« ElőzőTovább »
ST. PAUL'S EPISTLES.
now finished the translation and explanation of all the apostle Paul's epistles, I presume my readers will not be displeased with me for transcribing a passage from the conclusion of Archd. Paley's Horæ Paulinæ, where, after giving a short but comprehensive view of the evidences, by which the authenticity of St. Paul's epistles is established beyond all possibility of doubt, he thus proceeds: “ If it be true that we are in pos« session of the very letters which St. Paul wrote, let us con« sider 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 “ correspondence of the times. Amidst the obscurities, the si
lence, or the contradictions of history, if a letter can be found,
we regard it as the discovery of a Land-mark; as that by which « we can correct, adjust or supply the imperfections and uncer« tainties of other accounts. One cause of the superior credit 6 which is attributed to letters is this, that the facts which they “ disclose generally come out incidentally, and therefore without « design to mislead the public 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 farther “ from the intention of the writer than to record any part of his « history. That his history was in fact made public by these « letters, and has by the same means been transmitted to future 4 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 public 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 6 sent down to us. Besides the proof they afford of the general 6 reality of St. Paul's history, of the knowledge which the au“ thor of the Acts of the Apostles had obtained of that history, 6 and the consequent probability that he was, what he professes “ himself to have been, a companion of the apostles; besides 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,
1. “ That Christianity was not a story set on foot amidst the « confusions which attended and immediately preceded the des. 6 truction of Jerusalem ; when many extravagant reports were 6 circulated, when men's minds were broken by terror and dis“ tress, when anidst the tumults that surrounded them enquiry
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 u 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 pro“bability ; 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 igno“ rant set of men, which the representations of infidelity would 6 sometimes make them. We learn from letters the character “ not only of the writers, but, in some ineasure, of the persons « to whom they are written. To suppose that these letters “ were addressed to a rude tribe, incapable of thought or re“ flection, is just as reasonable as to suppose Locke's Essay on “ the Human Understanding to have been written for the in66 struction of savages. Whatever may be thought of these leta
“ ters in other respects, either of diction or argument, they are “ certainly removed as far as possible from the habits and com“prehension of a barbarous people.
IV. “ St. Paul's history, I mean so much of it as may be col* lected from his letters, is so implicated with that of the other
apostles, and with the substance indeed of the Christian hisu tory itself, that I apprehend it will be found impossible to ad“ mit 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 in
stance, can any one believe that there was such a man as Paul, “ a preacher of Christianity in the age wbich 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 taugbt? 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 his“torian, appears to have frequently visited this 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 esta“ blished at a distance, were, at the same time, taught and pub“ lished at Jerusalem itself; the place where the business was “ transacted; and taught and published by those who had attend« ed the founder of the institution in his miraculous, or pretend« ed 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 connection, 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 out accounts in one country of what “ is transacted in another, without affording the hearers an op
“portunity of knowing whether the things related were credited « by any, or even published, in the place where they are report66 ed to have passed.
V. “ St. Paul's letters furnish evidence (and what better evi“dence than a man's own letters can be desired?) of the " soundness and sobriety of his judgment. His caution in dis“ tinguishing 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-scrupulous
ness and austerities of superstition, and from, what was more “ perhaps to be apprehended, the abstractions of quietism, and " the soarings or extravagancies of fanaticism. His judgment “ concerning a hesitating conscience; his opinion of the moral « indifferency of many actions, yet of the prudence and even “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 Lyttleton has remarked, of the preference as
cribed by St. Paul to inward rectitude of principie, above every " other religious accomplishment, is very material to our pre“ sent purpose.“ In his first efristle to the Corinthians, chap. “ xiii. 1.-3. St. Paul hus these words, Though I speak with the " tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am be
come 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 an " enthusiast prefer that universal benevolence which comprehendeth « all moral virtues, and which, as appeareth by the following ver868, « is meant by charity here? Did ever enthusiast, I say, firefer that “ benevolence, (which we may add is attainable by every man) 10 "s faith and 10 miraclrs, to those religious opinions which he had em“ braced, and to those supernatural graces and gifts, which he inagined he had acquired ; nay even to the merit of martyrdom? Is " it not the genius of enthusiasm to æet moral virtues infinitely below " the merit of faith ; and of all moral virlues 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 opi
nions of a man subject to fanatic delusions are to be found in this “ passage.” 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 inspira« tion, is to take the question for granted. It is to take for grant« ed that no such visions or inspirations 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 66 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 au“ thor; also as to the distressed state of the Christian church, " and the dangers which attended the preaching of the gospel. “ See Col. i. 24. ; I Cor. xv. 19. 30, 31, 32. Rom. viii. 17, 18. « 35, 36. I Cor. vii. 25, 26. Philip. i. 29, 30. Gal. vi. 14. 17. 06 i Thess. i. 6. 2 Thess. i. 4.
“ We may seem to have accumulated texts unnecessarily; 6 but beside that the point, which they are brought to prove, is “ of great importance, there is this also to be remarked in every
one of the passages cited, that the allusion is drawn from the « writer by the argument on the occasion; that the notice which “ is taken of his sufferings, and of the suffering condition of “ Christianity, is perfectly incidental, and is dictated by no design " of stating the facts themselves. Indeed they are not stated at “ all : they may rather be said to be assumed. This is a distinc« tion upon which we have relied a good deal in the former part " of this treatise ; and where the writer's information cannot be