Page images
[ocr errors]

dit, or of external proof, between these and the received epistles; or rather, who will not acknowledge the evidence of authenticity to be confirmed by the want of success which attended imposture.

When we take into our hands the letters which the fuffrage and consent of antiquity hath thus transmitted to us, the first thing that strikes our attention is the air of reality and business, as well as of seriousness and conviction, which pervades the whole. Let the sceptic read them. If he be not senfible of these qualities in them, the argument can bave no weight with him. If he be; if he perceive in almost every page the language of a mind actuated by real occasions, and operating upon real circumstances, I would wish it to be observed, that the proof which arises from this pers ception is not to be deemed occult or imaginary, because it is incapable of being drawn out in words, or of being conveyed to the apprehension of the reader in any other way, than by sending him to the books themselves. And here, in its proper place, comes in D d 2


[ocr errors]

the argument which it has been the office of these pages to unfold. St. Paul's epistles are connected with the history by their particularity, and by the numerous circumstances which are found in them. When we descend to an examination 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 oftentiines 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


of the writer, or drawn forth, each by fome 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


[ocr errors]

evidence, which is relied upon, and which experience proves may safely be relied upon, in appreciating the credit of ancient writings, we coinbine 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 fpurious compositions ; whatever difficulties we may meet with in other topics 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 poffeflion 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 correspondence of the times. Amidst the obscurities, the silence, or the

Dd 3


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 uncertainties of other accounts. One cause of the superior 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 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

is a secondary and unthoughtof effect. The fincerity 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

part of the muniments of Christianity, as much to be valued for their contents, as for their originality. A more in


future ages,

form a

[ocr errors]

estimable treasure the care of antiquity could not have sent down to us. Beside the proof they afford of the general reality of St. Paul's history, of the 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 deftruction 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 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 re


[ocr errors]
« EelmineJätka »