The Order of the Pauline Epistles

It would appear as though there had been divine supervision in regard to the order in which the books of the Bible are placed in our Authorised Version. Take the nine general epistles of Paul as an example.

(A) ROMANS unfolds the subject of righteousness and declares the way by which God justifies the ungodly according to His own inviolable and eternal justice. Having been put into right relations with God in this divine way, and having received the Holy Spirit, which is the seal of it, the next important matter is to understand in what relationship we stand with those who have been brought into the same place of blessing.

(B) 1 CORINTHIANS deals with this question. It brings out the truth of Christian fellowship, lays down great principles for its maintenance, shows how all believers have been brought into a divine unity, being baptized into one body by the Holy Ghost. Things having been adjusted in the Christian circle, the next question of importance is our testimony before, and our relationship to, the world.

(C) 2 CORINTHIANS takes up this. It really unfolds for us what is the true Christian character. The light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus has shone into our hearts, that it might shine out again in the darkness around. The Christian is here said to be an epistle of Christ, known and read of all men, and even a superficial study of this epistle will reveal many special traits of God's character coming to light either in the Apostle Paul or in the saints.

These three epistles might be briefly summed up as (1) Right with God; (2) Right with the brethren; (3) Right before the world; or, (1) The Christian's righteousness; (2) The Christian's fellowship; (3) The Christian's character. The epistles that follows, fall each into its place with these first three, and may be spoken of in a general way as confirming or more fully unfolding and extending the truths of the first three.

(A) GALATIANS, though evidently written before Romans, is a treatise in defence of the truth, laid down so blessedly in the larger epistle.

(B) EPHESIANS unfolds the eternal purposes of God in regard to that assembly which is the body of Christ and the habitation of God, the great principles for the conduct of which here below are laid down in 1 Corinthians.

(C) PHILIPPIANS brings out very clearly the true experience and character of the saints and servants of God on earth. We see in chapter 1 the object of the Christian life — Christ's glory; in chapter 2 the pattern for the Christian life — Christ in humiliation; in chapter 3 the energy and goal of the Christian life — Christ in glory; in chapter 4 the superiority of the Christian life to all circumstances through Christ our strength.

(A) COLOSSIANS declares how God will reconcile all things to Himself by Christ, and how we who were once alienated and enemies are now reconciled, and here it links on with Romans, and brings afresh before the soul the hope laid up for us in heaven, which was first revealed to us in the gospel in Romans. Paul is also here a minister of the mystery, but there would have been no hearts to receive this ministry but for the former ministry which made souls subject to the will of God, so Paul links up his labours in this epistle with the kingdom of God (chap. 4:11) which Romans unfolds.

(B) 1 THESSALONIANS gives to us the translation of the assembly to heaven at the coming of the Lord.

(C) 2 THESSALONIANS describes God's vengeance upon the world that has refused the gospel preached by the lips and lives of His saints and servants in it.