« AnteriorContinuar »
of it, which we have in the acts of the Apoftles, which therefore is of the next importance to us as chriflians. Thefe books having all the marks of authenticity that any books whatever have, and much stronger of the fame kind; having been all published while the transactions they record were all recent, having never been contradicted by friends or enemies, having been often quoted and referred to by friends and enemies, from the earlicft times, and alfo having been copied and tranfla. ted into various languages in a very early period, they have all the authority that hiftories can have.
But befides this dire& teflimony, there is an additional evidence of a more indirect and subtile kind, but if duly confidered highly fatisfactory, which these epiftles are calculated to give us. Being as unqueftiouably genuine as the hiftorical books, we are enabled by them to perceive how the chief actors in thofe tranfactions thought and felt in their peculiar circumtances; and we can compare thofe feelings with the feelings of human nature as we now observe it; and therefore, by confidering them in connection with the hiftorical facts, we are the better judges of the probability of the whole Rory.
Thus if we could entertain any doubts of the truth of the Roman hiftory in the time of Cicero, the publication of his own letters, and thofe of his friends, correfponding with the hiftory of their times, as found in other writers, would be an abundant confirmation of it. Evidence of this kind, therefore, from the letters and private papers of perfons principally concerned in any tranfaction, is always fought after, and collected with
care by thofe who are curious in hiftory. Befides, it is more eafy to diftinguifh genuine letters than genuine hiftory, as they generally contain allufions to more particular circumftances, with refpc&t to perfons, times; and places, of which the apoftolical epiftles, especially thofe of Paul, are full; fo that no perfon can read them, and have any doubt of their being really his, or written in the circumstances in which he reprefents himself. Alfo, the most important of them being written to whole churches, they were carefully preferved, till fo many copies were taken, that their authenticity was placed beyond all doubt.
No unbeliever, I am confident, has read thefe letlers with due attention, as becomes hiflorians and philofophers. If any perfon can read them attentively, and afterwards think either that there was no fuch perfon as Paul, that thefe letters were not written by him, or that the facts he refers to as known to his corref pondents were not known to them (and these facts fup. pofe and imply the truth of christianity) or that thofe perfons could be deceived with refpect to them, he may as well believe there were never fuch places as Ephe. fus, Corinth, or Rome, where the chriftians to whom he wrote lived. In fhort, he must either not be made as other men are, or be fo prejudiced, as to be out of the reach of all reafoning and argument.
It must also be obferved, that the greater part of thefe Epiftles were written long before the publication of any of the gofpels, fo that in fact they are the oldeft records of chriflianity, and to give a clearer idea of the circumftances in which each of them was writA 3 ten,
ten, and the general object of them, I fhall reat them in the order of time in which they were probably write. ten, beginning with the first epistle to the Theffaloni ans which is agreed by all to have been the first of them.
I would farther obferve, that most of these epiftles being written upon particular and preffing occalions, and thofe feemingly temporary ones, there is no ape pearance of their being intended for the use of the christian church in all ages, tho' in fact, they are of ve ry great ufe, and must have been fo intended by divine providene, and the more on account of their appearin not to have been fo intended by the writers, because the writers not having any diftant views, were not fo particularly upon their guard, but expressed their prefent feelings without referve, as men actually do in letters written in confidence upon particular occafions, and thefe epiftles bear all the marks of having been fo written,
Still lefs is there any appearance of the writers imagining themselves to be inspired in the composition of thefe letters. Of this the epifles themfelves bear no trace, and in fome places the apostle Paul exprefsly difclaims all inspiration. This, indeed, was quite needlefs; and the idea of it has done great injury to the proper evidence of chriftianity. Were not the apostles n.en who were naturally capable of writing about what they themselves faw aud did, and of exprelling their own fentiments on the occafions on which they wrote? They evidently were fo. This was quite fufhcient for, their purpofe, and it could never be the intention of the
Divine Being unneceffarily to fuperfede the natural use of men's faculties.
Confidering, therefore, the apostles as men writing in their peculiar circumftances, with their views of things, we are not embarraffed with any objections arifing from little imperfections in their manner of writ ing, or with any inaccuracies that we may perceive in their reasoning. For what elfe could be expected from men, who are not infallible. These incorrectneffes however, are of very fmall confequence; and a conviction, with which every difcerning perfon must be impreffed from reading thefe epiftles, of the undoubt ed zeal of the apoftles in propagating the gospel, accompanied with the most indifputable marks of their being neither enthufiafts nor impoftors, but plain fenfible men, of genuine piety and integrity, of which we fee traces every where, engaged in the propagation of what they deemed to be the most important truth, sparing no labour, and avoiding no rifque, I fay the full conviction of this must neceffarily intereft every candid reader in favour of chriftianity. If any perfon can read these epiftles with any other feelings, it is a proof that, whatever he may pretend, or really imagine, his mind is already, from fome caufe or other, prepoffeffed against christianity. He has, in fact, fome reafon for wishing it may not be true; and in that state of mind the most unexceptionable evidence cannot have its proper effect. That the mind of man may be in this state, not only with refpect to religion, but fcience, taste, politics, and civil history, we fee continually. Let those perfons, therefore, fufpect and examine themselves, but
more efpecially let young perfons be upon their guard, against any thing that tends to indifpose their minds for embracing christianity. If they be apprized what chriftianity truly is, viz. the revelation of a future life, by the refurrection of the dead, that every thing elfe is ei ther of little moment, or fome corruption of genuine christianity; and if they expect only fuch evidence of the history of Christ and the apoftles as they do admit with respect to other hiftories, that is, the evidence of competent witneffes of facts, stronger indeed, and more definite, but of the fame kind, I fhall no more doubt of their believing the facts relating to chriftianity, than they do any others relating to remote countries and remote times, and the influence of this chriftian faith, chriftian views and expectations cannot but be moft falutary and happy.
Having dwelt fo long on this introduction, I proceed to the particular confideration of this epistle,
Thefs. I. 1. In the feventeenth chapter of the acts of the apostles you have an account of Paul's preaching the gospel at Theffalonica. It was in his fecond apostolical progrefs, when he was accompanied by Silas ard Timothy. He had visited the churches of Afia Minor, preached the gospel in Galatia, and going over to Ma cedonia, had preached at Philippi; but having been imprifoned, and otherwife ill treated in that city, he went to Theffalonica, where he preached firft to the Jews for three Sabbaths, and then to the Gentiles. So violent, however, was the perfecution from the Jews in this place, that Paul left it, and going by Berea came