« PreviousContinue »
fore, that the facts they assert were true; and if they were true, then it was reasonable for their contemporaries, and is reasonable for us, to receive the gospel as a divine revelation ;
-especially, if we consider what has happened in the world for the confirmation of it, since it was first propagated by them. This is the conclusion, to which I was to lead you; and I beg, you would seriously consider each of the steps, by which we arrive at it.
1. It is exceeding evident, “that the writers of the New Testa
ment certainly knew, whether the facts they asserted were true, or false.”
And this they must have known for this plain reason; because they tell us, they did not trust merely to the report, even of persons whom they thought most credible; but were present themselves, when several of the most important facts happened, and so received them on the testimony of their own senses. On this St. John, in his epistle, lays a very great and reasonable stress: That which we have seen with our eyes, and that not only by a sudden glance, but which we have attentively looked upon, and which even our hands have handled of the word of life, i. e. of Christ and his gospel,-declare we unto you*.
Let the common sense of mankind judge here. Did not Matthew and John certainly know, whether they had personally and familiarly conversed with Jesus of Nazareth, or not? Whether he had chosen them for his constant attendants and apostles? Whether they had seen him heal the sick, dispossess devils, and raise the dead? And whether they themselves had received from him such miraculous endowments, as they say he bestowed upon them? Did not they know, whether he fell into the hands of his enemies, and was publicly put to death, or not? Did not John know, whether he saw him expiring on the cross, or not? And whether he received from him the dying charge which he recordst? Did he not know, whether he saw him wounded in the side with a spear, or not? And whether he did, or did not see, that effusion of blood and water, which was an infallible argument of his being really dead? Concerning which, it being so material a circumstance, he adds, He that saw it bears record, and he knoweth that he saith true I; i. e. that it was a case, in which he could not possibly be deceived. And with regard to Christ's resurrection, did he not certainly know, whether he saw our Lord again and again? And whether he handled his body, that he might be sure it was not a mere phantom? What one circumstance of his life could he certainly know, if he were mistaken in this?
* 1 John i. 1,3
+ John xix. 27.
# John xix. 35.
Did not Luke know, whether he was in the ship with Paul, when that extraordinary wreck happened, by which they were thrown ashore on the island of Malta ? Did he not know, whether while they were lodged together in the Governor's house, Paul miraculously healed one of the family, and many other diseased persons in the island, as he positively asserts that he did* ?
Did not Paul certainly know, whether Christ appeared to him on the way to Damascus, or not? Whether he was blind, and afterwards on the prayer of a fellow disciple received his sight? Or was that a circumstance, in which there could be room for mistake.? Did he not know, whether he received such extraordinary revelations, and extraordinary powers, as to be able, by the imposition of his hands, or by the words of his mouth, to work miracles, and even to convey supernatural endowments to others ?
To add no more, did not Peter know, whether he saw the glory of Christ's transfiguration, and heard that voice to which he so expressly refers, when he says in the text, We have not followed cunningly devised fables,—but were eye-witnesses of his Majesty, when there came such a voice to him; and this voice we heardt ?
Now Matthew, John, Luke, Paul, and Peter, are by far the most considerable writers of the New Testament; and I am sure, when you reflect on these particulars, you must own, that there are few historians, ancient or modern, that could so certainly judge of the truth of the facts they have related. You may perhaps think, I have enlarged too much in stating so clear a case : But you will please to remember, it is the foundation of the whole argument; and that this branch of it alone cuts off infidels from that refuge, which I believe they would generally chuse, that of pleading the apostles were enthusiasts; and leaves them silent, unless they will say they were impostors: For you evidently see, that could we suppose these facts to be false, they could by no means pretend an involuntary mistake, but must, in the most criminal and aggravated sense, as Paul himself expresses it, Be found false witnesses of Godf. But how reasonable it would be to charge them with so notorious a crime, will in part appear, if we consider,
* Acts xxvii. 7-9.
+ 2 Pet. i, 16, 18.
1 Cor. xv. 15.
2. “ That the character of these writers, so far as we can judge
by their works, seems to render them worthy of regard, and leaves no room to imagine they intended to deceive us.'
I shall not stay to shew at large, that they appear to have been persons of natural sense, and at the time of their writing, of a composed mind; for I verily believe, no man that ever read the New Testament with attention, could believe they were ideots or madmen. Let the discourses of Christ in the Evangelists, of Peter and Paul in the Acts, as well as many passages in the Epistles be perused ; and I will venture to say, he who is not charmed with them, must be a stranger to all the justest rules of polite criticism : But he who suspects, that the writers wanted common sense, must himself be most evidently destitute of it; and he who can suspect, they might possibly be distracted, must himself, in this instance at least, be just as mad as he imagines them to have been.
It was necessary however just to touch upon this; because, unless we are satisfied, that a person be himself in what he writes, we cannot pretend to determine his character from his writings. Having premised this, I'must entreat you, as you peruse the New Testament, to observe what evident marks it bears, of simplicity and integrity, of piety and benevolence; which when you have observed, you will find them pleading the cause of its authors, with a resistless, though a gentle eloquence; and powerfully persuading the mind, that men who were capable of writing so excellently well, are not, without the strongest evidence, to be suspected of acting so detestably ill, as we must suppose they did, if in this solemn manner, they were carrying on an imposture, in such circumstances as attended the case before us. For,
(1.) The manner in which they tell their amazing story, is most happily adapted to gain our belief. For as they tell it with a great detail of circumstances, which would by no means be prudent in legendary writers, because it leaves so much the more room for confutation ; so they also do it in the most easy and natural manner.
There is no air of declamation and harangue; nothing that looks like artifice and design: No apologies, no encomiums, no characters, no reflections, no di. gressions : But the faets are recounted with great simplicity, just as they seem to have happened ; and those facts are left to speak for themselves, and their great author. It is plain, that the rest of these writers, as well as the apostle Paul, did not affect Excellency of speech, or Alights of eloquence, as the phrase signifies, but determined to know nothing, though amongst
the most learned and polite, save Jesus Christ, even him that was crucified*: A conduct, that is the more to be admired, when we consider how extraordinary a theme theirs was, and with what abundant variety of most pathetic declamation it would easily have furnished any common writer; so that one would really wonder, how they could forbear it. But they rightly judged, that a vain affectation of ornament, when recording such a story as of their own knowledge, might perhaps have brought their sincerity into question, and so have rendered The cross of Christ of none effect.
(2.) Their integrity does likewise evidently appear in the freedom with which they mention those circumstances, which might have exposed their Master and themselves to the greatest contempt, amongst prejudiced and inconsiderate men; such as they knew they must generally expect to meet with.-As to their Master, they scruple not to own, that his country was infamous, his birth and education mean§, and his life indigent||; that he was most disdainfully rejected by the rulers, and accused of sabbath-breaking**, blasphemy++, and sedition‡‡; that he was reviled by the populace, as a debauchee§§, a lunatic, and a dæmoniac¶¶; and at last, by the united rage of both rulers and people, was publicly executed as the vilest of malefactors, with all imaginable circumstances of ignominy, scorn, and abhorrence***: Nor do they scruple to own, that terror and distress of spirit into which he was thrown by his sufferings+++, though this was a circumstance at which some of the heathens took the greatest offence, as utterly unworthy so excellent and divine a person.As to themselves, the apostles readily confess, not only the meanness of their original employments, and the scandals of their former life$$$; but their prejudices, their follies, and their faults, after Christ had honoured them with so holy a calling: They acknowledge their slowness of apprehension under so excellent a teacher||||||, their unbelief¶¶¶, their cowardice****, their ambition††††, their
+1 Cor. i. 17. Mark vi. 3.
1 Cor. ii. 1, 2. υπεροχήν λογα.
Mat. xxvii. 46.
John i. 45, 46. Mat. viii. 20.
Luke ++ Mat. ix. §§ Mat. xi.
Acts xxii. 4, 5. xviii. 34. Mat. Luke xxiv. 25.
rash zeal*, and their foolish contentionst. So that on the whole, they seem every where to forget, that they are writing of themselves, and appear not at all solicitous about their own reputation, but only that they might represent the matter just as it was, whether they went Through honour or dishonour, through evil report or good reporti. Nor is this all; for,
(3.) It is certain, that there are in their writings the most genuine traces, not only of a plain and honest, but a most pious and devout, a most benevolent and generous disposition. These appear especially in the epistolary parts of the New Testament, where indeed we should most reasonably expect to find them : And of these I may confidently affirm, that the greater progress any one has made, in love to Godę, in zeal for his gloryl, in a compassionate and generous concern for the present and future happiness of mankind; the more humble**, and candidtt, and temperateff, and pureşg he is; the more ardently he loves truth, and the more steadily he is determined to suffer the greatest extremity in its defence|||| ; in a word, the more his heart is weaned from the present world, and the more it is fired with the prospects of a glorious immortality*** ; the more pleasure will he take in reading those writings, the more will he relish the spirit which discovers itself in them, and find, that as face answers to face in water, so do the traces of piety and goodness, which appear there, answer to those which a good man feels in his own soul. Nay, I will add, that the warm and genuine workings of that excellent and holy temper, which every where discovers itself in the New Testament, have for many ages been the most effectual means of spreading a spirit
* Luke ix. 54. Mark ix. 38. + Mark ix, 34. Acts xv. 37–40. | 2 Cor. vi. 8. § 1 Cor. viii. 3. Tit. ii. 4-7. John iv. 16-21. v. 1-3. || Rom. vi. 11, 13. xii. 1. xiv. 7, 8. 1 Cor. vi, 20. X. 31. 2 Cor. iv, 15. 1 Pet. iv. 11.
Acts xx. 20, 21, 31–35. xxvi. 29. Rom. ix. 1-3. xiii. 8---10. xv. 1, 2. 1 Cor. x. 24. 2 Cor. xii. 15. Gal. vi. 10. Phil. ii. 4. 1 Thess. ii. 7, 8, 11, 12. 1 Tim. ïi. 1. ** Rom. xii. 3, 16. Cor. xv. 9, 10. Eph. ii. 8. Col. iii. 12. 1 Tim. i. 13, 15. 1 Pet. v.5. tt Rom. xiv. 3, 10, 13, 19. xv. 1, 2. 1 Cor. väi. 9-13. xii. 447. Gal. v. 22. #1 Rom. xiii. 13, 14. 1 Cor. ix. 27. Gal. v. 24. Col. jii. 5. 2 Pet. i. 6. $9 2 Cor. vii. 1. Phil. iv. 8. 1 Thess. iv. 3, 4. 2 Tim. ii. 21. Heb, x. 22. xii. 14. James i. 27. 1 John iii. 3. All Acts xx. 24. 2 Cor. i. 12. iv. 2. xiii. 8. Phil. ii. 17, 18. 2 Tim. iv. 1.
1 2 Cor. iv. 18. Gal. vi, 14. Phil. iv. 11, 12. Col. iii. 2. 1 Tim. vi. 6, 10. 2 Tim. ii. 3, 4. 1 John ii. 15, 16. *** 2 Cor. v.1-8. Phil. i. 21-23. 2 Tim. i. 12. iv. 8. Tit. ii. 13.
NB. Those who are acquainted with the New Testament will know, that this is but a small specimen of the texts which might easily be collected on each of these heads : Yet were the energy of these few attentively considered, I cannot but think, that every well disposed mind would be deeply struck, and powerfully convinced by them.