« AnteriorContinua »
says he, for righteousness sake, happy are ye. Why? because they knew the hope of their calling, and the ample recompense that would be made them in a future life for all such sufferings. Therefore, he advises that they should always have this precious hope present to them, and well established in their minds : nay, and that, for their own better support in the midst of their sufferings, and for the vindication of themselves to others, their persecutors, perhaps, who might ask on what grounds they exposed themselves to such torments, they should have in readiness an answer, or apology for their own conduct, setting forth the reason they had to confide in that hope; from which reason it would appear that they acted, as became prudent men, and not as blind, frantic enthusiasts.
It being now seen, to whom the text is directed, and what the hope, under consideration, is, we have no difficulty in answering
3. The last question, "What the proper answer might, or rather must be, of such
persons, when required to give a reason of “ such hope?"
For what other answer could they give (and this they aļl might give), than that their Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, by whom they had been encouraged to entertain this hope, had shewn himself well able to make it good by his own" resurrection? They might say, in the words of the Apostle Paul (who apologized for himself to the Athenians, in like circumstances), We'therefore think ourselves happy in suffering for righteousness sake, because God hæth appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath-ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the deada.'
This was an obvious reason of the hope, that was in them, and level to all capacities. It was, also, a sufficient reason, if it was any at all, that is, if the fact alledged be true; and, that it was so, they might appeal to the testimony of those, who had seen the Lord and conversed with him, after his resurrection; nay, whom themselves had seen confirming that testimony by signs and wonders, done in the name of Jesus.
a Acts xvii. 31.
We see, then, what is the true and full meaning of the text. The Apostle exhorts those, to whom he writes, all of them, the simpler, as well as more informed, to bear in mind the end of their religion, EVERLASTING LIFE; and the grounds, on which they expected it, the word of their divine MASTER, confirmed to them by them that heared himb, and by his rising from the dead.
And now we are at liberty to make some reflexions on the text, which may be useful and instructive to us.
And, first, I observe, as most others have done, that Christians are allowed and encouraged to reason on the subject of their religion, and to build their faith on conviction. For the Apostle's advice is, not to decline the way of argument, but to use such arguments as are cogent and satisfactory. And in this free exercise of the understanding, which is permitted, or rather enjoined to all Christians, the manly genius of our religion is seen, and by it is distinguished from that of every blind and servile superstition. But then,
b Heb. i. 3.
Secondly, I observė, that this work of reason is enjoined, only, with regard to the hope, that is in us, that is, to the end and scope of Christianity, and to the authority on which it rests; in other words, with regard to the ÉVIDENCES of this Religion.
It is true, these evidences are a different thing to different persons, according to their respective situations.
To the primitive Christians, such as those to whom the exhortation of the text is addressed, it was evidence sufficient, “That they had the great “ facts of the Gospel, especially that decisive “ fact, the resurrection of Christ, reported to “ them by persons, who had been eye-wit“ nesses of those extraordinary transactions,
who had heared them, at least; from eye-witnesses, and were endowed, besides, “ with the power of working miracles in con“firmation of their testimony.” For in those days, it is to be observed, they, who were commissioned to plant the Gospel in the world, went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs followingo.
c Mark xvi. 90
This state of things continued through what is called the Apostolic Age, and perhaps longer, during which time it was easy for the plainest Christian to give such an answer to those who required a reason of the hope that was in him, as was perfectly satisfactory. But, when the Gospels were admitted by the faithful, as authentic accounts of their Master's history and doctrine, and when the Apostles had further drawn out and explained the principles and proofs of Christianity in their several
writings, that is, when the Canon of the New - Testament was completed, and generally received (all which was done within the first century from the Christian æra), Then the appeal lay to these scriptures, and the ground of a Christian's persuasion was, the authority of the inspired writers. And now, if believers were asked the reason of the hope that was in them, the answer was, “That so it was written *6 in books, which were in all hands, and al“ lowed by all to contain nothing but infallible “ truth." Nor could the force of this answer be disputed, when the memory of certain facts was recent, when the places where, and the persons to whom, or for whose use the sacred books were written, could be pointed out, and when the writers of them were known, by the miracles wrought by