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FIRST EPISTLE OF ST. PETER. We learn from the book of the Acts, that the ministry of the A postles embraced Jerusalem and the regions round about, long before it spread as far as Rome. This was agreeable to the natural course of things, the holy city being the place which was honoured by our Lord's residence, the scene of his chief actions, of his cruel condemnation, of his awful crucifixion, of his glorious resurrection, and of the descent of the Holy Spirit on his chosen disciples. We read also of churches established in different parts, the first specifically mentioned, being the church of Jerusalem, and the Church that was at Antioch, at the latter of which places, believers first obtained the name of Christians. All of these, to. gether with the Seven Churches in the Apocalypse are specified as existing in the time of, at least, one of the Apostles, and before we hear any thing more of Rome, than that it contained Christians, of whom the greater part were probably Jewish converts. Though Jerusalem may fairly be co sidered as the Mother Church, we are not informed of its being thereby possessed of any established or regular authority, to which the others were obliged to conform ; the word Church, where it is used in a general sense, signifying the whole body of believers, and each particular Church being independant on, and connected only in Christian amity with the rest. Had it been the intention of our blessed Lord to elevate one Church or congregation above the heads of all the rest, to exalt its bishop into a temporal and spiritual Potentate, to give him unquestionable sovereignty over all that was, and all that ever was to be, Christian in the world ; to dub him Vicegerent of God on earth, (Vicarius Dei in Terris) and to crown his attainments with unerring rectitude of judgment-surely an arrangement 80 singular in its nature, and of such infinite importance to the present and future fate of the Christian world-must have found a place in the inspired history of Apostolic transactions, as well as in the Epistles written by the Apostles themselves for the use and edification of all believers. Had Peter himself, not Peter's Divine Master, been the rock on which the Christian Church was to be built, how are we to account for the silence of the inspired writer who has left us so minute an account of its rise and pro
the commencement of the Apostolic Ministry to the conversion of St. Paul, and his subsequent transmission to Rome ? How comes it not even to be attended to in the comprehensive epistles of St. Paul, or the more brief Epistles of the rest ? There can be but one answer—it is a fiction of later times, which, with the invariable nature of all falsehoods, has become the prolific parent of a thousand others, so much so as almost to substitute ihe devices of men for the commands of God, and to transform a system of purity into a system of corruption. We know how St. Peter's pretended successor describes and delineates his borrowed character ; let us now see how the supposed model of his holiness's lofty assumptions, describes and delineates himself.
The date of St. Peter's first letter, is generally supposed to be
about the year 60-and an earlier cannot well be assigned, as the mention of St. Paul's Epistles proves it to have been subsequent at least to most of them. We must, therefore, suppose him at the time of writing, invested with all the insignia of that absolute authority and sovereign jurisdiction, which the Romanists have thought proper to ascribe to him. If he was, he certainly knew nothing of it himself, or some traces of it would necessarily appear in the style of his address, and the matter of his discourse. These letters must be considered as the only public and authenticated will, testament or legacy he left to his beloved flock, in which we shall in vain look for any thing more than the simple doctrines of faith, hope, and charity, as enforced, explained, enjoined, and dilated on by the other inspired apostles. Now, unless some bishops of Rome has been fortunate enough to discover a Codicil to the Testament of St. Peter, I cannot see on what title the Pope's pretensions can possibly stand. I bave never heard that any such codicil has been formed, though I rather wonder, that a forged one has not issued from that warehouse of monkish invention which has inundated the world with so many fictions. It bas produced many fabrications much more absurd, and much less ingenious.
IST VERSE - PETER AN APOSTLE, &c. From the simplicity of this beginning, we collect that St. Peter was no more than what other passages of the New Testament represent him—an Apostle, or one of the Apostles of our blessed Lord. In addressing so large and detached a number of converts as the “ strangers scattered through, Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia," most of whom we may reasonably suppose to have been strangers to his person, as he does not appear to have travelled extensively, he would not surely have omitted any titles of rank, precedence, and authority, which could bave given force to his precepts, and weight to his exhortations. His universal sovereignty must have been known to very few, even among his apostolic brethren, and it is perfectly evident from his writings that it was kept a profound secret from St. Paul. It was, therefore, more incumbent on him to take this opportunity of leting the world at large know the true nature of that paramount jurisdiction which the Saviour of the world had conferred on him, the rock on which the Church of God was to be built. If what the Romanists tell us be true, the preamble to his letter ought to have run thus— We Peter, by divine appointment, supreme of potentates, Infallible Head of Christ's Church, and Vicar of God on earth, to our well beloved, &c. &c. More than this might certainly be adduced in conformity with Roman usage, but less than this, he could not, in justice io bimself, and to enforce the due obedience of his subjects, have said, were he what Romanists now believe, or at least assert him to have been. Instead of this we have a letter replete indeed with Christian wisdom, and Evangelical piety, but as modest and unassuming as if it had been written by the pen of an ordinary presbyter. St. Peter, however, distinguished for manliness of mind, was not a person to abate
any thing of bis just authority and lawful prerogative. If therefore, he does not assert that sovereignty, and assume those titles with which bishops of Rome have since, for their own purposes, thought proper to invest him, one reason only can be assigned for it, viz. that he did not possess them. I am not disposed to deny the Metropolitan of Rome, be his predecessor who he may, the just rights of his high Episcopate; but I see not the smallest reason for making all the bishops of the world bis slaves.
In the commencement of the 2d chapter, the holy apostle seems to have taken pains to rectify any error which might arise from misinterpretation of the Saviour's words to him concerning the rock. At least he says quite enough to show that the Rock of Salvation, and consequently the rock on which the Christian Church stood, was Christ himself
. I use the Douay translation, v. 3. and seq. “ If so be, you have tasted that the Lord is sweet; unto whom coming as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen and made honourable by God. Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”. Wherefore it is said in Scripture. “ Behold I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious, and he that shall believe in him, shall not be confounded. To you, therefore, that believe, He is honour ; but to them that believe not, the stone which the builders rejected the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of scandal to them who stumble at the word.”
No intelligent Roman Catholic needs to be told that the chief corner stone here mentioned, and the Lord to whom as to a living stone believers should come, is hrist the Saviour, and if so, we have the testimony of St. Peter, that not he, but his Divine Master, was the Rock on which the Church should be built, against which the gates of hell should never prevail. That Church would have been built had Peter never existed, he was but an useful accessary, whose place would have been easily supplied. The rock of ages was not the mortal man, but the Incarnate God!
St. Peter as if to show how the metaphorical phrase of the stone, and the rock, might be applied to men without conveying any of those peculiar meanings assigned by the Romanists, applies it himself to the objects of his correspondence, not as priests or preachers, but as sincere believers, and as such forming part of that chosen generation, whose aggregate number constitutes the Church of God. He calls them, in his strong and figurative language, the living stones of which the spiritual house of God is built. It seems to have been the policy of the Romish clergy to arrogate to themselves alone, the right of constituting the Church, and to regard the laity as appendages only, as mere vassals of the spiritual power, without vote, opinion or controul, bound to submit implicitly to all its decrees, and to obey all its injunctions. But the word Ecclesia, which we translate Church, signifies a calling together, or an assembly regularly cdnvened, and composed of various offices, ranks, and degrees, of which
the clergy, however respectable, form a very small part. Such were all ihe primitive Churches, of which many are mentioned in the New Testament, the respect paid to the preachers being voluntary on the part of auditors, and proportioned to their degrees of holiness, of ability and spiritual gifts.
In perusing this Epistle, the reader will bear in mind, that the four first chapters are addressed, severally, to all who in the places mentioned had embraced the gospel covenant; that is to say, to all the believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, a comprehensive range, though we have no means of ascertaining the numbers. In the fifth and last chapter, which shall afterwards be noticed, he applies himself particularly to the regular teachers of the Word, who were called Presbyteri, i.e. Elders, or, as the Douay less properly translates it, Ancients, because they generally consisted of those who were more advanced in years. This marked discrimination affords additional proof, that the four first chapters were addressed to all. Now we shall find that St. Peter entertained very different notions of a layman's duty and privilege, from that which the Clergy of Rome are pleased to harbour; for to this mixed multitude of believers he speaks as follows, even in the Douay translation (verses 10 and 11)—“As every man hath received grace, ministering the same, one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God; If any man speak, let him speak as the words* of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the power which God administreth; that in all things God may be honoured through Jesus Christ, to whom is glory and empire for ever and ever."
Here we learn, in plain and explicit language, that it is the duty of EVERY man on whom Divine grace has been bestowed—and I trust the Romish Clergy have too much of that quality which, in a preceding verse, is said to cover a multitude of sins, to confine a gracious gift, promised to all faithful believers, to their own or to any other priesthood; here, I say, we are told, that it is the duty of all who possess the grace of God, to administer the same one to another. I dare say the clergy of Rome would willingly keep all the power, both of writing and of speaking on religious subjects, to themselves. . Those of the reformed Church following the directions of St. Peter, have thought differently, and the result is, as might be expected, most satisfactory. Among them laymen are often found rivalling the theological attainments, and equalling the animated zeal of the regular divine; among them are to be found several of the most able defenders of evangelical doctrine, as well as the most exemplary patterns of Christian life, and among them, too, we number persons of the most exalted genius and extended knowledge.
The holy apostle now turning from general to particular directions, addresses those seniors on whom the duty of instruction more peculiarly fell; not, however, in the authoritative language
of an ecclesiastical sovereign, but in the style of an equal and coassistant in the same great work. The first four verses are thus translated in the Douay Testament—“The ancients, therefore, that are among you I beseecb, who am also niyself an ancient, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as also a partaker of that glory which is to be revealed in time to come. Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking care of it, not by constraint, but willingly according to God; not for filthy lucre's sake, but voluntarily ; neither as lording it over the clergy, but being a pattern of the flock from the heart. And when the Prince of pastors shall appear, you shall receive a never-fading crown of glory."
I am afraid it will appear to those who understand Greek, that the translators, either from ignorance of that language, or from some other cause, have put into the holy apostle's mouth words which he never uttered. Ipeoputepoo, being the comparative degree, is improperly rendered by the word ancient, and literally signifies an elder, the general title then given to those who were peculiarly occupied in teaching the Gospel
. This, however, is but a trifling error or inaccuracy of the pious translators, compared with that which occurs in the fourth verse, which is rendered thus, neither as lording it over the clergy, but being a pattern of the flock from the heart.' The Greek word almpoo, which is here turned into clergy, happens to mean patrimony, lawa ful inheritance or heritage : and the evident intention of the apostle is to dissuade those who may possess authority as preachers and presbyters, from exercising it harshly or unjustly, to the detriment or offence of God's heritage, that is, of their Christian flocks, of the converts committed to their care, who, as inheritors of the kingdom of heaven by baptism and faith, are called by the appropriate name of God's heritage. The expression, as it stands in the Douay Testament, is somewhat akin to nonsense,- for who were the clergy of the apostle's time but the presbyters ? and to desire the presbyters not to lord it over the presbyters, is a solecism which would never have issued from the pen of an apostle. I confess that if there had been a Roman hierarchy then established, and that these words had been addressed to those who composed it, viz.-- popes, cardinals, abbots, archbishops, and bishops, -the exhortation would have been perfectly seasonable and appropriate. Prelates of this kind do indeed frequently lord it over the inferior clergy, aud, as much as they are able, over the whole heritage of God. How far the holy successors of St. Peter, and his various ministers complied with the apostle's injunction of feeding the flock without fleecing it, may be collected from their vast acoumuIation of wealth and power, and the immense number of rich establishments they once possessed. It is not for me to say what interest they might have made for themselves in the kingdom of heaven, but there can be no manner of doubt that they took especial care of their interests in the kingdoms of the earth.
Many have supposed that by Babylon, from which this letter purports to be dated, is designated Rome, perhaps because such a