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and comparison of these circumstances, we not only observe the history and the epistles to be independent documents unknown to, or at least unconsulted by, each other, but we find the substance, and oftentimes very minute articles, of the history, recognized in the epistles, by allusions and references, which can neither be imputed to design, nor, without a foundation in truth, be accounted for by accident, by hints and expressions, and single words dropping as it were fortuitously from the pen of the writer, or drawn forth, each by some occasion proper to the place in which it occurs, but widely removed from any view to consistency or agreement. These, we know, are effects which reality naturally produces, but which, without reality at the bottom, can hardly be conceived to exist.
When therefore, with a body of external evidence, which is relied upon, and which experience proves may safely be relied upon, in appreciating the credit of ancient writings, we combine characters of genuineness and originality which are not found, and which, in the nature and order of things, cannot be expected to be found in spurious compositions; whatever difficulties we may meet with in other topicks of the Christian evidence, we can have little in yielding our assent to the following conclusions: that there was such a person as St. Paul; that he lived in the age which we ascribe to him; that he went about preaching the religion of which Jesus Christ was the founder; and that the letters which we now read were actually written by him upon the subject, and in the course of that his ministry.
And if it be true that we are in possession of the very letters which St. Paul wrote, let us consider what confirmation they afford to the Christian history. In my opinion they substantiate the whole transaction. The great object of modern research is to come at the epistolary correspond
ence of the times. Amidst the obscurities, the silence, or the contradictions of history, if a letter can be found, we regard it as the discovery of a landmark; as that by which we can correct, adjust, or supply the imperfections and uncertainties of other accounts. One cause of the superiour credit which is attributed to letters is this, that the facts which they disclose generally come out incidentally, and therefore without design to mislead the publick by false or exaggerated accounts. This reason may be applied to St. Paul's Epistles with as much justice as to any letters whatever. Nothing could be further from the intention of the writer than to record any part of his history. That his history was in fact made publick by these letters, and has by the same means been transmitted to future ages, is a secondary and unthought-of effect. The sincerity therefore of the apostle's declarations cannot reasonably be disputed; at least we are sure that it was not vitiated by any desire of setting himself off to the publick at large. But these letters form a part of the muniments of Christianity, as much to be valued for their contents, as for their originality. A more inestimable treasure the care of antiquity could not have sent down to us. Beside the proof they
Paul's history, of the
afford of the general reality of St. knowledge which the author of the Acts of the Apostles had obtained of that history, and the consequent probability 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 show,
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 terrour and distress, when amidst the tumults that surround. ed them inquiry was impracticable. These letters show 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 ig norant 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 were also at the same time such men as Peter and James, and other apostles, who had been companions of Christ during his life, 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 witnesses 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 letters 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 publick 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 suggestions of inspiration, and the ordinary exercise of his natural 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 extravagancies 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 ethicks has found nothing to amend in these determinations.
What Lord Lyttleton 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, chap. xiii. 1—3, St. Paul has these words: Though I speak with the tongue of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cym