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The four Gofpels give an account of the miniftry of John Baptift, and of our Lord, of the twelve apoftles and of the feventy difciples; with what they faid and did as preparatory to the fetting up the kingdom of the Meffiah in the world. The Acts of the apoftles contain the hiftory of erecting the gofpel-kingdom. In the Epiftles, feveral things are cleared up, which are but briefly hinted in the Gofpels and Acts of the apoftles. They were written by different perfons at various times and upon different occafions; and yet they all agree in the doctrines and precepts; and confirm the main facts, viz. that Jefus died and rofe again, afcended into heaven, and poured out the fpirit; and thereby imparted the knowledge of the gofpel unto mankind; and many miraculous powers in atteftation to the Chriftian doctrine.

It might be expected that the religions, which had been long in poffeffion, would obftruct the progrefs of the gospel; and that the votaries of each would have their peculiar objections. Accordingly, we find in the epiftles that the Jews and Heathens did actually make fuch objections; and we fee alfo in what manner the apoftles have answered them; and that the nature of the gofpel and its evidences were fuch, and fo glorious, that it fpeedily made its way against various and powerful oppofition. The first profeffors, and more efpecially the first preachers, of the gofpel, might expect perfecution from feveral quarters. The Acts of the apoftles, and their Epiftles, inform us that they were actually perfecuted; and let us know how they behaved, and what fupported them under fuch hardships and indignities.

By having Chriftianity fet in fuch different lights; and the objections of those who firft oppofed it fo clearly and fully answered; we are enabled much better to understand Christianity in its great extent and glorious evidence; to clear up fuch difficulties, as would otherwife have been infuperable, and to defend it against all its adverfaries.

By fhewing what pure Chriftianity was at the beginning, we are able much more clearly to point out what it ought now to be, and what are the corruptions of it in later ages; and we have thereby the proper means, in our hands, of fhewing which way a reformation might be effected. And, when and where Chriftianity is profeffed in its purity, by having the authentic and original records of it in its primitive glory and perfection, we can the better maintain the purity of it, and prevent future corruptions.

Some, indeed, have applied paffages in the Epiftles to Chriftians of all ages, which were defigned only for fome Chriftians, and in fome particular cafes: but that is one of the abuses of Holy Scripture, against which we are here guarding mankind. What might be a proper rule, to perfons indued with miraculous powers, can be no rule to us who have no fuch powers. And yet even fuch patlages are of fervice now-a-days; as they are a clear proof that, in the primitive church, there were fuch powers; and confequently the moft glorious evidence attended Christianity, when it firit made its

appearance

appearance in the world. Epistles, written to churches, where the apoftles had many and bitter enemies; and which contain appeals to fuch churches, that fuch fpiritual gifts and miraculous powers had been communicated by them, and did then fubfift and abound; contain arguments of a peculiar kind in favour of the truth of the Chriftian religion. For, if there had been, among their converts, no fuch fpiritual gifts and miraculous powers, their enemies would not have failed to have infulted them, and triumphed over them : and Chriftianity muft, in a fhort time, have funk, as a most notorious impofture. [Sce my Reafonableness of the Chriftian Religion, &c. p. 128, &c.]

It has been already obferved that the apoftolic epiftles were not circular letters, nor catholic epiftles, originally written to all Chriftians; and equally fuited to the cafes and circumftances of all Christian churches, at all times and in all places. The general doctrines and precepts do, indeed, equally concern all Chriftians. And the apoftolic epiftles, which were written to particular churches, or perfons, and exactly adapted to their cafe, are fairly applicable to the cafes of all churches and of all Chriftians, as far as their cafes are like thofe of the perfons, or churches, to which they were originally addreffed. -This is not confining their meaning; nor extending it, as I apprehend, beyond what the apoftles defigned; or beyond the intention of that facred fpirit, by which they were guided and directed in all that they fpoke or wrote, relating to the doctrine of the glorious gospel of our Lord Jefus Chrift.

The CONCLUSION.

To conclude: It appears to me that a critical interpreter of holy Scripture fhould fet out with this, as a firft principle; viz. " That 66 no text of Scripture has more than one meaning." That one true fenfe he fhould endeavour to find out, as he would find out the fenfe of Homer, or any other ancient writer. When he has found out that fenfe, he ought to acquiefce in it. And fo ought his readers too; unless, by the juft rules of interpretation, they can fhew that he has miftaken the paffage; and that another is the one, juft, true, and critical fenfe of the place.

END OF VOL. IV.

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