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agree. These writings were received as genuine in the time when the authors lived, and in the next succeeding age, and from age to age, ever since, down to the present time. There is no ancient history extant, which is so completely authenticated.
The conversion, ministry and epistles of the Apostle Paul afford strong and undeniable evidence of the truth of the Christian religion. To these I shall now pay par ticular attention.
The account, which we have of him, is given by Luke in his history of the Acts of the Apostles. This Luke appears to have been a man of learning; such his writings shew him to be. He was an esteemed and eminent physician-so Paul calls him. He was admitted to an acquaintance with men of the first distinc tion; as appears by the dedication of his works to the most excellent Theophilus. He was highly regarded among the Christians of his time, and his praise for the gospel which he wrote, was in all the churches. He was an intimate companion of St. Paul, and accompanied him for a considerable time in his travels. From him we have particular information concerning Paul's early life, remarkable conversion, and subsequent conduct: And every thing related by Luke we find confirmed in the writings of Paul himself.
Paul, who was a Jew by nation, had been educated in the rigid principles of the sect called Pharisees, and formed to eminent learning in the celebrated school of Gamaliel. He was a man of distinction among his countrymen, and famous for his zeal in opposing Christianity. His worldly interest and preferment, the sentiments imbibed from his education, and the prevalent opinion of the Jewish rulers and priests, all concurred to fill him with violent prejudices against the gospel of Christ. In human view, no man was more unlikely than he, to be converted to the belief of it; and no time was more unpromising for his conversion than that in which it took place. He had just consented to,
and assisted in the execution of an eminent preacher of the gospel. Breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, he had sought and obtained from the Jewish high priest a commission to bind and bring to Jerusalem for public punishment all, both men and women, whom he found professing the faith of Jesus Christ. And for the execution of this bloody commission, he was now going to Damascus. His zeal against the gospel was, at this time, wound up to the highest strain. Who would suspect, that
this man should become a Christian ?-But so it was: When he came near to Damascus, he was, at noon day, suddenly surprized with a light from heaven, far exeeeding the brightness of the sun. This was followed with an articulate voice, calling him by name, expostu lating with him for his persecution of the church of Christ, and warning him of the ruin which he would bring on himself. Struck with conviction of his guilt, Paul inquired, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" The same voice directed him to proceed on his journey into the city, where he should meet with instruc tions adapted to his case. In consequence of this vision he fell blind. He was led by some of the company which attended him, into the city. There he spent his time in prayer. After some days a Christian disciple came to him, related to him the purpose of the vision, and restored him to his sight by laying his hands on him in the name of Christ. Soon after this, Paul became a preacher of the gospel. That this wonderful scene was real, and not imaginary, no man can reasonably doubt.
There is nothing, in Paul's conduct or writings, that savours of fanaticism: But, on the contrary, he uni formly appears to have possessed a good understanding and a sound judgment. If he had been an enthusiast, yet he never would have fancied a revelation in opposition to his religious principles, his worldly interest, and all his strong prejudices. Enthusiasm never takes
this turn, but always falls in with some previous passion, interest or humour.
Paul was now actually engaged in a design to extir. pate Christianity, and he was persuaded, that his design was laudable. If he had been a fanatic, he might have fancied a revelation in favor of his design; but it was impossible that imagination should create a light and voice in direct opposition to a design, which he had so much at heart, and which he thought so pious.
Besides: This whole scene was open and public, and attended with none of those circumstances of secrecy and disguise, which usually attend the revelations of enthusiasts and impostors. It took place, not in the night, but in full day-not in a private apartment, or retired desert, but in the high road, and near a populous city-not when Paul was alone, but when he was in the company of a number of people, who all saw the light and heard the voice, as well as he, though they understood not the words which were spoken. And these were not Christians, but enemies to Christianity, as well as he.
Nothing can be more absurd, than to suppose, that a number of men, all violent opposers of the gospel should happen, all at the same moment, to fancy, that they saw a light, and heard a voice in confirmation of the gospel, and that one of them fell blind, and continued so for several days, if no such thing had taken place.
That this story was not a fiction of the writer, but a fact fully believed by him, is as evident, as any ancient historical fact can possibly be. It is publicly asserted by Luke soon after it is said to have happened; and the time, place and circumstances are pointed out; so that it might easily have been disproved, if it had not been true. Paul himself, in two of his public defences, and in the presence of numbers of Jews, relates the story, and appeals to it as a proof of his Apostleship, which he would not have done, if there had not
been full evidence of the truth of it. He alludes to it also in several of his epistles, which shews, that it was then fully believed in the churches.
This vision produced in Paul a mighty change. From this time he became a firm, unwavering believ er, and a zealous, intrepid preacher of the gospel. He openly professed his faith, that Jesus was the Son of God; and he immediately received baptism, the instituted badge of discipleship. And, being divinely instructed, that he was appointed a minister and witness of Jesus, he straightway preached him in Damascus, proving that he was the very Christ foretold by the prophets. From Damascus, where he first began his ministry, and where he soon found his life in danger, he privately escaped to Jerusalem. There he joined the other Apostles, and spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus. Afterward, being ordained by certain prophets and teachers of the church as an Apostle of the Gentiles, he travelled through the various provinces of the lesser Asia: Then he passed into Europe and visited the most noted places in ancient Greece: From thence he went into Syria, and returned to Jerusalem. Afterwards he went over a considerable part of the same ground again, confirming the churches, which he had planted.
Wherever he went, he boldly preached this new religion in the most conspicuous places, especially in the Jewish synagogues; for there were Jews dispersed in all parts of the Roman empire. In many places he met with great opposition, chiefly from the malice of the Jews. He was imprisoned, tortured, whipped, stoned, and once handled so violently that he fell, and was dragged away for dead. But none of these things moved him, neither counted he his own life dear to him, that so he might finish with joy the ministry which he had received. God wrought special miracles by his hands in expelling evil spirits, healing the sick and raising the dead. In many places, churches under his VOL. III.
ministry were planted, improved and increased to great celebrity. Thus he continued his work, until he was made a prisoner at Rome, where he remained two years, confined to his own hired house; yet with so much liberty, that he received all who came to him, preaching to them the kingdom of God, and testifying the things which concern the Lord Jesus, with all confidence.
Paul could not have conducted in this manner, if he had not believed the gospel to be divine. He could not have had such great success, if he had not exhibited evidence of its divinity. The miracles, which he wrought, confirmed the testimony which he its favor.
And certainly Luke's narrative of these matters must have been true, or it never could have gained credit, nor would he have thought of writing it. For, it should be observed, this is not a narrative of Paul's private life, but of his public ministry. If Paul had never performed such travels, preached in such places, erected such churches, wrought such miracles, met with such per secutions, stood before such councils and magistrates, and made such speeches in his public defence, the historian, who should relate these things as recently done, would have gained no credit, but must have met with perfect contempt.
There are thirteen epistles ascribed to this Paul: and whoever reads them with attention, will easily see, that they were written by the same man, whose life and actions Luke has related to us. They breathe the spirit of that celebrated preacher; they contain the same doctrines, which, Luke says, Paul preached; and they narrate, or allude to the same transactions, which the historian has ascribed to him. If you read Luke's history, and Paul's letters, you will see, there is no collusion-no combination to support each other's credit. But yet there is a remarkable coincidence of facts; a coincidence which is worthy of notice, as it