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Now, in these epistles, the writers take notice of the miracles that they or others had wrought among them, to whom these very letters were sent. “ Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs and wonders, and mighty deeds," 2 Cor. xii. 12. “He therefore that ministereth to you the spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith ?”. Gal. iii. 5. “ For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, 1 Thess. i. 5. “ God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will,” Heb. ii. 4. The writer doth not labour in the proof of these things, he supposes them well known; he suspects no doubt but they were convinced these works had been done among them; the thing he is solicitous about is, that they would act suitably; and in consequence of such proofs, that they would be stedfast in the profession of principles recommended by such testimonials; that they would not be moved by the artifices of persons who could not produce such works. And if we consider this, that there were some divisions in the churches; that there were some persons who were undermining the interest of the apostles among them, and endeavouring to overturn the work the apostles had begun; we can never imagine they would have expressed themselves thus, but that they knew the persons they wrote to had a conviction of the truth of what was written. Epistles are not treatises or histories, sent abroad to acquaint men of what they had not heard before; nor do these epistles tell them of wonders wrought in other churches; but they contain references to works wrought among them to whom they were sent.
Yet here is somewhat more in these epistles. Here are reproofs of the mismanagement of gifts they were themselves possessed of: directions given about the better use and employment of them. Can this argument of their truth be any way evaded ? “ I thank my God always on your behalf, that in every thing you are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge," 1 Cor. i. 4, 5. “ Therefore, as you abound in every thing, in faith, in utterance, in knowledge,' 2 Cor. viii. 7. “ This only would I know, received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the bearing of faith?” Gal. iii. 2. In the xii. xiii. xiv. chapters of the first epistle to the Corinthians, are reckoned up divers sorts of gifts eminent among them; not all indeed bestowed upon one person; but some upon one, some upon another; though it should seem the apostles, and perhaps some others, had all, or most of them. He argues, that as these were all derived from one and the same spirit, into one body, they were not to foment any divisions on the account of these things; and he that had a more splendid gift, was not to despise another who had not one so conspicuous and remarkable; even as in the body, there are members more honourable, others less honourable; but all useful and necessary; they are exhorted seriously not to value themselves too much upon these gifts; but though it was a privilege to enjoy them, and they were valuable and desirable, yet they should rather aim to excel in love and charity, and other internal dispositions : “ But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal : to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowledge, by the same Spirit; to another, the gifts of healing ; to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, the discerning of spirits; to another, divers kinds of tongues; to another, the interpretation of tongues," 1 Cor. xii. 7–11. « God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues: are all apostles ? are all prophets ? are all workers of miracles ? have all the gifts of healing ? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret ?
Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way,” ver. 28–31. “ Charity never faileth : but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease ; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away," ch. xiii. 8. “I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied : for greater is he that prophesieth, than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying, ch. xiv. 5. “ Let all things be done to edifying,” ver. 26. “ If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at most by three, and that by course, and let one interpret,” ver. 27. Almost the whole xiv. chapter relates to this one point. If there were no such gifts among them, would they have been cautioned not to overvalue them? If one had not one gift which another wanted, could there have been advices not to despise another who had not so remarkable and splendid a gift ? If there had not been some disorderly use of prophecy, and the gift of tongues, would there have been so many directions earnestly urged upon them concerning the right and prudent use of them ? Could they tell themselves whether they had received such gifts
or not; and did not they know, whether others among them showed such gifts or not, or practised such powers? If these things had not been thus, would this method of argument have recommended the persons or the doctrine of the apostles to them, who were declining from both; would it not have exposed both to contempt and ridicule? There were then certainly supernatural and uncommon gifts bestowed on the apostles, and the first converts to christianity, which were testimonies of a divine commission from heaven.
12. I shall mention but one particular more. from the books of the New Testament, that we have the concurring testimony of divers persons. For the history of our Saviour's preaching and miracles, has the name of four different writers ; and the authors of the epistles make references to many of the facts set forth. The difference of style, manner of expression, method and way of arguing upon some facts, sufficiently assure us they did not all come from one hand; nay, the omissions of some things in one gospel, mentioned by another; the different order in which matters are related; the seeming contrarieties in some lesser matters may satisfy us that the three former evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are three independent witnesses; as for St. John, indeed, there are reasons to suppose he was acquainted with, and had seen the other gospels, before he wrote his. The smaller differences in some circumstances of little or no moment, are so far from rendering the whole less credible, that they really add strength to it, by preventing all suspicion of concert. The agreement is, upon the whole, so great, that it is hardly possible for four persons to write a history of so many considerable things ; to deliver an account of so inany discourses, parables delivered on various occasions, so many miracles, so many precepts, rules, reflections, as the history of our Saviour contains, with a greater harmony and agreement than is here done, unless they had met together, or corresponded together for the performance of the work; and as it appears from the difference before mentioned, there was no concert, so far from being a diminution, they are a confirmation of their truth and credibility. The design and tendency of the apostles' preaching, is conformable to the doctrine delivered by our Saviour in his lifetime, in the main ; he did not indeed address himself to Gentiles, in his ordinary preaching, it is true. When he sent forth the twelve in his lifetime, he commanded them, saying, “ Go not into the way of the Gentiles; and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Matt. x. 5, 6; whereas the apostles did after his ascension preach to Gentiles as well as Jews, and asserted that they might be saved as well as the Jews. But the directions he gave them at first, it is plain, were not intended to be always binding. He gave sufficient hints in his discourses of this event in his lifetime, in some discourses, made in the hearing of the pharisees and scribes, and others, as far as he thought proper at that time, and as they were able to bear it; he spoke very plainly to the woman of Samaria, when he told her, “ the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father,” John iv. 21; and that the true worshippers of God, who serve him in spirit and in truth, in whatever place they called upon him, would be accepted of him; and before be ascended he gave them orders to teach all nations : “ Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” Matt. xxviii. 19.
These are all the particulars I shall produce on the internal credibility of this gospel history, the marks and characters of truth observable in the books of the New Testament. The points I have mentioned are, 1. These books bear the names of particular persons, except only the epistle to the Hebrews. 2. They are written in a language and style suited to the character of the persons whose names they bear. 3. Here are characters and notes of times, as, that such a thing happened when Herod was king of Judea, or when Pilate was governor. 4. The design of this history, and of the first preaching of the gospel, has nothing in it that should tempt men to forgery and invention. 5. We find here a just and natural representation of matters, with all the appearances of likelihood and probability. 6. The impartiality of this history is another mark of its truth : many things are mentioned to appearance, and in the eye of the world, disadvantageous to Christ: many things to appearance, and others in reality, disadvantageous to the first disciples, and first publishers of the gospel : and many disorders and miscarriages of the first converts to christianity. 7. The remarkable plainness and simplicity of the narration. 8. Here are many facts and circumstances related in a manner that they might easily be confuted if not true. 9. Here are evident marks of the honesty and integrity of the persons engaged in the first publishing of the gospel, who were the witnesses of the main facts here related, and on which the truth of the gospel depends. 10. Likewise that they were not persons of enthusiastic principles. 11. That miracles were wrought, and extraordinary gifts conferred upon
many persons, appears from directions given in letters to persons supposed to have themselves seen these works, and shared in these benefits. 12. It appears from the books themselves, that here is a harmony and agreement in these facts between divers independent witnesses, who did not write in concert and correspondence together.
These particulars are sufficient for the making out this argument, and to satisfy us that these writers have all the characters of truth and probability, which any history can have. Perhaps no history besides has them all in so eminent agreement; scarce any facts whatsoever are so well supported : and if they are true, we have the highest reason to rest assured our religion is true, and came from God.
This was what I was to prove ; and if, in prosecution of this argument, in which I have made numerous references to passages of the sacred scriptures, I have illustrated any passage of scripture, or if any thing that has been here said, may serve to raise your attention to the writings of the New Testament, or to direct you in the making farther remarks in the course of your private reading; then another valuable end has likewise been answered.
And shall we leave this religion ; Christ, who has the words of eternal life? Shall we exchange the certain proofs of a future life, for the uncertain obscure arguments of immortality in Plato and Cicero?
THE MODERATION OF CHRISTIANS TO BE KNOWN TO
moderation be known unto all men.
Phil. iv. 5.
THIS direction being near the end of St. Paul's epistles, where are divers exhortations put down without any very nice and exact connection with each other; the coherence may not afford much light for settling the precise meaning.
I therefore immediately proceed to consider the meaning of the word moderation. And in the next place, (which will be the principal subject of our discourse, I would show what is implied in this exhortation, as addressed to christians, that their “ moderation should be known unto all men.”