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St Paul's epistles upon a level with the other acknowledged sacred writings of the Old and New Testament; and therefore, in his opinion, they are to be read and studied by all, and to have an equal regard paid to them.
This does great honour to St. Paul's writings, and must be highly satisfactory to every one who is desirous to know how far they contain the mind and will of God, in his perusal of them.
But when the apostle Peter gives this general great character of St. Paul's epistles, ranking them in the list of scriptures of inspired writings, we are not to carry it to that extreme, which has been commonly embraced, of supposing every part and word of them to be inspired, or written under an infallible divine direction. In this apostle's reasonings with his Jewish readers, in some of his epistles, where he makes use of various topics and mystic interpretations of the Old Testament, which the Jews dealt in much at that time, therein accommodating his arguments to their apprehensions, which a good writer always will do: in these we may allow some things advanced by him not to be so solid and just, and that he might also be mistaken in other lesser matters,
though not seldom, perhaps, it is not Paul that mistakes, but his reader that misapprehends him; but sometimes unquestionably so it is, and we may allow it to be so without at all affecting his credit as an inspired writer.
For the divine inspiration of the apostle, the wisdom given to him, as St. Peter here styles it, was that general divine information which he had received from Christ by a particular revelation, the same which his apostles had received by being and conversing with him, seeing and hearing his discourses; i. e. a thorough knowledge and comprehension of the doctrines, and the gracious benevolent design of the gospel, its divine evidence, and powerful and most weighty motives to work upon the minds of mankind to draw them from ruinous vice, and engage them to the pursuit of virtue and holiness, and to the most fearless integrity. So that he was always able to speak of these things, as from a fund of the most perfect knowledge, and give them such instruction concerning them as they might most surely rely upon. And no one, unprejudiced, did, I believe, ever read his epistles, not the controversial parts, but those parts where he describes the nature and excellency of the gospel
of Jesus, but felt, may I not say, that divine spirit, that energy and plerophory, or full conviction of truth with which he spake.
This account, I have no doubt, will appear, to all considerate judicious persons, more satisfactory than if it had been dictated by the spirit of God, and more reconcileable with the method in which these divine scriptures have been handed down to us by fallible men. For if it was necessary for every word to be inspired
for fear of mistakes: for the same reason it would be necessary that the copier of the scriptures, before printing was found, and that all printers should be under a divine direction to commit no errors. But this has not been the case, nor was it needful. The apostles and sacred writers, being honest men, were to be trusted, in their own words, to give a faithful account of the things they knew, and saw, and heard, and that is a sufficient ground for our belief in their writings.
In the next place, we have here a confession made by an apostle, of things difficult and hard to be understood in the scriptures in general, nay, even in the writings of the apostles themselves.
You will observe, however, that he says it
only of some things, not of all; for the general doctrine of St. Paul's epistles, all that related to life and practice, was easy and intelligible to those to whom he addressed them.
Nevertheless, there were some things which had fallen from the apostle's pen, which had a degree of obscurity in them, and which had a bad construction put upon them, and had thereby done harm. In those dangerous times there might be a necessity of using caution and reserve on some subjects; but this was no imputation to the apostle, or to his manner of writing, as if it was not sufficiently guarded and clear to every honest and diligent reader.
This appears from the description given of those who perverted it. They were the unlearned and unstable. It ought more justly to be translated, the unteachable and unstable; for our apostle does by no means insinuate that it was for want of learning that men put a bad meaning on St. Paul's words, as if much learning was necessary to understand them: but it was their being unwilling to learn, conceited of their own knowledge, and averse to take pains to come at any other that made them misapprehend him. And further, they are described also as unstable characters,―men of
wavering unsettled principles; who, therefore, came to the reading of the apostle's writings with no settled good views.
For he further remarks, that they wrested the apostle's writings to their own destruction.
The word which we translate to wrest, in the original, signifies to stretch and distort the limbs upon a rack, and therefore, in the apostle's application, beautifully expresses that these men put an unnatural sense on St Paul's words being men of bad dispositions, they forced them from their true meaning to countenance themselves in their evil courses, which they were resolved not to forsake; and so brought greater ruin on themselves in the end.
It was not, therefore, the fault of the apostle's language, though there was some difficulty in it, but the fault of the men themselves, that perverted it to favour their vices.
To require that every thing should be so laid down and delivered in the scriptures as to prevent any ill use being made of them, is to require what is impossible. It is sufficient, if the divine appointment have a tendency to promote virtue and human happiness, and actually