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this head* ; but it already appears as certain as ancient history can make it, and incomparably more certain than most of the facts which it has transmitted to us, that there was at the time commonly supposed such a Person as Christ, who professed himself a divine Teacher, and who gathered many disciples, by whom his religion was afterwards published in the world. 3. It is also certain, “ that the first publishers of this religion
wrote books, which contained an account of the life and doctrine of Jesus their Master, and which went by the name of those that now make
our New Testament.' It was in the nature of things exceeding probable, that what they had seen and heard, they would declare and publish to the world in writingt; considering, how common books were in the age and countries in which they taught; and of how great importance an acquaintance with the history and doctrine of Christ was, to the purposes which they so strenuously pursued : But we have much more than such a presumptive evidence.
The greatest adversaries of christianity must grant, that we have books of great antiquity, written some fourteen, others fifteen, and some sixteen hundred years agof; in which mention is made of the life of Christ, as written by many, and especially by four of his disciples, who by way of eminence are called the Evangelists Great pains indeed have been taken to prove, that some spurious pieces were published under the names of the apostles, containing the history of these things : But surely this must imply, that it was a thing known and allowed, that the apostles did write some narrations of this kind; as counterfeit coin implies some true money, which it is designed to represent. And I am sure, he must be very little acquainted with the ancient ecclesiastical writers, who does not know, that the primitive christians made a very great difference between those writings which we call the canonical books of the New Testament, and others; which plainly shews, that they did not judge of writings, merely by the naines of their pretended au-thors, but enquired with an accuracy becoming the importance of those pretences. The result of this enquiry was, that the four Gospels, the Acts, thirteen epistles of Paul, one of Peter, and one of John, were received upon such evidence, that Eusebius, a most accurate and early critic in these things, could not learn that they had ever been disputed*: And afterwards the remaining books of the New Testament, Hebrews, James, the second of Peter, the second and third of John, Jude, and the Revelation, were admitted as genuine, and added to the rest; though some circumstances attending them, rendered their authority for a while a little dubious. On the whole it is plain, the primitive christians were so satisfied in the authority of these sacred books, that they speak of them, not only as credible and authentic, but as equal to the oracles of the Old Testament, as divinely inspired, as the words of the Spirit, as the law and organ of God, and as the rule of faith, which cannot be contradicted without great guilt; with many other expressions of the like kind, which often occur in their discourses. To which I may add, that in some of their councils, the New Testament was placed on a throne to signify their concern,
* I say nothing of the celebrated passage in Josephus, (Antig. Lib. xvii. cap. 4.) because it has been disputed; though I know no considerable objection against it, but its being so honourable to christianity, that one would hardly imagine a Jew could write it.
+ 1 John i. 3.
Such as Tatian, Irenæus, Tertullian, Clement Alexandrinus, Origen, Eusebius, and many others: See Jones on the Canon, part iv. introduct. Justin Martyr's Controversy with Trypho, and Origen's with Celsus, prove that Jews and heathens allowed, not only that there were such books, but that they contained the religion of christians.
that all their controversies and actions might be determined and regulated by it.
On the whole then, you see, that the primitive church did receive certain pieces, which bore, the same titles with the books of our New Testament. Now I think it is evident, they were as capable of judging whether a book was written by Matthew, John, or Paul, as an ancient Roman could be of determining whether Horace, Tully, or Livy, wrote those which go under their names. And I am sure, the interest of the former was so much more concerned in the writings of the apostles, than that of the latter in the compositions of the poets, orators, or even their historians ; that there is reason to believe, they would take much greater care to inform themselves fully in the merits of the cause, and to avoid being imposed upon by artifice and fiction. Let me now shew, 4. " That the books of the New Testament have been pre
served in the main uncorrupted, to the present time, in the
* Euseb. Eccles. Hist. lib, vi, cap. 25.
it is attended with proportionable evidence; an evidence, in which the hand of providence has indeed been remarkably seen ; for I am confident, that there is no other ancient book in the world, which may so certainly and so easily, he proved to be authentic.
And here, I will not argue merely from the piety of the primitive christians, and the heroic resolution with which they chose to endure the greatest extremities, rather than they would deliver up their bibles, though that be a consideration of some evident weight; but shall intreat you to consider the utter impossibility of corrupting them. From the first ages, they were received, and read in the churches, as a part of their public worship, just as Moses and the Prophets were in the jewish synagognes ; they were presently spread far and wide, as the boundaries of the church were increased ; they were early translated into other languages, of which translations some remain to this day. Now when this was the case, how could they possibly be adulterated ? Is it a thing to be supposed, or imagined, that thousands and millions of people should have come together from distant countries; and that, with all their diversities of language, and customs, and I may add, of sentiments too, they should have agreed on corrupting a book, which they all acknowledged to be the rule of their faith, and their manners, and the great charter by which they held their eternal hopes. It were mad. ness to believe it : Especially when we consider that numbers of heretics appeared in the very infancy of the church, who all pretended to build their notions on scripture, and most of them appealed to it as the final judge of controversies ; now it is certain, that these different parties of professing christians were a perpetual guard upon each other, and rendered it impossible for one party, to practice grossly on the sacred books, without the discovery, and the clamour of the rest.
Nor must I omit to remind you, that in every age, from the apostles' time to our own, there have been numberless quotations made from the books of the New Testament; and a mul. titude of commentaries in various languages, and some of very ancient date, have been written upon them : So that if the books themselves were lost, I believe they might in great measure, if not entirely, be recovered from the writings of others. And one might venture to say, that if all the quotations, which have ever been made from all the ancient writings now remaining in Europe, were to be amassed together, the bulk of them would he by no means comparable, to that of the quotations taken from the New Testament alune. So that a man might with a much
better face dispute, whether the writings ascribed to Homer, Demosthenes, Virgil, or Cæsar, be in the main such as they left them, than he could question it concerning those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James, and Paul, whether they are in the main so.
I say, in the main, because we readily allow, that the hand of a printer, or of a transcriber, might chance in some places to insert one letter or word for another, and the various readings of this, as well as of all other ancient books, prove, that this has sometimes been the case. Nevertheless those various readings are generally of so little importance, that he who can urge them as an objection against the assertion we are now maintaining, must have little judgment, or little integrity; and indeed, after those excellent things which have been said on the subject by many defenders of christianity, if he have read their writings, ke must have little modesty too.
Since then it appears, that the books of the New Testament, as they now stand in the original, are, without any material alteration, such as they were, when they came from the hands of the persons whose names they bear, nothing remains to complete this part of the argument, but to shew, 5.“ That the translation of them, now in your hands, may be
depended upon, as in all things most material, agreeable to. the original.”
This is a fact, of which the generality of you are not capable of judging immediately, yet it is a matter of great importance: It is therefore a very great pleasure to me to think, what ample evidence you may find another way, to make your minds as easy on this head, as you could reasonably wish them. I mean, by the concurrent testimony of others, in circumstances in which you cannot imagine they would unite to deceive you.
There are, to be sure, very few of us, whose office it is publicly to preach the gospel, who have not examined this matter with care, and who are not capable of judging in so easy a case. I believe you have seen few in the place where I now stand, that could not have told you, as I now solemnly do, that, on a diligent comparison of our translation with the original, we find that of the New Testament, and I might also add, that of the Old, in the main faithful and judicious. You know indeed, that we do not scruple on some occasions to animadvert upon it ; but you also know, that these remarks affect not the fundamentals of religion, and seldom reach any farther than the beauty of a figure, or at most the connection of an argument. Nay, I can confidently say, that, to the best of my knowledge and remembrance, as there is no copy of the greek, so neither is there any translation of the New Testament which I have seen, whether ancient or modern, how defective and faulty soever, from which all the principal facts and doctrines of christianity might not be learnt, so far as the knowledge of them is necessary to salvation, or even to some considerable degrees of edification in piety. Nor do I except from this remark, even that most erroneous and corrupt version, published by the English jesuits at Rheims, which is undoubtedly one of the worst that ever appeared in our language.
But I desire not, that with respect to our own translation of the New Testament, a matter of so great moment as the fidelity of it should rest on my testimony alone, or entirely on that of any of my brethren, for whose integrity and learning you may have the greatest and justest esteem. I rejoice to say, that this is a head, on which we cannot possibly deceive
if we were ever so desirous to do it. And indeed in this respect, that is our advantage, which in others is our great calamity, I mean the diversity of our religious opinions. It is certain, that wheresoever there is a body of dissenters from the public establishment, who do yet agree with their brethren of that establishment in the use of the same translation, though they are capable of examining it, and judging of it; there is as great evidence as could reasonably be desired, that such a translation is in the main right; for if it were in any considerable argument corrupted, most of the other debates would quickly lose themselves in this: And though such dissenters had all that candour, tenderness, and respect for their fellow-christians, which I hope we shall always endeavour to maintain, yet they would, no doubt, think themselves obliged in conscience to bear a warm and loud testimony against so crying an abomination, as they would another day appear free from the guilt of a confederacy, to poison the public fountains, and destroy the souls of men. But we make no complaint on this subject ; we all unite in bearing our testimony to the oracles of God, as delivered in our own language. Oh that we were equally united in regulating our doctrine, and our discipline, our worship, and our practice by them!
You see then, on the whole, how much reason there is to believe, “ that the books of the New Testament, as they are now in your hands, were written by those whose names they bear, even the first preachers and publishers of christianity." This is the grand point; and from hence it will follow by a train