2 Peter 3:15-16
And account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation…
This passage proves that, at the time Peter wrote, some epistles of Paul existed, and intimates that they were written according to a kind of wisdom which he had supernaturally received. It proves, also, that they were considered of much authority. This passage declares, also, that, from some cause, either in the writer or the subject, there were some things in these epistles hard to be understood, and likely to be perverted. It is my present design to give you, in the first place, the history and character of St. Paul, and then to consider the causes of that obscurity in his writings of which Peter complains.
I. THOSE PORTIONS OF HIS LIFE WHICH TEND MOST TO ILLUSTRATE HIS CHARACTER ARE HIS CONDUCT BEFORE HIS CONVERSION, AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF THAT REMARKABLE EVENT. In the history of Paul we have two different men to describe, the persecutor and the apostle. Nothing can be imagined more complete than the change of views in this apostle, yet he pre serves through the whole of his life what may be called the original stamina of his character. There is nothing which impeaches his integrity, or which ought to render us suspicious of his moral character. He was only actuated by a species of mistaken zeal, which has been common enough in every age. But God had marked out this young man for the most eminent apostle of that faith which he was now intent upon exterminating. If we suppose Paul's character such as I have represented it to be, there wanted nothing but to show to this young man, by the irresistible evidence of his senses, that this very Jesus, whom he regarded as a crucified, detestable malefactor, was really alive in power to turn the whole current of his conduct, sentiments, and character. This mercy God granted him. In summing up the traits of Paul's character, you will observe how singularly he was qualified for that office to which he was especially destined, the apostleship of the Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire. He was the only one of the apostles who appears to have had what may be called a liberal education, or, at least, who had any tincture of the literature and philosophy of the Greeks. The mission which was given him demanded not only a strength of genius like his, but an ardour which no discouragement should quench. I will close this division of my subject with two reflections.
1. In the first place, notwithstanding the extreme ardour of this apostle's imagination, nothing which he has left us discovers any thing of fanatical delusion.
2. How important must that cause be which such a man as Paul could maintain with such amazing exertions, such unwearied zeal, through a longlife of such discouragements, privations, persecutions and indignities, even to the hour of his martyrdom! He saw the happiness of the world suspended on the reception of Christianity. He found that the dearest interests of the souls of men were entrusted to him.
II. I PROCEED TO STATE, AND, IF POSSIBLE, TO ILLUSTRATE, THE SOURCES OF THE OBSCURITY WHICH PARTICULARLY ATTENDS THE APOSTOLICAL PARTS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
1. The first source of obscurity is, that they are private letters, addressed to particular societies, or individuals, upon particular occasions.
2. Another cause of the obscurity of Paul's epistles is, the peculiar genius of the man. His imagination was easily inflamed with the subject on which he was writing. The motions of his mind were exceedingly rapid.
3. The education and peculiar circumstances of Paul contribute, also, to the obscurity of his epistles. Paul was a man whose head was filled with the Jewish learning of his age; and he, no doubt, writes often like one whose early notions were formed in the school of Gamaliel. Hence he uses many words in a signification which is now extremely difficult to settle. The word" justification "is a remarkable instance of this. It is doubtful, in some instances, whether he means by it a benefit relating only to this life, or extending to our eternal condition. The term" law "is another of similar ambiguity; and it is only by careful attention that we can determine, in particular passages, whether the apostle means by it the whole Jewish dispensation or the ceremonial part of it, or that moral law which is equally obligatory on every rational creature.
4. A fourth source of obscurities in the epistles is to be found in a maxim of interpretation which has too much prevailed without reason: "that we must expect to find in the present circumstances of Christianity a meaning for, or something answering to, every appellation and expression which occurs in Scripture; or, in other words, the applying to the personal condition of Christians at this day, those titles, phrases, propositions, and arguments which belong solely to the situation of Christianity at its first institution."
(J. S. Buckminster.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;