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Acts xxvi. 28.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me
to be a Christian. IT is St. Peter's advice and command to all Christians, that they should be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh a reason of the hope that is in them, with meekness and fear a. Nothing could be more necessary in his age, when Christians were surrounded by men of other religions, (Jewish or heathen,) who would certainly, upon every occasion, be apt to inquire of them, why they had forsaken the religion of their country and their forefathers, in which they had been educated, to embrace this new religion of Jesus of Nazareth, which was then every where spoken against b. But as this was necessary on the one hand, it was also easy on the other. The proofs of Christianity were open and evident; and if men would but see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, the miracles which were wrought, and the prophecies which were fulfilled at that time, they could not be at a loss to give an answer, and a very satisfactory one too, to every humble and serious inquirer. These Christians had all been either Jews or heathens; and it is unreasonable to think they would change their respective religions, when there was every thing to
1 Pet. iii. 15.
b Acts xxviji. 22.
VOL. I. HOR BERY.
deter them from making such a change, without such clear proofs of Christianity, such prevailing arguments of its truth, as they were not able in reason, and with a good conscience, to resist. So that for them to give an answer to such as asked a reason of their faith, was only in effect to relate the motives of their own conversion. But length of time, and difference of circumstances, have made some alteration in this point. We are now, though not born Christians, yet generally made so before we are capable either of giving or understanding any reasons at all, upon the stipulation and engagements of others for us; which, when we come to age, we are bound to fulfil, not so much because they promised for us, as because the things are antecedently reasonable, and our duty. As we grow up, and begin to know any thing about religion, we find that of Christ in possession, established by our laws, and professed by our fathers; and, as we discern nothing but what is excellent and holy in this religion, nothing but what is worthy of God and beneficial to man, many of us, it may be, carry our inquiries no further, but embrace Christianity without any particular examination into the evidences of its truth. And I am far from disparaging such a faith as this, provided only that it be accompanied with integrity of heart and life.
But when this is said on one side, it is also to be remembered on the other, that further information on a subject of this consequence may be useful at all times, and must be highly expedient in the present; when certain adversaries are risen up, who treat all revelation as needless, and all pretensions to it as imposture. In this situation it is incumbent upon us to lay before you, with all sincerity and plainness, the proofs that our religion came from God: and in this most important debate, (the most interesting that can possibly be brought before you,) we ask no more than an attentive hearing and an honest heart, while we appeal, in behalf of Christianity, to the consciences and common sense of mankind.
The argument which had so much weight with king Agrippa, as to make him declare in the text, that St. Paul almost persuaded him to become a Christian, was principally the relation of that apostle's own miraculous conversion. Saul, who was afterwards called Paul, was a bitter enemy to the religion of Christ, and a zealous and active persecutor of all that called upon his name. Not content with making havoc of the church which was at Jerusalem, entering into the houses of Christians, and haling men and women to prison, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord; not content, I say, with doing this at Jerusalem, he got letters from the high priest to go to Damascus, about one hundred and sixty miles, that if he found any Christians there, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem, in order there to have them punished with the utmost severity. Surely this man was in earnest; and resolved, if possible, to extirpate the very name of Christianity from the earth. In the height of his fury, armed as he was with authority and commission from the chief priests, and in this very journey to Damascus, as he drew near to the city, At midday, O king, I saw, says he, a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord ? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. You know the sequel of this history, that from that time this zealous persecutor of our religion became as zealous a witness, and an apostle of it; spent the rest of his life in preaching the faith which once he destroyed; and, after having suffered numberless tribulations in its defence, at last laid down his life for its sake.
If the whole evidence of Christianity rested upon the single case of St. Paul, that religion, even then, would have better proofs of its truth, than any rival religion in the world. The single testimony of this one apostle for his religion, considered in all its circumstances, carries in it more force and demonstration, than the evidence of all the witnesses for Mahometanism put together. His writings shew that he was no fool, and his sufferings that he was no impostor; and, admitting only the supposition that he was a man of sense and probity, an impartial review of the case will tempt you to make the same confession with Agrippa in the text, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
My design however at present is to lay my foundation wider, and to represent to you the proofs of our religion in a more general way.
In order to which I observe,
First, That a divine revelation was highly expedient, as it was much wanted in the world, especially
€ Acts xxvi. 13, 14, 15:
upon the following accounts: to discover a perfect rule of duty; to enforce the observation of it by proper motives and sanctions; and, in case of failure, to teach men the conditions of pardon, and the means of reconciling themselves to God.
Mankind were in great want of a proper rule of duty, the wisest of them being unable to frame one that was perfect, without blemish or defect; and the far greater part utterly unable either to discover one for themselves, or to judge rationally of the merits of those of others. There is no reason to think that the generality of men had either more leisure or greater abilities for inquiries of this kind formerly, than they have at present. And what rule of moral conduct could you now expect from the lower classes of mankind ? If it be said that they must submit to the rules of their superiors, I ask, who these superiors are? The philosopher, as such, has no authority over the plainest countryman alive; and if the latter will not receive his dictates freely, the former has neither right nor power to impose them. Let us then call in the assistance of the civil magistrate, and suppose him to enforce a system of duty by civil penalties. Still you see it must be left to the discretion of the magistrate, what system of duty he will choose to enforce; and to his will and pleasure, whether he will enforce any at all. But suppose the magistrate both well disposed and able to judge in this affair, then indeed some good may be done, as he may give some countenance to the cause of virtue, and punish at least the grosser instances of vice. But numberless crimes must escape his notice, and some perhaps may even defy his power. And then as to rewards, no magistrate upon earth can make