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Epistles bear intrinsic evidence, that they were composed during this period; namely, his Epistle to the Ephesians, that to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Philippians. His active mind never lost sight of the great purpose of his mission. The spiritual welfare of his converts dwelt continually in his thoughts.
It has been remarked, that the letters of St. Paul, during his imprisonment, breathe a greater spirit of benevolence, humanity, and tenderness, towards the persons he addresses, (not to say
of resignation, and heroic resolution, with regard to himself) than those which he wrote when he was at liberty. The observation certainly has a foundation: and it will not be found out of nature, that the heart of the best of men should be softened by personal affliction.
The Epistle to the Ephesians appears to have been the first in order of those written at this time, probably not long after his arrival at Rome; for he mentions no expectation of enlargement, as he does in the subsequent Epistles. “ I the prisoner of the Lord beseech you';" this was a new and prevailing motive for their obedience. His pathetic intreaty should not pass unnoticed, as it expresses the desire of every pious Minister of the Gospel, that he should be remembered in the prayers of his parishioners :-“ Pray, with all
supplication in the Spirit, for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery
Eph. iv. 1.
of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds ?." This is indeed the language of the heart, and could not be counterfeited or misunderstood.
The same expressions occur, with small variations, in the Epistle to the Colossians, written nearly at the same time, and sent by the same messenger. How tenderly must their hearts have sympathized with him in the concluding passage of his letter! “ The salutation by the hand of me, Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you."
The elegant and interesting Epistle to Philemon, written for the purpose of softening the severity of his reproof to a penitent, and returning servant, who had injured him, and left him, and had lately become a convert to St. Paul at Rome, bears a different character from those addressed to particular Churches. It abounds in the important points of Christian faith ; but particularly deserves our attention from that exquisite fruit, the spirit of Christian charity. In this, as it were familiar letter, he expresses the hope of a speedy enlargement.
Something of the same kind appears in his Epistle to the Church of Philippi, which was written in return for a present which they had sent him ; and in this, he intimates the progress which the Gospel had made, even in the palace of the Emperors. These are indeed interesting letters, and speak warmly to our feelings, particularly when we recollect the circumstances in which they were composed. Eph. vi. 18,
2 Col. iv. 18. 3 Phil. iv, 22.
Are there any of us who may be removed from the execution of public duties, by some accidental occurrence of life ? Are there any, whom loss of health, or loss of liberty, may confine to a narrower sphere of action; or whom, situation of any kind may deprive of a larger range of good offices ? Let such reflect, that Paul converted multitudes when chained to a Roman soldier; and that his
distributed his warm heart to the remotest regions. As every man is charged with some duty, so there is no place or station in which it may not be exerted. “Let every man wherein he is called, therein abide with God!."
The second Epistle to Timothy, which some have attributed to this period of St. Paul's life, appears with greater probability, (though attended with some difficulties) to relate to his second visit to Rome, when he had his martyrdom more immediately in view. In this Epistle he expresses no hope of enlargement. It is pathetic throughout. He entreats Timothy to come to him, and console him; as well as to receive his last pastoral charges for his flock: “for," he says, “ I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand ?."
I drop the veil over the last moments of St. Paul. His friend and historian, for reasons that cannot now be known, has done the same. Nor can we dismiss him more emphatically from the scene, than in his own eloquent language, in that noble declaration, and evangelic assurance, which,
11 Cor. vii. 24.
2 2 Tim. iv, 6,
I pray God through Christ, that we all
have grace to imitate.-" I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.”
The Christian Church, in every age, has commemorated the value of St. Paul's ministry; and as the latter days approach, time, instead of erasing his venerable and pleasing portrait from the canvass, will mellow the tints, and give, if possible, an additional gracefulness to the picture. His character I shall not attempt to delineate. It is before you in the history of his conversion, of his apostolic labours, of his indefatigable travels; but, above all, in that holy transcript of his mind, visible in his Epistles. He adorned his ministry, not only by many excellent and admirable gifts of the Spirit, and miracles, which he was enabled to perform in confirmation of the doctrines which he preached, but in those exquisite graces and amiable virtues, which peculiarly distinguished his public, and his private conduct. Among these his faith was particularly eminent. He was a diligent and a strenuous guardian of the doctrine revealed to him from Heaven, justification through faith in the merits of Him who appeared to him in the way. His whole soul was occupied in inculcating this heavenly, this indispensable doctrine. Neither labours, nor troubles, neither actual perils, nor apprehended dangers, diverted him from his purpose. He neither disguised the truth for fear of giving offence, nor suppressed it when necessary to be known. He shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God: he warned every one, night and day, even with tears of evangelical love: he testified both to Jews and Greeks, repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. His paternal mind bent with fervent affection over his pious converts, his children in the faith. He dearly loved the Church which he had planted by the grace of God; and was as ready to shed his blood for its welfare, as he had been to wear out his life in its establishment, and support. “I will very gladly spend, and be spent for you!," said this good man and affectionate pastor of the Church of Christ: and may his example fire all succeeding pastors to assert the same holy cause, with all freedom tempered with discretion, with all fervency without the excess of enthusiastic rapture, and with zeal according to knowledge !—“We were gentle among you,” says he again; “ even as a nurse cherisheth her children, so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted to you not the Gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us 2."
1 2 Tim. iv. 7.