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or not, might have been known. "Yea doubtless, and I account all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of ail things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ," Phil. iii. 8.
It is evident they did not seek honour to themselves, the common charge against innovators, the great propensity, as it is supposed, of all who affect to be heads of a party. From those that continued their old affection for judaism or heathenism, they could expect nothing but contempt or aversion to be thought inconsiderate, mistaken and deluded wretches, or else proud and selfopinionated, perhaps designing and wicked. As for them that came over to them entirely, or conceived favour for their doctrine, it is plain they sought not honour from them; for they refused all undue respects when offered them. We have an instance of this at Lystra. Paul aud Barnabas cured a man lame from his birth. When the people saw this, "they lift up their voices saying, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men." The priest of Jupiter had prepared oxen and garlands, and would have done sacrifice with the people. It was even dangerous to oppose such an attempt of gratitude and respect. Yet the apostles with the greatest eagerness put by these offers, though they could not do it but in a way that must lay a disgrace upon the rites this people were devoted to; "they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, Sirs, why do ye these things? We preach unto you that ye turn from these vanities, unto the living God. And with these sayings scarce restrained they the people, that they had not done sacrifice unto them," Acts xiv.
They wrought no miracles in their own name: when they bestowed any extraordinary kindness upon any person, they did it in the name of Jesus Christ. And when any were ready to run in a mistake, and ascribe to them what did not belong to them, they were careful to rectify such apprehensions. When the people at Jerusalem flocked together about Peter and John, upon the cure of the lame man at the gate of the temple, "greatly wondering; when Peter saw it," he said to them, "why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly upon us; as though, by our own power or holiness, we had made this man to walk? The God of our fathers hath glorified his Son Jesus:" the use they make of it is, to magnify the goodness of God, and the power of Christ, and to bring them to true repentance, that they may all share in the favour of God: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord," Acts iii. 19. When Peter was entering in to Cornelius, and he met him, and fell down at his feet and worshipped him: "Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man," Acts x. 25, 26. They disclaimed likewise all undue respects among those that had acknowledged their commission, and received their doctrine. They detested all contentions about their own persons, owned their meanness, and referred all to the glory of God. "Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" 1 Cor. i. 12, 13. They owned their own meanness; that God had "chosen the foolish things of this world, and weak things, and base things of the world;" that he that glorieth might "glory in the Lord," chap. i. 27, 31. Again, "I was with you in weakness and in fear, and my speech was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit, and of power, that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God," chap. ii. 1. "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered: but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth: but God that giveth the increase," chap. iii. 5-7. "These things have I in a figure transferred to myself, and to Apollos for your sakes; that you might learn in us, not to think of men above that which is written," chap. iv. 6. Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy," 2.Cor. i. 24; "for we preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake," chap. iv. 5.
I might refer you to the appeals they have made themselves upon some occasions in behalf of their integrity: some of which at least are such as would not have been made, had they not been fully persuaded of their own sincerity, and that the persons to whom they made them, could give no proofs to the contrary, nay, must have such evidences of it before them as were undeniable. "For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward," 2 Cor. i. 12. "But even after that we had
suffered before, and were shamefully entreated at Philippi; we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of Christ," 1 Thess. ii. 2. "Neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness, God is witness. Neither of men sought we glory, nor of you, nor yet of others," ver. 5. "Ye are witnesses and God also, how holily and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe," ver. 10. A greater regard may be had to these appeals, because there were in most of the churches different parties, some Judaising Christians and their teachers; and if there could have been any exceptions against them, it would have been in vain to make them.
But there are some other appeals of the apostle Paul, which we may certainly lay a great stress upon, considering the occasion of them, the persons to whom, and the places in which they were made, and which must absolutely vindicate him in particular from all suspicion of baseness, and from selfish and worldly views in this design of spreading the gospel. In Acts xx. 18, 19, is his parting speech to the elders at Ephesus: "Ye know from the time that I came into Asia,' i. e. that part of Asia which was then properly called by that name; "after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many fears and temptations.-I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel: yea, you yourselves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and unto them that were with me,' ver 33, 34. In Acts xxi. xxii. is an account of the seizing of Paul, by a multitude of Jews in the temple at Jerusalem; of his being taken out of their hands by the chief captain, who came with a band of soldiers, and bound him with chains: and when Paul was going up into the castle, followed by a great crowd, and had obtained leave to speak to the people, he spoke to them in. the Hebrew tongue; "Men, brethren, and fathers,-I am verily a man which am a Jew of Tarsus: yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day; and I per secuted this way unto the death;-as also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders, from whom also I received letters, and went unto Damascus, to bring them which were there, bound unto Jerusalem to be punished." Then he proceeds to relate the extraordinary appearance he saw in the way, which was the means of his conversion. Now is it conceivable, that under such circumstances, when he was in the hands of the chief captain, the people of Jerusalem incensed and clamorous against him, he should give this account of himself, of the name of the person by whom he was educated in that city, and who was also living at that very time: appeal to the high priest himself, and the body of the elders, and tell them what was the real cause of his conversion; if in all this there had been any falsehood, and if there had been any ill conduct in the former part of his life, for which he had been thrown off by his party, or if he had met with disappointment in any pretensions which might be matter of lasting disgust, had it not been easy to convict him? and would not a falsehood delivered by him at this time, have been much to his disadvantage? But nothing of this appears, there was no falsehood in it; they heard him patiently, till in the course of his speech, he comes to mention a design of God, to send him from hence to the Gentiles. "They gave him audience to these words:" but the bare mention of any favour of God to the Gentiles, threw them into a rage that excluded all thought and consideration; then they cried out; "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for it is not fit that he should live.” This was the account he gave of himself upon many occasions; we find it in his speech to Agrippa: "My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among my own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews, which knew me from the beginning (if they would testify) that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a pharisee." See Acts xxiii. 1; Phil. iii. 4, 5; and Gal. i. 13, 14. These are appeals which would not have been made, if they could have been refuted.
It is a strong proof of their integrity, and that they had no selfish designs in spreading a new set of religious principles, that they did not endeavour to accommodate the principles they delivered as from God, to the corrupt taste of Jews or Gentiles. It was not a religion made up partly of the one and partly of the other, modelled and contrived, and adjusted so as to please all. parties. The Jews were implacably incensed, yet they made no composition with them in favour of their temples, their sacrifices, or their priesthood. When the Jewish converts had a zeal for some part of the Mosaic law, and they were somewhat indulged as to themselves, yet they could never lay unnecessary burdens upon the Gentiles, or oblige them to submit to any of the distinguishing rites of that institution. This was the determination of the apostles and elders in a full
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 proofs 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," 1 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.
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 ye 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 them 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 iii. 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, not 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 commanded 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
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 his 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