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ART. XLI. MISCELLANEOUS Tracts. By the late
reverend and learned Conyers Middleton, D. D. Never. before published. To which are added, foine scarce pieces of the same author, that' were printed in his life time. 4to. 12 s. sew'd. Manby and Cox.
Esides several scarce pieces printed in dr. Middleton's
pofthumous tracts, which are as follows: Some cursory reflections on the dissention, which happened at Antioch, between the apostles Peter and PaulReflections on the variations, or inconsistencies, which are found among the four evangelists in their different accounts of the same facts---An essay upon the gifs of tongues, &C.---Some short remarks on a story told by the antients, concerning St. John the evangelist, and Cerinthus the heretic, &c.---An effay on the allegorical and literal interpretation of the creation and fall of man---De Latinarum literarum pronunciatione differtatio --A preface to an intended answer to all the abjections made against the free enquiry.
Though our learned author's posthumous pieces are written with all that acuteness, elegance, and spirit, which appear in his other writings, and which have gained him fo great and fo just a reputation in the learned world; yet there are some things in them, which (we are sorry to say) cannot easily be reconciled with candour, or perhaps with truth.
His design, in the two first tracts, is to correct the mistakes which commonly prevail with regard to inspiration, and to enquire how far the apostles and evangelifts appear to have been favoured with it, and to have acted under the immediate direction of an infallible spirit. He introduces his reflections on the dispute at Antioch with the history of it, as related by Paul himself, in his epiftle to the Galatians, chap. ii. 11, 12, 13, 14. and observes, that, from the earliest ages of the church, it has been a constant topic of raillery to the sceptics and unbelievers. Porphyry, the old enemy of our religion, takes occasion from it, he tells us, to charge Paul with affuming falsely to himself the merit of facts, which never really happened, in order to extol his own character, and depress Peter's, out of envy to his more eminent virtues: or allowing the fact, to accuse Paul of infolence and rashness, in reproving his superior for a compliance, of which he himself was notorioufiy VOL. VI.
guilty: or, lastly, to impute to both these great apostles, a levity, inconstancy, and weakness of mind, which betrayed them into a conduct, unworthy of their sacred character.
After shewing that the interpretations, which have been invented by ancient and modern commentators to evade the force of these objections, are unnatural and absurd, he proceeds as follows. On the whole we may observe, how impossible it is for men, even of the greatest learniug and piety, to interpret scripture with success, when they come to it prepoflessed with systems, which they are listed as it were to defend, as necellary parts of the christian religion: for, instead of searching candidly for the true meaning of the text, they come provided with senses, which they are obliged to ingraft upon it; till by a practice and habit of wresting the scripture on all occasions, they acquire a dexterity of ext:acting what doctrines they please out of it.
• The case now before us affords a remarkable instance ofit. There is not a fact in all the scriptures more clearly, expressly and intelligibly delivered than this into which we are inquiring: and if it were found in
other book but the bible, or told of any other persons but the apostles, it would be understood at once, without the possibility of a mistake, by all even of the lowest capacity. Yet this plain story, related in a book which, above all others, is calculated for the universal instruction and benefit of mankind, has puzzled both the Greeks, and the Latins of all ages, and been strained and tortured by the ableft doctors of the church, for the sake of squeezing out of it every possible sense, but the true one. For which no other cause can be assigned but this ; that, in the degeneracy of the primitive church, when, by the policy or fuperstition of its leaders, new rites and doctrines were introduced, which the text of fcripture disclaimed; then reason and sense were of course discarded, and no rule of interpreting admitted, but what tallied with the fathionable systems, and served the views of those who introduced them.
• I shall proceed therefore, without any farther regard to the prejudices or interpretation either of the ancients or moderns, to set forth the real state of this fact, as it is declared by St. Paul, and illustrated by other passages of the new testament.
* It is manifest then, in the first place, that Peter, tho' more particularly the apostle of the Jews, was clearly convinced, that the ceremonies of the law were superseded and
abolished by the dispensation of the gospel. For, on all occasions, we find him strongly asserting this doctrine, and declaring that the goke of Moses ought not to be imposed on the necks of christians : yet with all this conviction, it is equally manifest, that, through fear of the Jews, he was induced, as we have seen above, to change his conduct, diso semble his opinion and join himself to those zealots of the law, who required the observance of its rites, as necessary Itill to all.
· Paul, on the other hand, the apostle of the gentiles, and, by that character, the more engaged to vindicate their liberty, knowing Peter's sentiments on this question to be really the same with his own, was so scandalized at his diffimulation, that he could not abstain from reproaching him very severely for it in public: yet, when it came afterwards to his own turn to be alarmed with an apprehension of danger from the same quarter, he was content to comply and dissemble too, and, in order to pacify the Jews, affected a zeal for their legal rites and observances, by the advice of James, who then presided in the church of Jerusalem.
observe however by the way, that the conduct of Paul was not so guarded and cautious as that of Peter, who seems to have becter understood the true fpirit of his countrymen, and to what extravagance their enthufiastic zeal would carry them, if provoked and pushed to extremity: he recollected, that they had stoned Stephen, for declaring, that Jesus came to change these customs, which Moses had established ; and he took care therefore, to give way to them in time, when his compliance was likely to prevent the danger, which he apprehended : whereas Paul had carried his zeal for christian liberty so far, and declared himself every where so roundly againft the ceremonies of the law, both by preaching and writing, that, when he was driven afterwards to a change of conduct, his diflimulation proved too late, and, instead of pacifying the Jews, provoked them only the more; so that they laid violent hands upon him in the temple, and would certainly hav destroyed him, if the chief captain had not come to his rescue with a band of soldiers. Aets xxi.
« This is the true state of the case, as it may clearly be collected from several passages of the new testament: and whatever use the enemies of religion can make of it, they must enjoy it, fince christianity cannot be defended, either by denying or concealing the truth. Let the disciples then Ą a 2
of Porphyry, after the example of their master, object to us if they please, that these two apostles, of whose extraordinary gifts and miracles we read so much, were left on many occasions, like all other frail and fallible men, to govern themselves by rules and maxims merely human, and were betrayed sometimes by their passions, into compliances difhonourable to their character: for, should we grant them all this, it cannot be of any hurt or discredit to christiani. ty, unless they could shew it to be one of its doctrines, that persons extraordinarily illuminated and inspired on certain occasions, did on all occasions cease to be men: which will not be pretended in a religion, whose facred monuments, both of the old and new testament, furnish many instances of the sins and frailties of those who are there celebrated as the principal favourites of heaven.
It may le objected ftill farther, that, whatever notions we may entertain concerning the inspiration of the facred writings, it is evident from this very case, that the apostles and first preachers were not constantly inspired by the holy ghost, even in the execution of their ministry, and the propagation of the gospel, in one of the principal cities of the east: and this too must necessarily be granted, since it is demonstrably proved by the fact into which we are enquiring: for, if Peter's conduct was really blameable, we must necessarily allow, that he was not at that time under the guidance of an unerring spirit; or, if it was not blameable, then Paul's censure of him was rash and unjust, and could not be suggested by the same spirit.'
Our author thinks that the same conclusion may be drawn from many other passages of the new teftament; from Paul's behaviour before the high priest, where he was guilty of a rudeness and indecency, which he himself condemns; and from his contention with Barnabas, who had been joined in commission with him by the holy ghoit, and was extraordinarily inspired by the same spirit. He concludes this tract with the following words. In short, says he, this notion of the universal inspiration of the apostles and sacred writers, appears to have no other foundation, but in the miftaken sense of certain texts, suggested by the prejudices of pious men, who greedily embrace an hypothesis, which feems to advance the honour of religion, and furnishes, at the same time the shortest and easiest method of silencing all objections to it, by the infallible authority of persons inspired by God. But this same queltion will be more clearly and largely illustrated in my next enquiry.'
He introduces his reflections on the inconsistencies which are found
among the evangelists, in their different accounts of the same facts, with observing, that the agreement which is found in the four gospels, with regard to the principal transactions there recorded, tho' written by different persons, at different times, and in different places, is so itrong a proof of the truth of chriftianity, that its adversaries have been endeavouring, in all ages, to shake this foundation, without success. But the champions of the gospel, says he, not content with simple victory, nor satisfied with refuting the cavils of its enemies, resolved to carry their triumphs Atill farther, and to cut off even the poflibility of cavilling for the future, by maintaining, that the evangelists were not only consistent in their accounts of all the greater events, but could not possibly contradict each other, even in the smallest, being all of them perpetually inspired by a divine and unerring Ipisit.
The doctor examines this opinion with great freedom, produces a great number of instances wherein the evangelists are inconsistent with each other in their relation of facts, shews what has been advanced by ancient and modern critics to make them appear confiftent, and concludes that many of the facts, recorded in the gospels, are related so variously, that they cannot possibly be reconciled by all the art and subtlety of the most expert commentators. He is far from thinking, however, that the differences and inconsistencies which are found in the gospels reflect any dir credit on christianity: on the contrary, he is of opinion, that they are of real service towards illustrating the truth of it, and that they tend to establish the authority of the evangelists, tho' chey overthrow the hypothetis which is commonly entertained concerning them, viz. that in compiling their several gospels, they were constantly inspired and directed by an unerring Spirit. .
• The belief then, says he, of the inspiration and abjolute infallibility of the evangelists, seems to be more absurd, than even that of transubstantiation itself: for this, tho’repugnant to sense, is supported by the express words of scripture; whereas the other, not less contrary to sense, is contrary at the same time to the declarations of the evangelists themselves. Yet such is the force of prejudice, that the generality of expositors take great pains to search out texts and arguments for the support of this favourite hypothefis ;. not considering, that, if they were able to produce any, from which chey could extort such an interpretation, it
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