« PreviousContinue »
that Onesimus also was of the same city, agreeably to what is said of him, “he is one of you.” And this result is the effect either of truth, which produces consistency without the writer's thought or care, or of a contexture of forgeries confirming and falling in with one another by a species of fortuity of which I know no example. The supposition of design, I think, is excluded, not only because the purpose to which the design must have been directed, viz. the verification of the passage in our epistle, in which it is said concerning Onesimus, “he is one of you,” is a purpose, which would be lost upon ninetynine readers out of a hundred; but because the means made use of are too circuitous to have been the subject of affectation and contrivance. Would a forger, who had this purpose in view, have left his readers to hunt it out, by going forward and backward from one epistle to another, in order to connect Onesimus with Philemon, Philemon with Archippus, and Archippus with Colosse ? all which he must do before he arrives at his discovery, that it was truly said of Onesimus," he is one of you."
THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS.
It is known to every reader of Scripture that the First Epistle to the Thessalonians speaks of the
coming of Christ in terms which indicate an expectation of his speedy appearance: “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first : then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds—But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.” (Chap. iv. 15, 16, 17. ch. v. 4.)
Whatever other construction these texts may bear, the idea they leave upon the mind of an ordinary reader, is that of the author of the epistle looking for the day of judgment to take place in his own time, or near to it. Now the use which I make of this circumstance, is to deduce from it a proof that the epistle itself was not the production of a subsequent age. Would an impostor have given this expectation to St. Paul, after experience had proved it to be erroneous ? or would he have put into the apostle's mouth, or, which is the same thing, into writings purporting to come from his hand, expressions, if not necessarily conveying, at least easily interpreted to convey, an opinion which was then known to be founded in mistake ? I state this as an argument to show that the epistle was contemporary with St. Paul, which is little less than to show that it actually proceeded from his pen. For I question whether any ancient forgeries were executed in the life-time of the person whose name they bear; nor was the
primitive situation of the church likely to give birth to such an attempt.
No. II. Our epistle concludes with a direction that it should be publicly read in the church to which it was addressed : “ I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.” The existence of this clause in the body of the epistle is an evidence of its authenticity; because to produce a letter purporting to have been publicly read in the church of Thessalonica, when no such letter in truth had been read or heard of in that church, would be to produce an imposture destructive of itself. At least, it seems unlikely that the author of an imposture would voluntarily and even officiously, afford a handle to so plain an objection.Either the epistle was publicly read in the church of Thessalonica during St. Paul's life-time, or it was not. If it was, no publication could be more authentic, no species of notoriety more unquestionable, no method of preserving the integrity of the copy more secure. If it was not, the clause we produce would remain a standing condemnation of the forgery, and one would suppose, an invincible impediment to its success.
If we connect this article with the preceding, we shall perceive that they combine into one strong proof of the genuineness of the epistle. The preceding article carries up the date of the epistle to the time of St. Paul; the present article fixes the publication of it to the church of Thessalonica. Either therefore the church of Thessalonica was imposed
upon by a false epistle, which in St. Paul's life-time they received and read publicly as his, carrying on a communication with him all the while, and the epistle referring to the continuance of that communication; or other Christian churches, in the same life-time of the apostle, received an epistle purporting to have been publicly read in the church of Thessalonica, which nevertheless had not been heard of in that church ; or, lastly, the conclusion remains, that the epistle now in our hands is genuine.
No. III. Between our epistle and the history the accordancy in many points is circumstantial and complete. The history relates, that, after Paul and Silas had been beaten with many stripes at Philippi, shut up in the inner prison, and their feet made fast in the stocks, as soon as they were discharged from their confinement they departed from thence, and, when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, came to Thessalonica, where Paul opened and alleged that Jesus was the Christ; Aets, xvi. 23, &c. The epistle written in the name of Paul and Sylvanus (Silas), and of Timotheus, who also appears to have been along with them at Philippi (vide Phil. No. IV.) speaks to the church of Thessalonica thus : “ Even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the Gospel of God with much contention.” (ii. 2.)
The history relates, that after they had been some time at Thessalonica, “the Jews who believed not, set all the city in an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason where Paul and Silas were, and sought to bring them out to the people.” Acts, xvii. 5. The epistle declares, “when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.” (iii. 4.)
The history brings Paul and Silas and Timothy together at Corinth, soon after the preaching of the Gospel at Thessalonica :-“ And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia (to Corinth), Paul was pressed in spirit.” Acts, xviii. 5. The epistle is written in the name of these three persons, who consequently must have been together at the time, and speaks throughout of their ministry at Thessalonica as a recent transaction : “We, brethren, , being taken from you for a short time, in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face, with great desire.” (ii. 17.)
The harmony is indubitable ; but the points of history in which it consists, are so expressly set forth in the narrative, and so directly referred to in the epistle, that it becomes necessary for us to show that the facts in one writing were not copied from the other. Now amidst some minuter discrepancies, which will be noticed below, there is one circumstance which mixes itself with all the allusions in the epistle, but does not appear in the history any where ; and that is of a visit which St. Paul had intended to pay to the Thessalonians during the time of his residing at Corinth : “Wherefore we would have come unto you (even I Paul) once and again ; but Satan hindered us.” (ii. 18.) Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, , and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith.