Verse 39. "But we are not of them who draw back" - ouk esmen upostolhv-, alla pistewv? "We are not the cowards, but the courageous." I have no doubt of this being the meaning of the apostle, and the form of speech requires such a translation; it occurs more than once in the New Testament. So, Gal. iii. 7: oi ek pistewv, they who are of the faith, rather the faithful, the believers; Rom. iii. x16: o ek pistewv, the believer; Rom. ii. 8: oi ex epiqeiav, the contentious; in all which places the learned reader will find that the form of speech is the same. We are not cowards who slink away, and notwithstanding meet destruction; but we are faithful, and have our souls saved alive. The words peripoihsiv yuchv signify the preservation of the life. See the note, "Eph. i. 14". He intimates that, notwithstanding the persecution was hot, yet they should escape with their lives.
1. IT is very remarkable, and I have more than once called the reader's attention to it, that not one Christian life was lost in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Every Jew perished, or was taken captive; all those who had apostatized, and slunk away from Christianity, perished with them: all the genuine Christians escaped with their lives. This very important information, which casts light on many passages in the New Testament, and manifests the grace and providence of God in a very conspicuous way, is given both by Eusebius and Epiphanius. I shall adduce their words: "When the whole congregation of the Church in Jerusalem, according to an oracle given by revelation to the approved persons among them before the war, kata tina crhsmon toiv autoqi dokimoiv di∆ apokaluyewv doqenta pro tou polemou, metanasthnai thv polewv, kai tina thv peraiav polin oikein kekeleusmenou, pellan authn onomazousin, were commanded to depart from the city, and inhabit a certain city which they call Pella, beyond Jordan, to which, when all those who believed in Christ had removed from Jerusalem, and when the saints had totally abandoned the royal city which is the metropolis of the Jews; then the Divine vengeance seized them who had dealt so wickedly with Christ and his apostles, and utterly destroyed that wicked and abominable generation." EUSEB. Hist.
Eccles, l. iii. c. v. vol. i. p. 93. Edit. a Reading.
St. Epiphanius, in Haeres. Nazaren, c. 7, says: "The Christians who dwelt in Jerusalem, being forewarned by Christ of the approaching siege, removed to Pella." The same, in his book Deuteronomy Ponderibus et Mensuris, says: "The disciples of Christ being warned by an angel, removed to Pella; and afterwards, when Adrian rebuilt Jerusalem, and called it after his own name, AElia Colonia, they returned thither." As those places in Epiphanius are of considerable importance, I shall subjoin the original: ekeiqen gar h arch gegone meta thn apo twn ∆ierosolumwn metastasin, pantwn twn maqhtwn twn en pellh wkhkotwn, cristou fhsantov kataleiyai ta ∆ierosoluma, kai anacwrhsai, epeidh hmelle pascein poliorkian. EPIPH. adver. Haeres., l. i. c. 7, vol. i. p. 123. Edit. Par. 1622. The other place is as follows: ∆hnika gar emellen h poliv aliskesqai upo twn ∆rwmaiwn, proecrhmatisqhsan upo aggelou pantev oi maqhtai metasthnai apo thv polewv, melloushv ardhn apollusqai. oi tinev kai metanastai genomenoi wkhsan en pellh-peran tou iordanou, h tiv ek dekapolewv legetai einai. Ibid. Deuteronomy Pon. et Mens., vol. ii. p. 171.
These are remarkable testimonies, and should be carefully preserved. Pella, it appears, was a city of Coelesyria, beyond Jordan, in the district of Decapolis. Thus it is evident that these Christians held fast their faith, preserved their shields, and continued to believe to the saving of their lives as well as to the saving of their souls. As the apostle gives several hints of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, it is likely that this is the true sense in which the words above are to be understood.
2. I have already said a little, from verse 25, on the importance of social worship. PUBLIC worship is not of less consequence. Were it not for public, private worship would soon be at an end. To this, under God, the Church of Christ owes its being and its continuance. Where there is no public worship there is no religion. It is by this that God is acknowledged; and he is the universal Being; and by his bounty and providence all live; consequently, it is the duty of every intelligent creature publicly to acknowledge him, and offer him that worship which himself has prescribed in his word. The ancient Jews have some good maxims on this subject which may be seen in Schoettgen. I shall quote a few.
In Berachoth, fol. 8, it is written: "Rabbi Levi said, He who has a synagogue in his city, and does not go thither to pray, shall be esteemed a bad citizen," or a bad neighbour. And to this they apply the words of the prophet, Jer. xii. 14: Thus saith the Lord against all my evil neighbours-behold, I will pluck them out of their land.
In Mechilta, fol. xl8: "Rabbi Eliezer, the son of Jacob, said," speaking as from God, "If thou wilt come to my house, I will go to thy house; but if thou wilt not come to my house, I will not enter thy house. The place that my heart loveth, to that shall my feet go." We may safely add, that those who do not frequent the house of God can never expect his presence or blessing in their own.
In Taanith, fol. 11, it is said that "to him who separates himself from the congregation shall two angels come, and lay their hands upon his head and say, This man, who separates himself from the congregation, shall not see the comfort which God grants to his afflicted Church." The wisest and best of men have always felt it their duty and their interest to worship God in public. As there is nothing more necessary, so there is nothing more reasonable; he who acknowledges God in all his ways may expect all his steps to be directed. The public worship of God is one grand line of distinction between the atheist and the believer. He who uses not public worship has either no God, or has no right notion of his being; and such a person, according to the rabbins, is a bad neighbour; it is dangerous to live near him, for neither he nor his can be under the protection of God. No man should be forced to attend a particular place of worship, but every man should be obliged to attend some place; and he who has any fear of God will not find it difficult to get a place to his mind.