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These inftances excepted, the evangelifts feem uniformly rather to fupprefs than to particularize names, when what truth compels them to fay is to the difad vantage of the perfons. Thus, they omit the name of the officer who fmote our Lord on the face at his trial, adding infult to cruelty and injustice; of the falfe witneffes against him; of the malefactor who upbraided him while hanging on the crofs. Thus alfe in the Acts, those who firft difputed with " Stephen, and afterwards fuborned falfe witneffes to take away his life; the forty Jews who confpired to affaffinate Paul, are all paffed by without fpecification.Now it is most evident, that this conduct in our Lord's historians did not arife from a fear of making enemies. The unvaried fteadiness of their preaching, and the noble firmness of their martyrdom, fupply proofs of fortitude too clear to be disputed; and the fame spirit appears even in the circumstances now alluded to, for they have in fact named most of thofe who were poffeffed of fuch an authority, or actuated by fuch a difpofition, as could render their refentment an object of terror; no, their referve was evidently in the true spirit of their divine Mafter. They do not, without fome evident neceffity, bring forward the names of those whom they must mention only to difgrace; they direct our contempt and hatred against the crimes, not the perfons of men ; against the vices not against the vicious. Aware that this last direction
u Acts vi. 9.
* A&s xxiii. 12.
would be of the most dangerous tendency to genuine charity, they fhew no difpofition to hold up any man to the Christians of their own time as an object either of their fear or their abhorrence, or to tranfmit his name with infamy to pofterity;-while on the contrary they chearfully particularize thofe to whose faith and gratitude, love and piety, they can bear honourable teftimony, thus to excite a noble emulation.
Still more ftrongly to evince the candour and impartiality of the facred writers, qualities fo inconfiftent with the violence and prefumption of enthufiafm, it is worthy of remark, that they not only never load their enemies with any opprobrious epithets, but that they fometimes speak of them in honourable and refpectful terms. Thus at Antioch, in Pifidia, when the Jews raised such a perfecution against Paul- as to drive him from the city, the inhabitants whom they prevailed on to join in this persecution are spoken of, not with abufe or bitterness, but "as devout and honourable women, and the chief
men of the city." The title of philofopher is not denied to those Athenians who spoke of Paul as a babbler, and dragged him, as a violator of the laws, before the court. of Areopagus; and the priests and rulers who were most active in the perfecution of the apostles, are always denoted by the honourable titles
y Acts xiv. 50.
which officially belonged to them, without any remark on the depravity of their personal character, or its inconsistency with their official duty.
The strongest proof of the candour and humility of the facred writers, is however found in the manner in which they speak of their own characters, and their own weakneffes and faults; here all is open and undisguised; no fecret is made of the names or the tranfgreffions of any of the apoftles; the flowness of their understanding, their prejudices and bigotry, their temporal views and contentions for power, their desertion of their divine Mafter in the hour of distress, the accidental differences which occurred in the course of their ministry, are all fully and plainly related. The crime of Peter in denying his Lord, and that of Paul in his bitter perfecution of the church, are not fuppreffed, though their reputation must have seemed fo effential to the Christian caufe, and their tranfitory, though great offences, were followed by a whole life of penitence. Not to multiply inftances, enough furely has been faid, to fhew that the historians of the New Teftament were wholly free from the heat, and bigotry, and prefumption, which fo generally characterise fanaticifm. Let me not, however, be understood to affert, that the evangelifts never speak of offenders with severity; far otherwise. I am well aware, there are inftances which may feem exceptions to the general principles I have endeavoured to establish; but I am confident a little
a little attention will prove they only feem to be exceptions, but that in reality they confirm the truth of these principles; because in every instance where this severity occurs, it is evidently, not only justified, but almost extorted by the nature of the crime which they rebuke; and it is remarkable, that almost every offender thus rebuked, difplays that peculiar fpecies of character, on which mildness and mercy would be as ineffectual, as it would certainly be unmerited, even an hypocritical and mercenary mind, which refifts the conviction of truth from fordid worldly views, or abuses the facred name of religion, to conceal and fanctify malignity or avarice. Such was the general character of the Pharifees, against whom alone their mild and benevolent Lord had poured forth keen and indignant reproach; and fuch were the individuals whom the apoftles loaded with wellmerited condemnation." Ananias and Sapphira, whom, avarice, united with hypocrify, and a fecret contempt for that divine Authority which they profeffed to obey, tempted to lie, not unto men, but unto God, experienced a fevere but juft punishment. Simon, who had employed the base frauds of forcery to delude the Samaritans to bestow divine honours on himself, and who preferved the fame audacious impiety, even after he had pretended to embrace the pure religion of the gofpel, offering the apostles money to purchase the power of the Holy Ghost,
z A&ts v.
well deferved the fevere rebuke of St Peter; "thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought "the gift of God could be purchased with money; "thou haft neither part nor lot in this matter, for "thy heart is not right with God; repent there"fore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if "perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven, for I perceive thou art in the gall of bitter"nefs, and the bond of iniquity."
b Elymas, a man of a fimilar character, for he alfo was a forcerer, withstood the preaching of St. Paul, seeking (doubtless from selfish motives) to turn away the Roman governor from the faith; his malignant and interested oppofition wrung from the apoftle the feverest rebuke which he ever pronounced; but its justice was attested by the miraculous blindness which divine Power enabled him to inflict: thus the occafional feverity of the apoftles was wholly free from the violence of enthusiasm; it was dictated by truth and approved by heaven.
But, except in thefe inftances, we perceive, that on the most trying occafions the apostles imitate the unexampled benignity of their divine Lord, who, in the agonies of death, prayed for his murderers, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." The apoftles alfo alledge this the only extenuation of their enemies guilt, which the eye of
b Acts xiii.