coming He will destroy Antichrist and save and transform living saints and raise the holy dead. We are to turn from all idols, serve God, and wait for his Son from heaven.

 

The Epistles to Timothy and Titus are called “pastoral” because written to those in charge of Christ’s flock. They warn against heresies in doctrine and iniquities in practice; they urge sound preaching and teaching, and a conduct and character becoming ministers of Christ; they lay stress upon that sort of life which God approves and rewards, and which even ungodly men cannot but admire, even while they oppose.

 

Philemon is the idyl of the New Testament, as “Ruth” is of the Old. A slave who had robbed and run away from his master, but was converted through Paul, was by him sent back to his master, to be received henceforth as a brother in Christ.

 

Hebrews urges converted Jews to hold fast their new-found faith. The keyword of this epistle, found eleven times, is “better.” Everything Christ offers is superior to any previous privileges, however great. Hence the folly of going back to Judaism and the corresponding danger of apostasy.

 

James dwells upon Holy Living—the morality side of the gospel. Faith here appears, producing fruits in Love and Loyalty; the tongue is to be tamed and the temper transformed. A divine wisdom should guide the life.

 

The Epistles of Peter, like that of James, are especially addressed to the Pilgrim people of God. The figure of Pilgrimage is found throughout. The attire and attitude of a pilgrim, his food and drink, his joys and fears, foes and fellow pilgrims, his sustaining hope and his final goal, all these are suggested.

 

John writes to those who, by believing, have eternal life, that they may know that they have it. The first epistle is therefore the counterpart of the gospel, written by the same hand. In both three short words give the key—”Life,” “Light” and “Love.”

John’s second epistle is, like Paul’s to Philemon, a private and personal letter.

John’s third letter is to a man, Gaius, who is commended as a “fellow-helper to the truth.”

 

Jude warns against apostasy. Faith demands faithfulness. The word “kept” is prominent. Believers are to keep themselves in the faith and in the love of God, and trust God to keep them from falling and even from stumbling.

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