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Scripture Hiftory of St. Paul
EXPOSITION OF THE ARGUMENT.
THE volume of Chriftian fcriptures contains thirteen letters purporting to be written by St. Paul; it contains alfo a book, which amongft other things, profefles to deliver the hiftory, or rather memoirs of the hiftory, of this fame perfon. B By By,afluming the genuinenefs of the letters, we may prove the fubftantial truth of the hiftory; or, by afluming the truth of the hiftory, we may argue ftrongly in fupport of the genuinenefs of the letters. But I affume neither one nor the other. The reader is at liberty to fuppofe thefe writings to have been lately difcovered in the library of the Efcurial^and to come to our hands deftitute of any extrinfic or collateral evidence whatever; and the argument I am about to offer is calculated to fhew, that a comparifon of the different writings would, even under thefe circumftances, afford good reafon to' believe the perfons and tranfactions to have been real, the letters authentic, and the narration in the main 'to be true.
Agreement or conformity between letters bearing the name of an ancient author, and a received hiftory of that author's life, does not neceffarily eftablifh. the credit of either: becaufe,"
i. The hiftory may, like Middleton's Life of Cicero, or Jortin's Life of Erafmus, have bgen wholly, or in part, compiled
from from the letters; in which cafe it is manifeft that the hiftory adds nothing to the evidence already afforded by the letters: or,
2. The letters may have been fabricated out of the hiflory: a fpecies of impofture which is certainly practicable; and which, without any acceffion of proof or authority, would neceflarily produce the appearance of confiftency and agreement; or,
3. The hiftory and letters may have been founded upon fome authority common to both; as upon reports and traditions which prevailed in the age in which they were compofed, or upon fome ancient record now loft, which both writers confulted: in which cafe alfo, the letters, without being genuine, may exhibit marks of conformity with the hiftory; and the hiftory, without being true, may agree with the letters.
Agreement therefore, or conformity, is only to be relied upon fo far as we can exclude thefe 'everal fuppofitions. Now the point to be noticed is", that, in the three cafes above enumerated, conformity muft B z be be the effeft of defign. Where the hi flory is compiled from the letters, which is the firfl cafe, the defign and compotition of the work are in general fo confefled, or madeib evident by comparifon; as to leave •us in no danger of confounding the production with original hiftory, or of miftaking it for an independent authority. The agreement, it is probable, will be clofc and uniform, and will eafily be perceived to refult from the intention of the author, and from the plan and conduct of his work. —Where the letters are fabricated from the hiftory, which is the fecond cafe, it is always for the purpofe of impofing a forgery upon the" public; and, in order to give colour and probability to the fraud, names, places, and circumftances, found in the hiftory, may be ftudioufly introduced into the letters, as well as a general confiftency be endeavoured to be maintained. But here it is manifeft, that whatever congruity appears, is the cdnfequence of meditation, artifice, and defign.—The third cafe is that wherein the hiftory and the }ettersv without any direct privity or communica. . tion
tion with each other, derive their materials from the fame fource; and, by reafon of their common original, furnim inftances of accordance and correfpondency. This is a fituation in which we muft allow it to be poffible for ancient writings to be placed; and it is a fituation in which it is more difficult to diftinguifh fpurious from genuine writings, than in either of the cales defcribed in the preceding fuppofitions; inafmuch as the congruities obfervable are fo far accidental, as that they are not produced by the immediate tranfplanting of names and circumftances out of one writing into the other. But although, with refpeQ. to each other, the agreement in thefe writings be mediate and fecondary, yet is it not properly or absolutely undefigned; becaufe, with refpecT: to the common original from which the information of the writers proceeds, it is ftudied and factitious. The cafe of which we treat muft, as to the letters, be a cafe of forgery; and when the writer, who is perfonating another, fits down to his compofition—whether he have the hifrory with which we now compare B 3 the