14. Alexander the coppersmith.
In this man was exhibited a shocking instance of apostasy. He had made profession of some zeal in advancing the reign of Christ, against which he afterwards carried on open war. No class of enemies is more dangerous or more envenomed than this. But from the beginning, the Lord determined that his Church should not be exempted from this evil, lest our courage should fail when we are tried by any of the same kind. Hath done me many evil things
It is proper to observe, what are the "many evils" which Paul complains that Alexander brought upon him. They consisted in this, that he opposed his doctrine. Alexander was an artificer, not prepared by the learning of the schools for being a great disputer; but domestic enemies have always been abundantly able to do injury. And the wickedness of such men always obtains credit in the world, so that malicious and impudent ignorance sometimes creates trouble and difficulty greater than the highest abilities accompanied by learning. Besides, when the Lord brings his servants into contest with persons of this low and base class, he purposely withdraws them from the view of the world, that they may not indulge in ostentatious display.
From Paul's words, (1 Timothy 4:15
,) for he vehemently opposed our discourses
, we may infer that he had committed no greater offense than an attack on sound doctrine; for if Alexander had wounded his person, or committed an assault on him, he would have endured it patiently; but when the truth of God is assailed, his holy breast burns with indignation, because, in all the members of Christ that saying must hold good, "The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up." (Psalm 69:9.)
And this is also the reason of the stern imprecation into which he breaks out, that the Lord may reward him according to his works
. A little afterwards, when he complains that all had forsaken him, (Psalm 69:16
,) still he does not call down the vengeance of God on them, but, on the contrary, appears as their intercessor, pleading that they may obtain pardon. So mild and so merciful to all others, how comes it that he shows himself so harsh and inexorable towards this individual? The reason is this. Because some had fallen through fear and weakness, he desires that the Lord would forgive them; for in this manner we ought to have compassion on the weakness of brethren. But because this man rose against God with malice and sacrilegious hardihood, and openly attacked known truth, such impiety had no claim to compassion.
We must not imagine, therefore, that Paul was moved by excessive warmth of temper, when he broke out into this imprecation; for it was from the Spirit of God, and through a well regulated zeal, that he wished eternal perdition to Alexander, and mercy to the others. Seeing that it is by the guidance of the Spirit that Paul pronounces a heavenly judgment from on high, we may infer from this passage, how dear to God is his truth, for attacking which he punishes so severely. Especially it ought to be observed how detestable a crime it is, to fight with deliberate malice against the true religion
But lest any person, by falsely imitating the Apostle, should rashly utter similar imprecations, there are three things here that deserve notice. First, let us not avenge the injuries done to ourselves, lest self-love and a regard to our private advantage should move us violently, as frequently happens. Secondly, while we maintain the glory of God, let us not mingle with it our own passions, which always disturb good order. Thirdly, let us not pronounce sentence against every person without discrimination, but only against reprobates, who, by their impiety, give evidence that such is their true character; and thus our wishes will agree with God's own judgment otherwise there is ground to fear that the same reply may be made to us that Christ made to the disciples who thundered indiscriminately against all who did not comply with their views, "Ye know not of what spirit ye are." (Luke 9:55.)
They thought that they had Elijah as their supporter, (2 Kings 1:10
,) who prayed to the Lord in the same manner; but because they differed widely from the spirit of Elijah, the imitation was absurd. It is therefore necessary, that the Lord should reveal his judgment before we burst forth into such imprecations; and wish that by his Spirit he should restrain and guide our zeal. And whenever we call to our remembrance the vehemence of Paul against a single individual, let us also recollect his amazing meekness towards those who had so basely forsaken him, that we may learn, by his example, to have compassion on the weakness of our brethren.
Here I wish to put a question to those who pretend that Peter presided over the church at Rome. Where was he at that time? According to their opinion, he was not dead; for they tell us, that exactly a year intervened between his death and that of Paul. Besides, they extend his pontificate to seven years. Here Paul mentions his first defense: his second appearance before the court would not be quite so soon. In order that Peter may not lose the title of Pope, must he endure to be charged with the guilt of so shameful a revolt? Certainly, when the whole matter has been duly examined, we shall find that everything that has been believed about his Popedom is fabulous.