« PreviousContinue »
with a soldier that guarded him, “preaching the king
‘ dom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence.”
Now the historian, from whom we have drawn this account, in the part of his narrative which relates to Saint Paul, is supported by the strongest corroborating testimony that a history can receive. We are in possession of letters written by Saint Paul himself upon the subject of his ministry, and either written during the period which the history comprises, or if written afterwards, reciting and referring to the transactions of that period. These letters, without borrowing from the history, or the history from them, unintentionally confirm the account which the history delivers, in a great variety of particulars. What belongs to our present purpose is the description exhibited of the apostle's sufferings: and the representation, given in the history, of the dangers and distresses which he underwent, not only agrees, in general, with the language which he himself uses whenever he speaks of his life or ministry, but is also, in many instances, attested by a specific correspondency of time, place, and order of events. If the historian put down in his narrative, that at Philippi the apostle “was beaten with many stripes, cast into prison, and there treated with rigour and indignity;"* we find him, in a lettert to a neighbouring church, reminding his converts, that, “after he had suffered before, and was shamefully entreated at Philippi, he was bold, nevertheless, to speak unto them (to whose city he next came) the Gospel of God.” If the history relate, # that, at Thessalonica, the house in which the apostle was lodged, when he first came to that place, was assaulted by the populace, and the master of it dragged * Acts xvi. 23, 24.
t i Thess. ii. 2. I Acts xvii. 5.
before the magistrate for admitting such a guest within his doors; the apostle, in his letter to the Christians of
; Thessalonica, calls to their remembrance “how they had received the Gospel in much affliction."* If the history deliver an account of an insurrection at Ephesus, which had nearly cost the apostle his life ; we have the apostle himself, in a letter written a short time after his departure from that city, describing his despair, and returning thanks for his deliverance.t If the history inform us, that the apostle was expelled from Antioch in
, Pisidia, attempted to be stoned at Iconium, and actually stoned at Lystra ; there is preserved a letter from him to a favourite convert, whom, as the same history tells us, he first met with in these parts ; in which letter he appeals to that disciple's knowledge “ of the persecutions which befel him at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra.” If the history make the apostle, in his speech to the Ephesian elders, remind them, as one proof of the disinterestedness of his views, that, to their knowledge, he had supplied his own and the necessities of his companions by personal labour; § we find the same apostle, in a letter written during his residence at Ephesus, asserting of himself, “ that even to that hour he laboured,
“ working with his own hands." ||
These coincidences, together with many relative to other parts of the apostle's history, and all drawn from independent sources, not only confirm the truth of the account, in the particular points as to which they are observed, but add much to the credit of the narrative in all its parts; and support the author's profession of being a contemporary of the person whose history he
* 1 Thess. i. 6.
f Acts xix. 2 Cor. i. 8—10. | Acts xiii. 50 ; xiv. 5, 19. 2 Tim. iii. 10, 11. Ś Acts xx. 34.
ll i Cor. iv. 11, 12.
writes, and, throughout a material portion of his narrative, a companion.
What the epistles of the apostles declare of the suffering state of Christianity, the writings which remain of their companions and immediate followers expressly confirm.
Clement, who is honourably mentioned by Saint Paul in his epistle to the Philippians,* hath left us his attestation to this point, in the following words: “Let us take (says he) the examples of our own age. Through zeal and envy, the most faithful and righteous pillars of the church have been persecuted even to the most grievous deaths.
Let us set before our eyes the holy apostles. Peter, by unjust envy, underwent, not one or two, but many sufferings; till at last, being martyred,
; he went to the place of glory that was due unto him. For the same cause did Paul, in like manner, receive the reward of his patience. Seven times he was in bonds; he was whipped, was stoned; he preached both in the East and in the West, leaving behind him the glorious report of his faith ; and so having taught the whole world
; righteousness, and for that end travelled even unto the utmost bounds of the West, he at last suffered martyrdom by the command of the governors, and departed out of the world, and went unto his holy place, being become a most eminent pattern of patience unto all ages. To these holy apostles were joined a very great number of others, who, having through envy undergone, in like manner, many pains and torments, have left a glorious example to us. For this, not only men, but women, have been persecuted; and, having suffered very grievous and cruel punishments, have finished the course of their faith with firmness." +
* Philipp. iv. 3.
+ Clem. ad Cor. cap. v. vi. Abp. Wake's Trans.
Hermas, saluted by Saint Paul in his epistle to the Romans, in a piece very little connected with historical recitals, thus speaks: “Such as have believed and suffered death for the name of Christ, and have endured with a ready mind, and have given up their lives with all their hearts."*
Polycarp, the disciple of John (though all that remains of his works be a very short epistle), has not left this subject unnoticed. “I exhort (says he) all of you, that ye obey the word of righteousness, and exercise all patience, which ye have seen set forth before your eyes, not only in the blessed Ignatius, and Lorimus, and Rufus, but in others among yourselves, and in Paul himself and the rest of the apostles ; being confident in this, that all these have not run in vain, but in faith and righteousness; and are gone to the place that was due to them from the Lord, with whom also they suffered. For they loved not this present world, but Him who died, and was raised again by God for us.”+
Ignatius, the contemporary of Polycarp, recognises the same topic, briefly indeed, but positively and precisely. “For this cause (i. e. having felt and handled Christ's body after his resurrection, and being convinced, as Ignatius expresses it, both by his flesh and spirit), they (i. e. Peter, and those who were present with Peter at Christ's appearance) despised death, and were found to be above it."
Would the reader know what a persecution in these days was, I would refer him to a circular letter, written by the church of Smyrna soon after the death of Polycarp, who, it will be remembered, had lived with Saint John; and which letter is entitled a relation of that bishop's martyrdom. “ The sufferings (say they) of all
Shepheril of Hermas, c. 28. + Pol. ad Phil. c. 9. | 19 Ep. Smyr. c. 3.
the other martyrs were blessed and generous, which they underwent according to the will of God. For so it becomes us, who are more religious than others, to ascribe the power and ordering of all things unto him. And indeed who can choose but admire the greatness of their minds, and that admirable patience and love of their Master, which then appeared in them? Who, when they were so flayed with whipping, that the frame and structure of their bodies were laid open to their very inward veins and arteries, nevertheless endured it. In like manner, those who were condemned to the beasts, and kept a long time in prison, underwent many cruel torments, being forced to lie upon sharp spikes laid under their bodies, and tormented with divers other sorts of punishments; that so, if it were possible, the tyrant, by the length of their sufferings, might have brought them to deny Christ.”*
There is satisfactory evidence that many, professing to be
original witnesses of the Christian miracles, passed their lives in labours, dangers, and sufferings, voluntarily undergone in attestation of the accounts which they delivered, and solely in consequence of their belief of those accounts; and that they also submitted, from the same motives, to new rules of conduct.
On the history, of which the last chapter contains an abstract, there are a few observations which it may be proper to make, by way of applying its testimony to the particular propositions for which we contend.
I. Although our Scripture history leaves the general account of the apostles in an early part of the narrative,
* Rel. Mor. Pol. c. 2.