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these historians are far more full in their accounts of that period than of any other part of his history. In like manner, that the revelation of the gospel doctrines which was made to the apostles by the Spirit, and which they delivered to the world in their discourses and conversations, might not be left to the uncer. tainty of tradition, but be preserved uncorrupted to the end of time, the Holy Ghost moved certain of these divinely inspired teachers to commit their doctrines to writing, in epistles, some of which they addressed to particular churches, others to particular persons, and others to believers in general; all which are still in our possession. And that nothing might be wanting to the edification of the faithful, and to the conversion of unbelievers, Luke, the writer of one of the gospels, hath also written an history of the apostles, which he hath entitled their Acts; in which the discourses they delivered, and the great miracles they wrought for the confirmation of the gospel, not only in Judea, but in the different provinces of the Roman empire where they travelled, are faithfully narrated. In the same history we have an account of the opposition which the apostles met with, especially from the Jews, and of the evils which the preaching of the gospel brought on them, and of their founding numerous churches in the chief cities of the most civilized provinces of the Roman empire. And as, in the course of his narration, Luke hath mentioned many particulars relating to the natural and political state of the countries, which are the scene of his history, and to the persons who governed them at that time, the accuracy of his narration, even in the minutest circumstances, is a striking proof of the truth of his history, and of the author's being, what he calls himself, an eye-witness of many of the transactions which he hath recorded. So that, in my opinion, all antiquity cannot furnish a narrative, of the same length, in which there are as many internal marks of authenticity, as in Luke's history of the Acts of the apostles.
Seeing then, in the four gospels, and in the Acts, we have the history of our Lord's ministry, and of the spreading of the gospel in the first age, written by inspiration; and seeing, in the apostolical epistles, the doctrines and precepts of our religion are set forth by the like inspiration; these writings ought to be highly esteemed by all christians, as the rule of their faith and manners; and no doctrine ought to be received as an article of faith, nor any precept acknowledged as obligatory, but what is contained in these writings. With respect, however, to the gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles, let it be remarked, that, while the greatest regard is due to them, especially to the gospels, because they contain the words of Christ himself, we are not in them to look for a full account of the gospel scheme. Their professed design is to give, not a complete delineation of our religion, but the history of its founder, and of that illustrious display which he made of his glory as the Son of God and Saviour of the world, together with an account of the spreading of the gospel after our Lord's ascension. The gospel doctrine is to be found complete only in the epistles, where it is exhibited with great accuracy by the apostles, to whom the Holy Ghost reveal. ed it, as Christ had promised.
I have said that Paul excelled his brethren apostles, by reason of the abundance of the revelations that were given to him. By this, however, I do not mean, that his discourses and writings are superior to theirs in point of authority. The other apostles, indeed, have not entered so deep into the christian scheme as he hath done ; yet, in what they have written, being guided by the same Spirit which inspired him, their declarations and decisions, so far as they go, are of equal authority with his. Nevertheless it must be remembered, that it is St. Paul chiefly, who, in his epistles, as shall be shewn immediately, hath explained the gospel economy in its full extent, hath shewn its connection with the former dispensations, and hath defended it against the objections by which infidels, both in ancient and modern times, have endeavoured to overthrow it.
In confirmation of this account of the superior illumination of the apostle Paul, I now observe, that the greatness of the mercy of God, as extending to all mankind, was made known to him before it was discovered to the other apostles; namely, in the commission which he received at his conversion, to preach to the Gentiles the good news of salvation through faith, that they might receive forgiveness of sin, and inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith, Acts xxvi. 18. So that he was the first of the apostles, who, by Christ's command, declared that faith, and not circumcision, was necessary to the salvation of the idolatrous Gentiles. And as St. Paul early communicated to his brethren apostles the gospel which he preached among the Gentiles, (Gal. ii. 2.) it seems to have been by him that Christ first made known to the other apostles the extent of the divine mercy to mankind. For that the apostles, besides discovering to each other the revelations which they received, read each others writings, is plain from the character which Peter hath given of Paul's epistles, 2 Pet. iii. 15, 16.
It is St. Paul who hath informed us, that sin and death were permitted to enter into the world, and pass through to all men, by the disobedience of one man; because God determined, by the obedience of a greater man, to bestow resurrection from the dead on all men, and to give all an opportunity of obtaining righteousness and life under a more gracious covenant than the former, procured for them by the merit of that obedience.
It is St. Paul who, in his learned epistle to the Hebrews, hath largely explained and proved the priesthood and intercession of Christ, and hath shewn that his death is considered by God as a sacrifice for sin ; not in a metaphorical sense, and in accommodation to the prejudices of mankind, but on account of its real efficacy in procuring pardon for penitents: that Christ was constituted a priest by the oath of God; that all the priests and sacrifices that have been in the world, but especially the levitical priests and sacrifices, were emblems of the priesthood, sacrifice, and intercession of Christ: and, that sacrifice was instituted originally to preserve the memory of the revelation which God made at the fall, concerning the salvation of mankind through the death of his Son, after he should become the seed of the woman.
It is this great apostle who hath most fully explained the doctrine of justification, and shewn, that it consists in our being delivered from death, and in our obtaining eternal life, through the obedience of Christ: that no sinner can obtain this justification meritoriously through works of law: that though faith is required as the condition thereof, justification is still the free gift of God, through Jesus Christ; because no works which men can perform, not even the work of faith itself, hath any merit with God to procure pardon for those who have sinned: that this method of justification having been established at the fall, is the way in which mankind, from the beginning to the end of time, are justified: and that, as such, it is attested both by the law and by the prophets.
It is St. Paul who, by often discoursing of the justification of Abraham, hath shewn the true nature of the faith which justifies sinners: that it consists in a strong desire to know, and in a sincere disposition to do, the will of God: that it leads the believer implicitly to obey the will of God when made known: and that even the heathens are capable of attaining this kind of faith, and of being saved through Christ. Also, it is this apostle who, by penetrating into the depth of the meaning of the covenant with Abraham, hath discovered the nature and greatness of those rewards, which God taught mankind, even in the first ages, to cxpect from his goodness; and who hath shewn that the gospel, in its chief articles, was preached to Abraham and to the Jews; nay, preached to the antediluvians, in the promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent. So that the gospel is not a revelation of a new method of justification, but a more full publication of the method of justification mercifully established by God for all mankind from the very beginning.
It is the apostle Paul chiefly who, by proving the principal doctrines of the gospel from the writings of Moses and the prophets, hath shewn, that the same God who spake to the fathers by the prophets, did, in the last days of the Mosaic dispensation, speak to all mankind by his Son: that the various dispensations of religion, under which mankind have been placed, are all parts of one great scheme, formed by God for saving penitent sinners: and, in particular, that there is an intimate connexion between the Jewish and the Christian revelations; that the former was a preparation for the latter; consequently, those writers shew great ignorance of the divine dispensations, who, on account of the objections to which the law of Moses, as a rule of justification, is liable, and on account of the obscurity of the ancient prophecies, wish to disjoin the Jewish and Christian revelations. But all who make this attempt, do it in opposition to the testimony of Jesus himself, who commanded the Jews to scarch their own scriptures, because they are they which testify of him, (John v. 39.): who, in his conversation with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, brginning at Moses and all the prophets, expounded unto them, from all the scriptures, the things concerning himself, (Luke xxiv. 27.); and who told them, ver. 44, That all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning him. The attempt is made in opposition also to the testimony of the apostle Peter, who, speaking to Cornelius of Christ, said, To him give all the prophets witness, that, through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins ; Acts x. 43. The Jewish and Christian revelations, therefore, are so closely connected, that if the former is removed as false, the latter must, of necessity, fall to the ground.
It is the apostle of the Gentiles, who hath set the Sinaitic covenant, or law of Moses, in a proper light, by shewing, that it was no method of justification, even to the Jews, but merely their national law, delivered to them by God, not as governor of the universe, but as king in Israel, who had separated them. from the rest of mankind, and placed them in Canaan under his own immediate government, as a nation, for the purpose of preserving his oracles and worship, amidst that universal corruption which had overspread the earth. Accordingly, this apostle hath proved, that, seeing the law of Moses contained a more perfect account of the duties of morality, and of the demerit of sin, than is to be found in any other national law, instead of justifying, it condemned the Jews by its curse; especially as it prescribed no sacrifice of any real efficacy to cleanse the consciences of sinners, nor promised them pardon in any method whatsoever: and that, by the rigour of its curse, the law of Moses laid the Jews under the necessity of seeking justification from the mercy of God through faith, according to the tenor of the covenant with Abraham, which was the gospel and religion of the Jews. Thus, by the lights which St. Paul hath held up to us, the impious railings of the Manicheans against the law of Moses, and gainst the God of the Jews, the author of that law, on the supposition that it was a rule of justification, are seen to be without foundation; as are the objections like. wise which modern deists have urged against the Mosaic reve. łation, on account of God's dealings with the Israelites.
It is St. Paul who hath most largely discoursed concerning the transcendent greatness of the Son of God, above angels and all created beings whatever; and who hath shewn, that, as the reward of his humiliation and death in the human nature, he hath, in that nature, obtained the government of the world, for the good of his church, and will hold that government till he hath put down the usurped dominion which the apostate angels have so long endeavoured to maintain, in opposition to the righteous government of God: that, as the last exercise of his kingly power, Christ will raise the dead, and judge the world, and render to every one according to his deeds: and that, when all the enemies of God and goodness are thus utterly subdued, the Son will deliver up the kingdom to the Father, that God may be over all in all places,
It is this great apostle who hath made known to us many of the circumstances and consequences of the general judgment,
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