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assembly at Jerusalem. Paul every where declares against the necessity of circumcision; and Peter had given his judgment clearly on the same side, though in a particular instance he was guilty in his practice of an improper compliance. As for the Gentiles, there was no favour shewn to any of their gods, or their rites: no indulgence to apply to them as objects of worship, or as mediators and intercessors : but they declared, notwithstanding the vast number of gods which were the objects of general devotion, that there was but one God, and one mediator between God and man: no indulgence to any vicious disorders, no relaxations of the strictness of their rules of life, in behalf of the most general customs, or the strongest inclinations : the preaching of the cross proved a scandal (though unjustly, and without reason to many, was to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness; yet still they taught Christ crucified, as the wisdom of God, and the power of God. They preached repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, to Jews and Gentiles; exhorted the one not to depend upon their privileges, and the others to turn from their vanities to the living and true God.
The freedom they used towards those who were converted to Christianity, is another argument of their sincerity. They connived at no disorders among them; nor did they use flattering words, but charged them to “ walk worthy of the Lord, who had called them into his kingdom and glory," 2 Cor. xii. 20, 21. Blaming even their backwardness and slow progress in Christian knowledge and virtues. “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ: I have fed you with milk, and not with meat-for ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions; are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again, which be the first principles of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need of milk and not of strong meat," 1 Cor. iii. Would any man have talked at this rate, spoken in this manner, who was ambitious to be at the head of a numerous party, when the persons they treat thus, must be under very strong temptations from this world, and perhaps some likewise from their own inclinations, to return to the more splendid, and yet more general religions of Judaism, or Gentilism, which they had lately forsaken? . Lastly. As to this point, it is a proof they were not influenced by worldly views in this design, since they persisted in it notwithstanding the very fierce opposition they met with from the Jews, and the scorn and contempt that was shewn them by the generality of Heathens : and when in the churches they planted, and among those who had given the most favourable reception to them, there were many who received their principles but in part, and did not submit to all their rules of life in their full force; when some, who had accompanied them in this work, forsook them, loving this present world, others gave way to seducers, and denied them that little authority they claimed, which they desired them to shew no other mark of, than by adhering to the principles they had confirmed among them by undeniable evidence; certainly they were animated by other, by higher considerations than worldly motives and inducements; for of these they met with none; and they must have been quite discouraged and (for ever) have abandoned their design, if they had not looked more “at the things which are not seen, which are eternal, than at the things which are seen, which are temporal.”
These are as strong proof's of men's integrity as we can desire, as convincing as can be given. . 10. We may reckon it an argument of the credibility of this account, that the writers of it, and the persons engaged in the first publishing the gospel, and who were the witnesses of the main facts upon which the whole depends, do appear to be free from enthusiasm ; that is, they did not believe because they believed, nor act by impulse and inclination ; but they were influenced in their belief and conduct, by reason and evidence, not by a strong imagination: their own faith was founded upon evidence and reason. " That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the word of life; this declare we unto you,” 1 John i. 1. And what they professed to others, they proved by reason and argument. That they were not of an enthusiastic spirit, appears in the accounts given in the public preaching of our Saviour. He referred the Jews to the scriptures they read daily, and whose authority they owned: he appealed to his works. “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not,” John x. 37. I might refer you, as a proof of this character, to such exhortations as these. “ Prove all things, hold fast that which is good,” i Thess. v. 21. “ Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they be of God,” i John iv. 1. “ Judge ye what I say,". 1 Cor. x. 15. Their offering all things to a fair trial and examination.
Posthumous Sermons. The full conviction of the apostles themselves, of the divine character of our Saviour, seems to be owing to his resurrection from the dead, and the pouring out of the Holy Ghost upon themselves. And stronger evidences could not be given of a commission from heaven.
The speeches we have preserved in the Acts and in the epistles they wrote, are full of reasons and arguments : some points are supported by a variety of proofs : you will find a strain of excellent reasoning in the speeches of Peter, the first publisher of the gospel, after our Lord's ascension; when, upon the apostles' making use of a vast variety of languages, in the hearing of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and of the strangers that were come thither from all parts, at the feast of Pentecost, some wondered, “others said, These men are full of new wine: but Peter standing up, said,” among other things, “ These are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day,” Acts ii. 13-15; or nine in the morning, the time of prayer, to which they generally came fasting. " Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you, by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know,” ver. 22. “ This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses: therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ve now see and hear,” ver. 32, 33. Are these arguments that can be gainsayed? He reminds them of the miracles Christ had wrought among them ; declares they were witnesses of his resurrection, having seen and conversed with him since his crucifixion and burial ; and as a proof of his exaltation by God, appeals to thein as witnesses to what they saw and heard, as to the change wrought in themselves, and the discourses they had heard from them in tongues they had not studied or learned.
See Acts iji. from ver. 2 to the end. iv. 19-29, 31. Peter's speech to Cornelius is of the same kind. “That word, you know, which was published throughout all Judea :-how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost, and with power, who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil: for God was with him; and we are witnesses of all things which he did in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree. Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly, noi to all the people, but unto witnesses,—even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead; and he cominanded us to preach unto the people," Acts x. 37–42. He refers them to facts, wrought openly, and lately done in all parts of Judea : and as to our Saviour's resurrection, the apostles, and others, who had seen him, conversed with him, and to whose examination of him he had offered himself, they were certainly competent judges, and sufficient witnesses of such a fact.
And I think no one will deny the speech of Peter, in Acts xi. to be full of strong and cogent arguments : when he was come back to Jerusalem from Cornelius, they who were of the circumcision, contended with him, saying, “Thou wentest into men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them :" upon which he related the whole affair to them, gave them an account of the reasons he had for going to Cornelius, and to baptize him, and at last shews that he had not acted without good grounds in what he had done. “ As I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell upon them, as on us at the beginning.–Forasmuch then as God gave unto them the like gifts that he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”. A most just conclusion certainly from such premises. In Acts xv. is the same argument or reasoning in the assembly at Jerusalem.
The speech of Paul at Athens is likewise a piece of masterly reasoning, wherein he proves the perfections of the Divine Being from things visible in the frame of the world; from the powers we ourselves are endowed with, and the benefits men daily receive from him; and proceeds at length to the revelation made to the world by Christ; and exhorts them to repentance, from the consideration of that righteous judgment which should pass upon men by Christ, of which God had given assurance, in that he had raised him from the dead.
And he that considers the other speeches of Paul, may observe they are free from all enthusiasm, suited to the character of the persons he spoke to, and the principles they admitted, before “he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and a judgment to come,” Acts xxiv. 25. Festus indeed told him, upon his finishing his apology made before king Agrippa: “ Paul, thou art beside thyself: much learning doth make thee mad,” Acts xxvi. 24. But he that considers the speech itself, and the reply he made to Festus, must be sensible what Festus had said arose from prejudice, or great unacquaintedness with some of the matters Paul had treated of. He therefore
justly replied to him, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness;" and appeals to king Agrippa, who might be supposed better acquainted with these matters than Festus : “ For the king knows of these things before whom I speak; for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him : for this thing was not done in a corner.”
There are indeed some relations of trances and visions, which may be thought to contradict this representation of the apostles' characters. I will consider a few of them, which I do not select from the rest, as most capable of solution; for as far as I can judge, they are as exceptionable as any that can be instanced in. May not the account given of Peter's trance and vision give just suspicion of his being liable to the impressions of a strong imagination, and to be influenced by them in his conduct ; that Peter went up to pray, fell into a trance, saw heaven opened, and “ a certain vessel descending to him, wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts, creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter, kill and eat; but Peter said, Not so, Lord, for I have not eaten any thing common or unclean. And the the voice said unto him, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” A full reply, I think, may be given to this. Perhaps it is hardly worth observing, that this was not in the night time, when the darkness of the season, the disposition of men's bodies, and some common prejudices, render men more susceptible of conceits and impressions, or more liable to be deluded by cunning impostors; for it happened at the sixth hour of the day, i. e. at noon. He could not well be mistaken, for the vision and the voice was repeated thrice: and when he was doubting what this vision should mean, persons inquired for him, acquainted him they came from Cornelius, who had been admonished by an angel to send for him : when he came thither, he found him in a disposition to receive farther information in matters of religion, and gifts and blessings were bestowed in a visible manner upon them that attended to him. Such a series of events corresponding to his vision, might well assure him of the reality of his vision, and the meaning of it; and may fully vindicate the person that related this account from all credulity. It is an additional confirmation of the truth and reality of this whole account, that the intent of the vision, and the use made of it, was by no means suitable to any preconceived notions we can suppose to have been in Peter's mind; and therefore nothing but full evidence could incline him to admit the truth of a vision and voice, that sent him to persons uncircumcised.
The history of St. Paul's conversion is another passage that may seem to savour of enthusiasm. But if we carefully examine all the parts and circumstances of it, I believe we shall find it void of all tokens, either of forgery or delusion; that it could not be a forgery or invention, is evident from the circumstances set forth. It is said to have happened when in company of those that attended him from the high priest and elders at Jerusalem, to put in execution orders for seizing persons at Damascus, that had embraced Christianity; it was in the day-time, and it happened upon the road in an open place. That all this was matter of fact, appears in that he boldly told this story as the ground of his conversion, without any apprehensions of confutation: and that the persons who were with him were so surprised at the light, as to fall to the ground, and to be speechless for a time: that blindness ensued, and continued upon him for three days; this must be known to them that laid their hands on him at Damascus. And that he was careful not to declare any thing more than the truth, appears in that he says, They who were with him, saw no man: he does not appeal to them for the truth of any thing more than was before them. The extraordinary light and a voice, they were witness of: but the appearance of Christ to him, and the words he spoke to him, and his blindness afterwards, rely upon his own testimony; and, that he was not then himself deluded and deceived, appears in that this happened at mid-day; the light was so great, as to be above the brightness of the sun. His blindness continued three days; his cure was wrought by Ananias putting his hand upon him, and declaring that Jesus, who had appeared to him in the way, had sent him to restore his sight; whereupon there fell from bis eyes as it had been scales, and he saw. . Such an account as this, of an apparition that happened to Paul, not when alone, but in company, and that not in the company of those who were friends, and of the same way with him, may well be related by St. Luke without credulity.
There is one passage, which, perhaps, is the hardest of all to be accounted for: what Paul has said of his being taken up into paradise, or the third heaven; where he heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. However, I think he will be acquitted here, if
we consider the occasion of mentioning them: namely, the subtle methods of designing persons to draw off' the Corinthians, whom he had taken a great deal of pains with, from the simplicity of the gospel; their attempt to lessen him unreasonably, on account of some disadvantages in his person, and his manner of speaking; and possibly, because he had not personally conversed with Christ, as Peter and the other apostles. For this reason he relates this extraordinary favour he had had from God, which he might certainly do if a truth, if he apprehended it might be of use to retain the Corinthians in the profession of the purity of the gospel, though he does not make it the sole ground of their belief of it, for he refers them in the twelfth verse of this chapter, as well as in other places, to the miracles he had wrought. “ Truly the signs of an -apostle were wrought among you, in all patience, in signs and wonders, and mighty deeds." Our apology for this passage, and the apostle, would not be complete if we omitted the manner in which he relates it. He appears to be in pain, and can hardly persuade himself to mention it, as directly relating to himself. " I knew a man in Christ, above fourteen years ago.” It was not mentioned till a long while after it had happened. He tells us the danger he was in honestly of some pride and vanity: and we have reason to credit what he has here declared, in that he uses so much caution not to say any thing positively, but what he was certain of; being in doubt whether this was with his spirit, or his whole man: “whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth.” Words twice used on this account.
And in behalf of these passages we may offer this general observation; that when men came with a set of religious principles, that were beyond all others for their real excellency, their reasonableness, their purity, their tendency to regulate and improve the minds and lives of men, and produced before men's eyes openly works of an extraordinary nature; if they should, upon some particular occasion, relate an account of a vision, or some uncommon appearance, and what was said unto them therein, they would deserve credit if they were persons of an unblameable behaviour, if the principles they taught were pure and holy, and their reasoning upon all occasions just and good, and they wrought miracles in attestation of their mission; this may secure their credit, and vindicate them from the charge of enthusiasm in such particulars, as we have now been considering, and that they are not under the power of an ungoverned imagination. But all this will be no vindication, or recommendation of others, who pretend to visions and appearances in behalf of trifles, and who give no sensible proofs of a correspondence between heaven and earth, and who, in their ordinary behaviour, show much greater strength of fancy and imagination, than of reason and judgment.
These two last particulars may be joined together. We suppose those matters of fact to be well attested, which we receive from persons of honest hearts and sound understandings. .11. That the apostles wrought miracles, and conferred extraordinary gifts upon many others, is apparent from their epistles, written and directed to those who had seen these works, and shared in these benefits. These epistles of Paul, and the other epistles in the New Testament, have all the tokens of genuine letters: all except one or two have the names of the persons that wrote them. Here is the name of the person or church, and place to which they were sent; salutations of particular persons sent to others by name. Here are references to the particular occasion of writing them. The second epistle to the Corinthians has respect to the success and acceptance of a former letter sent to them: in some, questions are answered, that are supposed to have been sent to the writer for solution: so that there can be no doubt of their having been really sent to the churches and persons they are directed to. I insist only on the marks and characters in these epistles themselves, that may assure us they are genuine; for I am upon internal testimonies only. Now, in these epistles, the writers take notice of the miracles that they or others had wrought among them, to whom these very letters were sent. “ Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs and wonders, and mighty deeds," 2 Cor. xii. 12. “ He therefore that ministereth to you the spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith ?" Gal. iii. 5. “ For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost,” 1 Thess. i. 5. * God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will," Heb. ii. 4. The writer does not labour in the proof of these things, he supposes them well known; he suspects no doubt but they were convinced these works had been done among them: the thing he is solicitous about is, that they would act suitably; and in consequence of such proofs, that they would be stedfast in the pro.
fession of principles recommended by such testimonials : that they would not be moved by the artifices of persons who could not produce such works. And if we consider this, that there were some divisions in the churches; that there were some persons who were undermining the interest of the apostles among them, and endeavouring to overturn the work the apostles had begun; we can never imagine they would have expressed themselves thus, but that they knew the persons they wrote to had a conviction of the truth of what was written Epistles are not treatises or histories, sent abroad to acquaint men of what they had not heard before: nor do these epistles, tell them of wonders wrought in other churches; but they contain references to works wrought among them to whom they were sent.
Yet here is somewhat more in these epistles. Here are reproofs of the mismanagement of gifts they were themselves possessed of: directions given about the better use and employment of them. Can this argument of their truth be any way evaded ? " I thank my God always on your behalf, that in every thing you are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge,"? 1 Cor. i. 4, 5. " Therefore, as you abound in every thing, in faith, in utterance, in knowledge,” 2 Cor. viii. 7. “ This only would I know, received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by. the hearing of faith ?" Gal. iii. 2. In the xii. xiii. xiv. chapters of the first epistle to the Corinthians, are reckoned up divers sorts of gifts eminent among them; not all indeed bestowedi upon one person; but some upon one, some upon another; though it should seem the apostles, and perhaps some others, had all, or most of them. He argues, that as these were all derived from one and the same spirit, into one body, they were not to foment any divisions on the account of these things, and he that had a more splendid gift, was not to despise another who had not one so conspicuous and remarkable; even as in the body, there are members more. honourable, others less honourable; but all, useful and necessary; they are exhorted seriously. not to value themselves too much upon these gifts; but though it was a privilege to enjoy them, and they were valuable and desirable, yet they should rather aim to excel in love and charity, and other internal dispositions: “ But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal: to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowjedge, by the same Spirit; to another, the gifts of healing;: to another, the working of miracles ; to another, prophecy; to another, the discerning of spirits; to another, divers kinds of tongues; to another, the interpretation of tongues," 1 Cor. xii. 7-11. “ God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues: are all apostles ? are all prophets ? are all workers of miracles ? have all the gifts of healing ? do all speak with tongues ? do all interpret ?.
-Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way,” ver. 28-31. “ Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away," ch. xiii. 8. “I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth, than he that speaketh, with tongues, except he interpret that the church may receive edifying," ch. xiv. 5. " Let all things be done to edifying,” ver. 26.. “ If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at most by three, and that by course, and let one interpret," ver. 27. Almost the whole xiv. chapter relates to this one point. If there were no such gifts among them, would they have been cautioned not to overvalue them? If one had not one gift which another wanted, could there have been advices not to despise another who had not so remarkable and splendid a gift? If there had not been some disorderly use of prophecy, and the gift of tongues, would there have been so many directions earnestly urged upon them concerning the right and prudent use of them ? Could they tell themselves whether they had received such gifts or not; and did not they know, whether others among them showed such gifts or not, or practised such powers? If these things had not been thus, would this method of argument have recommended the persons or the doctrine of the apostles to them, who were declining from both; would it not have exposed both to contempt and ridicule? There were then certainly supernatural and uncommon gifts bestowed on the apostles, and the first converts to Christianity, which were tes. timonies of a divine commission from heaven.
12. I shall mention but one particular more. It appears from the books of the New Testament, that we have the concurring testimony of divers persons. For the history of our Saviour's preaching and miracles, has the names of four different writers; and the authors of the