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that he was, what he professes himself to have been, a companion of the apostle's; beside the support they lend to these important inferences, they meet specifically some of the principal objections upon which the adversaries of Christianity have thought proper to rely. In particular they shew,
I. That Christianity was not a story set on foot amidst the confusions which attended and immediately preceded the destruction of Jerusalem; when many extravagant reports were circulated, when men's minds were broken by terror and distress, when amidst the tumults that surrounded them inquiry was impracticable. These letters shew incontestably, that the religion had fixed and established itself before this state of things took place.
II. Whereas it hath been insinuated, that our Gospels may have been made up of reports and stories, which were current at the time, we may observe that, with respect to the Epistles, this is impossible. A man cannot write the history of his own life from reports: nor, what is the same thing, be led by reports to refer to passages and transactions in which he states himself to have been immediately present and active. I do not allow that this insinuation is applied to the historical part of the New Testament with any colour of justice or probability; but I say, that to the Epistles it is not applicable at all.
III. These letters prove that the converts to Christianity were not drawn from the barbarous, the mean, or the ignorant set of men which the representations of infidelity would sometimes make them. We learn from letters the character not only of the writer, but, in some measure, of the persons to whom they are written. To suppose that these letters were addressed to a rude tribe, incapable of thought or reflection, is just as reasonable as to suppose Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding to have been written for the instruction of savages. Whatever may be thought of these letters in other respects, either of diction or argument, they are certainly removed as far as possible from the habits and comprehension of a barbarous people.
IV. St. Paul's history, I mean so much of it as may
be collected from his letters, is so implicated with that of the other apostles, and with the substance indeed of the Christian history itself, that I apprehend it will be found impossible to admit St. Paul's story (I do not speak of the miraculous part of it) to be true, and yet to reject the rest as fabulous. For instance, can any one believe that there was such a man as Paul, a preacher of Christianity in the age which we assign to him, and not believe that there was also at the same time such a man as Peter, and James, and other apostles, who had been companions of Christ during his lie, and who after his death published and avowed the same things concerning him which Paul taught? Judea, and especially Jerusalem, was the scene of Christ's ministry. The witness of his miracles lived there. St. Paul, by his own account, as well as that of his historian, appears to have frequently visited that city; to have carried on a communication with the church there; to have associated with the rulers and elders of that church, who were some of them apostles: to have acted, as occasions offered, in correspondence, and sometimes in conjunction, with them. Can it, after this, be doubted, but that the religion and the general facts relating to it, which St. Paul appears by his let ters to have delivered to the several churches which he established at a distance, were at the same time taught and published at Jerusalem itself, the place where the business was transacted? and taught and published by those who had attended the founder of the institution in his miraculous, or pretendedly miraculous ministry?
It is observable, for so it appears both in the epistles and from the Acts of the Apostles, that Jerusalem, and the society of believers in that city, long continued the centre from which the missionaries of the religion issued, with which all other churches maintained a correspondence and connexion, to which they referred their doubts, and to whose relief, in times of public distress, they remitted their charitable assistance: This observation I think material, because it proves that this was not the case of giving our accounts in one country of what is transacted in another, without affording the hearers an opportunity of knowing whether the things
related were credited by any, or even published, in the place where they are reported to have passed.
V. St. Paul's letters furnish evidence (and what better evidence than a man's own letters can be desired?) of the soundness and sobriety of his judgment. His caution in distinguishing between the occasional sugges. tions of inspiration, and the ordinary exercise of his na tural understanding, is without example in the history of human enthusiasm, His morality is every where calm, pure, and rational; adapted to the condition, the activity, and the business of social life, and of its various relations; free from the over-scrupulousness and austerities of superstition, and from, what was more perhaps to be apprehended, the abstractions of quietism, and the soarings and extravagances of fanaticism. His judgment concerning a hesitating conscience; his opinion of the moral indifferency of many actions, yet of the prudence and even the duty of compliance, where non-compliance would produce evil effects upon the minds of the persons who observed it, is as correct and just as the most liberal and enlightened moralist could form at this day. The accuracy of modern ethics has found nothing to amend in these determinations.
What Lord Lyttelton has remarked of the preference ascribed by St. Paul to inward rectitude of principle above every other religious accomplishment is very material to our present purpose. "In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, xiii. 1-3. St. Paul has these words: Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Is this the language of enthusiasm? Did ever enthusiast prefer that universal benevolence which comprehendeth all moral virtues, and which, as appeareth
by the following verses, is meant by charity here; did ever enthusiast, I say, prefer that benevolence" (which we may add is attainable by every man) "to faith and to miracles, to those religious opinions which he had embraced, and to those supernatural graces and gifts which he imagined he had acquired; nay, even to the merit of martyrdom? Is it not the genius of enthusiasm to set moral virtues infinitely below the merit of faith; and of all moral virtues to value that least which is most particularly enforced by St. Paul, a spirit of candour, moderation, and peace? Certainly neither the temper nor the opinions of a man subject to fanatic de lusions are to be found in this passage." Lord Lyttel ton's Considerations on the Conversion, &c.
I see no reason therefore to question the integrity of his understanding. To call him a visionary, because he appealed to visions; or an enthusiast, because he pretended to inspiration, is to take the whole question for granted. It is to take for granted that no such visions or inspiration existed; at least it is to assume, contrary to his own assertions, that he had no other proofs than these to offer of his mission, or of the truth of his relations.
One thing I allow, that his letters every where discover great zeal and earnestness in the cause in which he was engaged; that is to say, he was convinced of the truth of what he taught; he was deeply impressed, but not more so than the occasion merited, with a sense of its importance. This produces a corresponding animation and solicitude in the exercise of his ministry. But would not these considerations, supposing them to be well founded, have holden the same place, and produced the same effect, in a mind the strongest and the most sedate?
VI. These letters are decisive as to the sufferings of the author; also as to the distressed state of the Christian church, and the dangers which attended the preaching of the gospel.
"Whereof I Paul am made a minister; who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh, for his body's sake, which is the church." Col. i. 24.
"If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." 1 Cor. xv. 19.
"Why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I protest by your rejoicing, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If, after the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it: me, if the dead rise not?" 1 Cor. xv. 30, &c.
"If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.' Rom. viii. 17, 18.
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long, we are ac counted as sheep for the slaughter." Rom. viii. 35, 36. "Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer." Rom. xii. 12.
"Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord; yet I give my judgment as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress; I say that it is good for a man so to be." 1 Cor. vii. 25, 26.
"For unto you it is given, in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake, having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me." Phil. i. 29, 30.
"God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."
"From henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." "Gal. vi. 14. 17.
"Ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost." 1 Thess. i. 6.
"We ourselves glory in you in the churches of God, for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure." 2 Thess. i. 4.