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times; yet they were eminent for faith, love, self-denial, and a just contempt of the world ; multitudes of them cheerfully witnessed to the truth with their blood, and by their steadfastness and patience under trials, and their harmony among themselves, often extorted honourable testimonies even from their opposers.
Could they have transmitted their spirit, together with their name, to succeeding generations, the face of ecclesiastical history would have been very different from what it now bears; but, by degrees, the love of novelty and the thirst of power, a relaxed attention to the precepts of Christ, and an undue regard to the names, authority, and pretensions of men, introduced those confusions, contentions, and enormities, which at length issued in an almost universal: apostasy from that faith and course of practice which alone are worthy the name of ChristianityThe prosecution of this subject, more especially with a view to the history of the favoured few who were preserved from the general contagion, and of the treatment they met with who had the courage to censure or withstand the abuses of the times they lived in, will be attempted in the following volumes of this work, if God, in whose hands our times are, is pleased to afford opportunity; and if the specimen presented to: the public, in this volume, should so far meet the approbation of competent judges, as to encourage the author to proceed.
Some particulars which may conduce to render the state of the church in the first centurymore evident to the reader, as well as to give light into the true state of religion amongst ourselves, and which could not be well introduced in the course of our narration without making too frequent and too long digressions, I
have, for that reason, treated of separately in the chapters that follow.
An Essay on the Character of St. Paul, considered
as an Exemplar or Pattern of a Minister of Jesus Christ.
The success with which the first promulgation of the Gospel was attended, is to be ultimately ascribed to the blessing and operation of the Holy Spirit; and the great means which the Spirit of God is pleased to accompany with an efficacious power upon the souls of men, is the subject-matter of the Gospel itself. He concurs with no other doctrine but that of the Scripture. The most laboured endeavours to produce a moral change of heart and conduct will always prove ineffectual, unless accommodated to the principles of revelation, respecting the ruin of the human nature by sin, and the only possible method of its recovery by Jesus Christ.
And as the Holy Spirit bears witness to no other doctrine, so he ordinarily restrains his blessing to those ministers who have themselves experienced the power of the truths which they deliver to others. A man may be systematically right, and strenuous in the delivery and defence of orthodox notions; yet if he is not in some degree possessed of the dispositions and motives which become a minister of the New Testament, he will seldom be honoured with much success or acceptance. The want of that disinterested and dependent frame of mind which the Gospel
inculcates on all who profess it, will render his labours insignificant; for the Holy Spirit, on whose influence success entirely depends, will seldom co-operate with any but those who are sincerely governed by his precepts.
A great stress therefore is laid in the New Testament upon the principles, tempers, and conduct which ought to distinguish the men who have the honour to be intrusted with the important charge of preaching the Gospel of Christ. To delineate their proper character, and to form their manners suitable to their high calling, is the principal scope of the epistles to Timothy and Titus. And when we consider what we read there, in connexion with many passages to the same purpose, which occur occasionally in the inspired writings, we may well adopt the apostle's words, “ Who is sufficient for these things?” A Christian, even in private life, is exposed to innumerable snares and dangers, from his situation in an evil world, the power and subtilty of his spiritual enemies, and the influence of the body of sin in himself, which, though weakened and despoiled of dominion, is not yet destroyed. A minister of the Gospel, besides these trials, in common with other Christians, has many peculiar to himself. His services are more difficult, his temptations more various, his conduct more noticed; many eyes are upon him—some enviously watching for his halting, and some perhaps too readily proposing him as a pattern, and content to adopt whatever has the sanction of his example. If encouraged and acceptable, he is in danger of being greatly hurt by popularity and the favour of friends; if opposed and ill treated (and this he must expect in some instances if he is faithful,) he is liable either to be surprised into anger and in
patience, or to sink into dejection and fear. It is therefore a great encouragement to find from Scripture (and not from Scripture only,) how the grace of God has enabled others, in equal circumstances of danger and temptation, to rise superior to all impediments, and to maintain such a course of conduct, that they stand proposed as proper patterns for our imitation, and call upon us to be followers of them, as they were of Christ.
Amongst these the character of St. Paul shines with a superior lustre; he stands distinguished by the eminence of his knowledge, grace, labours, and success, as a noble and animating exemplar of a minister of Jesus Christ. And if it should be thought a digression from the design of an ecclesiastical history, to allot a few pages to the consideration of his principles, and the uniform tenour of his life, yet I hope the digression will not be unprofitable in itself, nor judged unsuitable to my general plan : for I proposed not to confine myself to a dry detail of facts, but to point out the genuine tendency of the Gospel where it is truly received, and the spirit by which it is opposed, and to show the impossibility of reviving practical godliness by any other means than those which were so signally successful in the first age of the church.
Was I to exhibit any recent character with these views, the exceptions of partiality and prejudice would not be so easily obviated. The merits of such a character, however commendable upon the whole, would be objected to, and the incidental infirmities' and indiscretions of the person (for the best are not wholly free from blemish,) would be studiously collected and exaggerated, as a sufficient contrast to all that could be said in his praise. But modesty forbids the same open disingenuous treatment of one who was an apostle of Christ. Besides, he lived and died long ago; and as some learned men have found, or pretended to find, a way to reconcile his writings with the prevailing taste of the times, he is commended in general terms, and claimed as a patron, by all parties of the religious world. Therefore I am warranted to take it for granted, that none who profess the name of Christians will be angry with me for attempting to place his spirit and conduct in as full a light as I can, or for proposing him as a proper criterion, whereby to judge of the merits and pretensions of all who account themselves ministers of Christ.
Many things worthy our notice and imitation have occurred concerning this apostle, whilst we were tracing that part of his history which St. Luke has given us in the Acts; but I would now attempt a more exact delineation of his character, as it is farther exemplified in his own epistles, or may be illustrated from a review of what has been occasionally mentioned before.
We may observe much of the wisdom of God in disposing the circumstances in which his people are placed previous to their conversion. They only begin to know Him when he is pleased to reveal himself to them by his grace, but he knew them long before. He determines the hour of their birth, their situation in life, and their earliest connexions; he watches over their childhood and youth, and preserves them from innumerable evils and dangers into which their follies, while in a state of ignorance and sin, might plunge them ; and he permits their inclinations to take such a course, that, when he is pleased to call them to the knowledge of his truth, many consequences of their past conduct, and the reflections they make upon them, may concur, upon