Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

Christian era, in which century these epistles un- , Beside these, I know not whether any ancient doubtedly existed.-I shall set down under this writer mentions it. It was certainly unnoticed proposition the guarded words of Lardner him- during the first three centuries of the church; and self: “There are no quotations of any books of when it came afterwards to be mentioned, it was them (spurious and apocryphal books) in the mentioned only to show, that, though such a apostolical fathers, by whom I mean Barnabas, writing did exist, it obtained no credit. It is proClement of Rome, Hermas, Ignatius, and Poly- bable that the forgery to which Jerome alludes, is carp, whose writings reach from the year of our the epistle which we now have under that title. Lord 70 to the year 108. I say this confidently, If so, as hath been already observed, it is nothing because I think it has been prored.—Lardner, more than a collection of sentences from the vol. xii. p. 158.

genuine epistles; and was perhaps, at first, rather Nor when they did appear were they much the exercise of some idle pen, than any serious atused by the primitive Christians. Irenæus tempt to impose a forgery upon the public. Of quotes not any of these books. He mentions some an Epistle to the Corinthians under St. Paul's of them, but he never quotes them. The same name, which was brought into Europe in the may be said of Tertullian: he has mentioned a present century, antiquity is entirely silent. It book called "Acts of Paul and Thecla :' but it is was unheard of for sixteen centuries; and at this only to condemn it. Clement of Alexandria and day, though it be extant, and was first found in Origen have mentioned and quoted several such the Armenian language, it is not, by the Chrisbooks, but never as authority, and sometimes with tians of that country, received into their Scrip express marks of dislike. Eusebius quoted no such tures. I hope, after this, that there is no reader books in any of his works. He has mentioned who will think there is any coinpetition of credit, them indeed, but how? Not by way of approba- or of external proof, between these and the retion, but to show that they were of little or no ceived Epistles; or rather, who will not acknowvalue; and that they never were received by the ledge the evidence of authenticity to be consounder part of Christians.” Now if with this, firmed by the want of success which attended imwhich is advanced after the most minute and dili- posture. gent examination, we compare what the same cau- When we take into our hands the letters tious writer had before said of our received Scrip- which the suffrage and consent of antiquity tures, “ that in the works of three only of the hath thus transmitted to us, the first thing that above-mentioned fathers, there are more and larger strikes our attention is the air of reality and buquotations of the small volume of the New Tes-siness, as well as of seriousness and conviction, tament, than of all the works of Cicero in the which pervades the whole. Let the sceptic read writers of all characters for several ages;” and if them. If he be not sensible of these qualities in with the marks of obscurity or condemnation, them, the argument can have no weight with which accompanied the mention of the several him. If he be; if he perceive in almost every apocryphal Christian writings, when they hap- page the language of a mind actuated by real pened to be mentioned at all, we contrast what occasions, and operating upon real circumstances, Dr. Lardner's work completely and in detail I would wish it to be observed, that the proof makes out concerning the writings which we de which arises from this perception is not to be fend, and what, having so made out, he thought deemed occult or imaginary, because it is incapahimself authorized in his conclusion to assert, ble of being drawn out in words, or of being conthat these books were not only received froin veyed to the apprehension of the reader in any the beginning, but received with the greatest other way, than by sending him to the books respect; have been publicly and solemnly read themselves. in the assemblies of Christians throughout the And here, in its proper place, comes in the arworld, in every age from that time to this; early gument which it has been the office of these pages translated into the languages of divers countries to unfold. St. Paul's epistles are connected with and people; commentaries writ to explain and il- the history by their particularity, and by the nulustrate them; quoted by way of proof in all ar- merous circumstances which are found in them. guments of a religious nature; recommended to When we descend to an examination and comthe perusal of unbelievers, as containing the au- parison of these circumstances, we not only obthentic account of the Christian doctrine; when serve the history and the epistles to be indepen we attend, I say, to this representation, we per- dent documents unknown to, or at least unconceive in it not only full proof of the early no- sulted by, each other, but we find the substance, toriety of these books, but a clear and sensible and oftentimes very minute articles, of the history. line of discrimination, which separates these from recognized in the epistles, by allusions and rethe pretensions of any others.

ferences, which can neither be imputed to design, The epistles of St. Paul stand particularly free nor, without a foundation in truth, he accounted of any doubt or confusion that might arise from for by accident; by hints and expressions, and this source. Until the conclusion of the fourth single words dropping as it were fortuitously from century, no intimation appears of any attempt the pen of the writer, or drawn forth. cach by some whatever being made to counterfeit these writings; occasion proper to the place in which it occurs, and then it appears only of a single and obscure but widely removed from any view to consistency instance. Jerome, who fourished in the year 392, or agreement. These, we know, are effects which has this expression : " Legunt quidam et ad Lao- reality naturally produces, but which, without dicenses; sed ab omnibus exploditur;" there is also reality at the bottom, can hardly be conceived to an Epistle to the Laoliceans, but it is rejected by exist. every body.* Theodoret, who wrote in the year When therefore, with a body of external eri423, speaks of this epistle in the same terms.tdence, which is relied upon, and which experience

proves may safely be relied upon, in appreciating * Lardner, vol. X. p. 103. | Ibid. vol. xi. p. 88. the credit of ancient writings, we combine charac

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

ters of genuineness and originality which are not mediately present and active. I do not allow that found, and which, in the nature and order of this insinuation is applied to the historical part of things, cannot be expected to be found in spurious the New Testament with any colour of justice or compositions; whatever difficulties we may meet probability; but I say, that to the Epistles it is not with in other topics of the Christian evidence, we applicable at all

. can have little in yielding our assent to the fol- IIl. These letters prove that the converts to lowing conclusions: That there was such a per- | Christianity were not drawn from the barbarous, son as St. Paul; that he lived in the age which the mean, or the ignorant set of men which the re"we ascribe to him; that he went about preaching presentations of intidelity would sometimes make the religion of which Jesus Christ was the founder; them. We learn from letters the character not and that the letters which we now read were ac- only of the writer, but, in some measure, of the tually written by him upon the subject, and in the persons to whom they are written. To suppose course of that his ministry.

that these letters were addressed to a rude tribe, And if it be true that we are in possession of incapable of thought or reflection, is just as reathe very letters which St. Paul wrote, let us con- sonable as to suppose Locke's Essay on the Husider what confirmation they afford to the Chris-man Understanding to have been written for the tian history. In my opinion they substantiate the instruction of savages. Whatever may be thought whole transaction. The great object of modern re- of these letters in other respects, either of diction search is to coine at the epistolary correspondence or argument, they are certainly removed as far as of the tines. Amidst the obscurities, the silence, possible from the habits and comprehension of a or the contradictions of history, if a letter can be barbarous people. found, we regard it as the discovery of a land- IV. St. Paul's history, I mean so much of it as mark; as that by which we can correct, adjust, or may be collected from his letters, is so implicated supply the imperfections and uncertainties of other with that of the other apostles, and with the subaccounts. One cause of the superior credit which stance indeed of the Christian history itself, that is attributed to letters is this, that the facts which I apprehend it will be found impossible to admit they disclose generally come out incidentally, and St. Paul's story (I do not speak of the miraculous therefore without design to mislead the public by part of it) to be true, and yet to reject the rest as false or exaggerated accounts. This reason may fabulous. For instance, can any one believe that be applied to St. Paul's epistles with as much jus- there was such a man as Paul, a preacher of Christice as to any letters whatever. Nothing could be tianity in the age which we assign to him, and krther from the intention of the writer than to not believe that there was also at the same time record any part of his history. That his history such a man as Peter and James, and other aposwas in faci made public by these letters, and has tles, who had been companions of Christ during by the same means been transmitted to future ages, his life, and who after his death published and is a secondary and unthought-of effect. The sin- avowed the same things concerning him which cerity therefore of the apostle's declarations cannot Paul taught ? Judea, and especially Jerusalem, reasonably be disputed ; at least we are sure that was the scene of Christ's ministry. The witnesses it was not vitiated by any desire of setting himself of his miracles lived there. St. Paul, by his own ots to the public at large. But these letters form account, as well as that of his historian, appears a part of the muniments of Christianity, as much to have frequently visited that city; to have carto be valued for their contents, as for their origi- ried on a communication with the church there; nality. A more inestimable treasure the care of to have associated with the rulers and elders of antiquity could not have sent down to us. Beside that church, who were some of them apostles; to the proof they afford of the general reality of St. have acted, as occasions offered, in correspondence, Paul's history, of the knowledge which the author and sometimes in conjunction with them. Can of the Acts of the Apostles had obtained of that it, after this, be doubted, but that the religion and history, and the consequent probability that he the general facts relating to it, which St. Paul apwas, what he professes himself to have been, a pears by his letters to have delivered to the sevecompanion of the apostles; beside the support they ral churches which he established at a distance, lend to these important inferences, they meet spe-were at the same time taught and published at Jecitically some of the principal objections upon rusalem itself, the place where the business was which the adversaries of Christianity have thought transacted; and taught and published by those proper to rely. In particular they show,- who had attended the founder of the institution in

1. That Christianity was not a story set on foot his miraculous, or pretendedly miraculous, minisamidst the confusions which attended and imme- try? diately preceded the destruction of Jerusalem; l It is observable, for so it appears both in the when many extravagant reports were circulated, Epistles and from the Acts of the Apostles, that when men's minds were broken by terror and dis- Jerusalem, and the society of believers in that city, tress, when anuidst the tumults that surrounded long continued the centre from which the missionther inquiry was impracticable. These letters aries of the religion issued, with which all other show incontestably that the religion had fixed and churches maintained a correspondence and conestablished itself before this state of things took nexion, to which they referred their doubts, and place.

to whose relief, in times of public distress, they II. Whereas it hath been insinuated, that our remitted their charitable assistance. This obuerGospels may have been made up of reports and vation I think material, because it proves that this stories, which were current at the time, we may was not the case of giving our accounts in one o serve that, with respect to the Epistles, this is country of what is transacted in another, without Inpossible. A man cannot write the history of his affording the hearers an opportunity of knowing own life from reports; nor, what is the same thing, whether the things related were credited by any, be led by reports to refer to passages and transae- or even published, in the place where they are retions in which he states himself to have been im-1 ported to have passed.

[ocr errors]

V. St. Paul's letters furnish evidence (and what | deeply impressed, but not more so than the occabetter evidence than a man's own letters can be sion merited, with a sense of its importance. This desired ?) of the soundness and sobriety of his produces a corresponding animation and solicitude judgment. His caution in distinguishing between in the exercise of his ministry. But would not the occasional suggestions of inspiration, and the these considerations, supposing them to be well ordinary exercise of his natural understanding, is founded, have holden the same place, and produced without example in the history of human enthu- the same effect, in a mind the strongest and the siasm. His morality is every where calm, pure, most sedate? and rational; adapted to the condition, the activity, VI. These letters are decisive as to the sufferand the business of social life, and of its various ings of the author; also as to the distressed state relations; free from the overscrupulousness and of the Christian church, and the dangers which austerities of superstition, and from what was attended the preaching of the Gospel. more perhaps to be apprehended, the abstractions “Whereof I Paul am made a minister; who of quietism, and the soarings and extravagancies now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up of fanaticism. His judgment concerning a hesi- that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in tating conscience; his opinion of the moral indifle- my flesh, for his body's sake, which is the church,” rency of many actions, yet of the prudence and Col. ch. i. 24. even the duty of compliance, where non-compli- “Jf in this life only we have hope in Christ, we ance would produce evil effects upon the minds of are of all men most miserable,” I Cor.ch. xv.9. the persons who observed it, is as correct and just Why stand we in jeopardy every hour ? I proas the most liberal and enlightened moralist could test by your rejoicing, which I have in Christ Jeform at this day. The accuracy of modern ethics sus our Lord, I die daily. If, after the manner of has found nothing to amend in these determina- men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what tions.

advantageth it me, if the dead rise not ?" 1 Cor. What Lord Lyttleton has remarked of the pre-ch. xv. 30, &c. ference ascribed by St. Paul to inward rectitude “If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint of principle above every other religious accomplish- heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with ment, is very material to our present purpose. him, that we raay be also gloritied together. For "In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, chap. I reckon that the sufferings of this present time xiü. 1-3, St. Paul has these words: Though I are not worthy to be compared with the glory speak with the tongue of men and of angels, and which shall be revealed in us," Rom. chap. viii. have not charity, I am become as sounding brass 17, 18. or a tinkling cymbal. And though I hare the “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or and all knowledge; and though I hare all faith, famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it so that I could remove mountains, and hare not is written, for thy sake we are killed all the day charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter," my goods to feed the poor, and though I gire my Rom. ch. vii. 35, 36. body to be burned, and have not charity, it pro- “Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, fitcth me nothing. Is this the language of en continuing instant in prayer," Rom. ch. xii. 12. thusiasm ? Did ever enthusiast prefer that uni. “Now concerning virgins I have no commandversal benevolence which comprehendeth all moral ment of the Lord; yet I give my judgment as one virtues, and which, as appeareth by the following that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithverses, is meant by charity here; did ever enthu- ful. I suppose therefore that this is good for the siast, I say, prefer that benevolence” (which we present distress ; I say, that it is good for a man may add is attainable by every man)" to faith and so to be," 1 Cor. ch. vii

. 25, 26. to miracles, to those religious opinions which he “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, had embraced, and to those supernatural graces not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for and gifts which he imagined he had acquired; nay, his sake, having the same conflict which ye saw even to the merit of martyrdom? Is it not the in me, and now hear to be in me," Phil. ch. i. genius of enthusiasm to set moral virtues intinitely 29, 30. below the merit of faith; and of all moral virtues Is God forbid that I should glory, save in the to value that least which is most particularly en- cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the forced by St. Paul, a spirit of candour, moderation, world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." and peace? Certainly neither the temper northe “From henceforth let no man trouble me, for I opinions of a man subject to fanatic delusions are bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus," to be found in this passage.”Lord Lyttleton's Gal. ch. vi. 14, 17. Considerations on the Conversion, &.c.

“Ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, I see no reason therefore to question the inte having received the word in much affliction, with grity of his understanding. To call him a vision-joy of the Holy Ghost,”. 1 Thess. ch. i. 6. ary, because he appealed to visions; or an enthu- "We ourselves glory in you in the churches of siast, because he pretended to inspiration, is to God, for your patience and faith in all your perse take the whole question for granted. It is to take cutions and tribulations that ye endure,” 2 Thess. for granted that no such visions or inspirations chap. i. 4. existed: at least it is to assume, contrary to his We may seem to have accumulated texts unown assertions, that he had no other proofs than necessarily; but beside that the point which they these to offer of his mission, or of the truth of his are brought to prove is of great importance, there relations.

is this also to be remarked in every one of the One thing I allow, that his letters every where passages cited, that the allusion is drawn from the discover great zeal and earnestness in the cause in writer by the argument or the occasion; that the which he was engaged; that is to say, he was notice which is taken of his sufferings, and of the convinced of the truth of what he taught; he was suliering condition of Christianity, is perfectly in

[ocr errors]

cidental, and is dictated by no design of stating things which Christ hath not wrought by me, the facts themselves. Indeed they are not stated to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, at all; they may rather be said to be assumed through mighty signs and wonders (ov Surause This is a distinction upon which we have relied om gesowv **• tifatav,) by the power of the Spirit of a good deal in former parts of this treatise ; and, Gol: so that from Jerusalem, and round about where the writer's information cannot be doubted, unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the Gospel it always, in my opinion, adds greatly to the value of Christ,” Rom. ch. xv. 18, 19. and credit of the testimony.

"Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought · If any reader require from the apostle more di- among you in all patience, in signs and wonders rect and explicit assertions of the same thing, he and mighty deeds,” (sv on sloos *** ispaoxai durswill receive full satisfaction in the following quo-kirl. t) 2 Cor. c... xii. 12. tations.

These words, signs, wonders, and mighty deeds, * Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a compres, kau Tapata, kui suvepesos,) are the specific fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in appropriate terms throughout the New Testament, stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, employed when public sensible miracles are inin deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I tended to be expressed. This will appear by conforty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with sukting, amongst other places, the texts referred rodds, once was I stoned; thrice I suffered ship- to in the note ; # and it cannot be known that they wreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; are ever employed to express any thing else. in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils Secondly, these words not only denote miraof robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in cles as opposed to natural effects, but they denote perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in visible, and what may be called external, miracles, perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in as distinguished, perils among false brethren; in weariness and

First, from inspiration. If St. Paul had meant painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and to refer only to secret illuminations of his underthirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness," standing, or secret influences upon his will or 2 Cor. ch. xi. 23–28.

aflections, he could not, with truth, have repreCan it be necessary to add more? "I think sented them as “signs and wonders wrought by that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it him," or "signs and wonders and mighty deeds were appointed to death: for we are made a spec- wrought amongst them." tacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. Secondly, from visions. These would not, by Even unto this present hour we both hunger and any means, satisfy the force of the terms," signs, thirst, and are naked, and are butleted, and have wonders, and mighty deeds;" still less could they no certain dwelling-place; and labour, working be said to be "wrought by him," or "wrought with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; amongst them:" nor are these terms and expresbeing persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we sions any where applied to visions. When our entreat: we are made as the filth of the earth, author alludes to the supernatural communicaand are the ofiscouring of all things unto this day,' tions which he had received, either by vision or 1 Cor. ch. iv. 9—13. I suhjoin this passage to otherwise, he uses expressions suited to the the fonner, because it extends to the other apostles nature of the subject, but very different from of Christianity much of that which St. Paul de- the words which we have quoted. He calls clared concerning himself.

them revelations, but never signs, wonders, or In the following quotations, the reference to the mighty deeds." I will come," says he, to author's sufferings is accompanied with a specifi-visions and revelations of the Lord;” and then cation of time and place, and with an appeal for proceeds to describe a particular instance, and the truth of what he declares to the knowledge of afterwards adds, "lest I should be exalted above the persons whom he addresses: “ Even after that measure through the abundance of the revelawe had suffered before, and were shamefully en- tions, there was given me a thorn in the flesh." treated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to unto you the Gospel of God

*i. e. “I will speak of nothing but what Christ hath with much contention," 1 Thess. ch. ii. 2. wrought by me;" or, as Grotius interprets it, “ Christ

" But thou hast fully known my doctrine, hath wrought so great things by me, that I will not dare manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, per- to say what he hath not

wrought." secutwns, atllictions, which came unto me at An- sions, which, though if they had stood alone, i. e. with

| To these may be added the following indirect allulioch, at Iconium, at Lystra: what persccutions | out plainer texts in the same writings, they might have I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered been accounted dubious; yet, when considered in conme," 2 Tim. ch. ii. 10, 11.

junction with the passages already cited, can hardly reI apprehend that to this point, as far as the tes-ceive any other interpretation than that which we give timony of St. Paul is credited, the evidence from

My speech and my prcaching was not with enticing his letters is complete and full

. It appears under words of men's wisdom, but in demonstration of the every form in which it could appear, by occasional spirit and of power; that your faith should not stand in allusions and by direct assertions, by general de- the wisdom of men, but in the power of God," I Cor. clarations, and by specific examples.

“The Gospel, whereof I was made a minister, accordVII. St. Paul in these letters asserts, in posi- ing to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the tive and unequivocal terms, his performance of effectual working of his power,” Ephes. ch. iii. 7. miracles strictly and properly so called.

“ For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the " He therefore that ministereth to you the lin me towards the Gentiles,” Gal. ch. ii. 8.

apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty Spirit, and worketh miracles (ovsęy uv Suv s psos) “For our Gospel came not unto you in word only, among you, doth he it by the works of the but also in power and in the Holy Ghost, and in much law, or by the hearing of faith?” Gal. chap. assurance," 1 Thess.ch. i. 5. mi. 5.

| Mark xvi. 20. Luke xxiii. 8. John ii. 11, 23; in.

2; iv. 48, 51; xi. 49. Acis ii. 22; iv, 3; v. 12; vi. 8; vii. For I will not dare to speak of any of those 16; xiv. 3; xv. 12. Heb. ii. 4.

[ocr errors]

them.

.

64

Upon the whole, the matter admits of no soft-hands; we have also a history purporting to be ening qualitication, or ambiguity whatever. If St. written by one of his fellow-travellers, and appearPaul did not work actual, sensible public miracles, ing, by a comparison with these letters, certainly he has knowingly, in these letters, borne his tes- to have been written by some person well actimony to a falschood. I need not add, that, in quainted with the transactions of his life. From two also of the quotations, he has advanced his the letters, as well as from the history, we gather assertion in the face of those persons amongst not only the account which we have stated of him, whom he declares the miracles to have been but that he was one out of many who acted and wrought.

suffered in the same manner; and that of those Let it be remembered that the Acts of the Apos- who did so, several had been the companions of tles described various particular miracles wrought Christ's ministry, the ocular witnesses, or pre. by St. Paul, which in their nature answers to the tending to be such, of his miracles, and of his terms and expressions which we have seen to be resurrection. We moreover find this same perused by St. Paul himself.

son referring in his letters to his supernatural conversion, the particulars and accompanying circumstances of which are related in the history, and

which accompanying circumstances, if all or any Here then we have a man of liberal attain- of them be true, render it impossible to have been ments, and in other points of sound judgment, who a delusion. We also find him positively, and in aphad addicted his life to the service of the Gospel. propriated terms, asserting that he himself worked We see him, in the prosecution of his purpose, miracles, strictly and properly so called, in suptravelling from country to country enduring every port of the mission which he executed; the hisspecies of hardship, encountering every extremity tory, meanwhile, recording various passages of his of danger, assaulted by the populace, punished by ministry, which come up to the extent of this asthe magistrates, scourged, beat, stoned, left for sertion. The question is, whether falschood was dead; expecting, wherever he came, a renewal of ever attested by evidence like this. Falsehoods, the same treatment, and the same dangers, yet, we know, have found their way into reports, into when driven from one city, preaching in the next; tradition, into books; but is an example to be met spending his whole time in the employment, sa- with, of a man voluntarily undertaking a life of criticing to it his pleasures, his ease, his safety; want and pain, of incessant fatigue, of continual persisting in this course to old age, unaltered by peril; submitting to the loss of his home and counthe experience of perverseness, ingratitude, preju- try, to stripes and stoning, to tedious imprisondice, desertion ; unsubdued by anxiety, want, ment, and the constant expectation of a violent labour, persecutions; unwearied by long confine-death, for the sake of carrying about a story of ment, undismayed by the prospect of death. what was false, and of what, if false, he must Such was St. Paul. We have his letters in our have known to be so ?

« VorigeDoorgaan »