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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 liad not studied or learned.
See Acts ïïi. 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 hin, 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 in to 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 shows 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 bath 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 thing's 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 fourfooted 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, voice said unto him, What God bath 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 inen’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 bour 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, wbo had been admonished by an angel to send for him ; when he came thither, he found him in a disposition to receive fartber 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 hiin 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 had 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 of 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. 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 des clared, 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:
66 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 unblamable 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.