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For the grand foundation of their scheme was, that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified at Jerusalem by the Jewish rulers, was the Son of God, and the Lord of all things. I appeal to your consciences, whether this looks at all like the contrivance of artful and designing men.
It was evidently charging upon the princes of their country the most criminal and aggravated murder ; indeed, all things considered, the most enormous act of wickedness, which the sun had ever seen. They might therefore depend upon it, that these rulers would immediately employ all their art and power, to confute their testimony, and to destroy their persons. Accordingly one of them was presently stoned*, and another quickly after beheaded+ ; and most of the rest were scattered abroad into strange cities, where they would be sure to be received with great prejuelices raised against them amongst the Jews by reports from Jerusalem, and vastly strengthened by the expectations of a temporal messiah ; expectations, which, as the apostles knew by their own experience, it was exceeding difficult to root out of men's minds ; expectations, which would render the doctrine of Christ crucified, an inseparable Stumbling block to the Jews||.
Nor could they expect a much better reception amongst the gentiles; with whom their business was, to persuade them to renounce the Gods of their ancestors, and to depend on a per
Acts vii. 59.
+ Acts xii. 2. | Acts viii. 1, 4, xi. 19. $ I do not here mention Philo Judæus, as speaking of “ an embassy sent from the Jews in his early days, to their brethren in all parts of the world, exhorting them to resist the progress of christianity.” For though Bishop Atterbury asserts, that there is such a passage, (Serm. vol. i. page 117.) I have never been able to find, or to hear of it; and therefore am ready to believe, it was a very pardonable slip of his Lordship's memory, and that the passage he intended to refer to, was a very celebrated and important one in Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, in which he expressly asserts such a fact, in a manner which his integrity and good sense would never have perinitted, had he not certainly known it to be true. For he addresses the learned Jew, with whom he was disputing, in these memorable words, Ου μονον 8 μέγενοησαιε εφ' οις επραξατε κακoις αλλα ανδρας εκλεκτος απο Ιερεσαλημ εκλεξαμηνοι τοτε εξέπεμψαλε εις πασαν την γην, λεγοντες, αιρεσιν α θεον Χρισιανων πεφηνεναι, καταλείψουλες τανία απερ ra02
nuon ayvosyles nuas warles a syrovy' “ You were so far from repenting of the crime you had committed, in crucifying Christ, that you sent chosen men of the most distinguished character all over the world, representingo the christians as an atheistical sect, and charging us with those things which the ignorant heathens object against us.” Justin. Mart. Dialog. cum Tryph. pag. 171. Thirlb.- Eusebius, and Origen, have both mentioned the same fact, which is in itself very probable; and there may possibly be some reference to it, Acts xxviii. 22. where the Jews at Rome say, As concerning this sect of christianity, we know that it is every where spoken against,
|| 1 Cor. i. 23. VOL. II.
son who had died the death of a malefactor and a slave ; to persuade them to forego the pompous idolatries in which they had been educated, and all the sensual indulgences with which their religion, (if it might be called a religion,) was attended, to worship one invisible God through one Mediator, in the most plain and simple manner ; and to receive a set of precepts, most directly calculated to controul and restrain, not only the enormities of men's actions, but the irregularities of their hearts. A most difficult undertaking! And to engage them to this, they had no other arguments to bring, but such as were taken from the views of an invisible state of happiness, or misery, of which they asserted their crucified Jesus to be the supreme Disposer; who should another day dispense his blessings, or his vengeance, as the gospel had been embraced, or rejected. Now could it be imagined, that men would easily be persuaded, merely on the credit of their affirmation, or in compliance with their importunity, to believe things which to their prejudiced minds would appear so improbable, and to submit to impositions, to their corrupt inclinations so insupportable? And if they could not persuade them to it, what could the apostles then expect? What, but to be insulted as fools or madmen, hy one sort of people; and by another, to be persecuted with the most savage and outrageous cruelty, as blasphemers of the Gods, as seducers of the people, and as disturbers of the public peace ? All which we know accordingly happened*: Nay, they assur us, that their Lord had often warned them of itt; and that they themselves expected its, and thought it necessary to admonish their followers to expect it tooß: And it appears, that far from drawing back upon that account, as they would surely have done if they had been governed by secular motives, they became so much the more zealous and courageous, and encouraged each other to Resist even unto blood || .--Now as this is a great evidence of the integrity and piety of their character, and thus illustrates the former head; so it serves to the purpose now immediately in view, i. e. it proves how improbable it is, that any person of common sense should engage in an imposture, from which, as many have justiy observed, they could, on their own principles, have nothing to expect, but ruin in this world, and damnation in the next. When therefore we consider, and compare their character, and their circumstances, it appears utterly improbable on various accounts, that they would have attempted in this article to impose upon the world. But suppose, that in consequence of some unaccountable, as well as undiscoverable frenzy, they had ventured on the attempt, it is easy to shew, 4.“ That, humanly speaking, they must quickly have perished
• Compare Acts v.40. vii. 57, 58. viii. 1. ix. 1, 2. xxvi. 10, 11. ix. 23, 24. xii. 144. xiii. 50. xiv. 5, 19. xvi. 19-24. xvii. 5-3. xviii, 19, 13. XX. 3. xxi. 27, 28. xxii. 22. xxiii. 14. all which texts relate to the persecutions of the christians, either by Jews or Gentiles : And compare all the scriptures cited in the last note on this sermon.
+ Mat. x. 16-25. xxiji. 84. Mark x. 29, 30, 39. Luke xiv. 27. xxi. 12, 17. John xv, 20, 21. xvi. 2-33. xxi. 18, 19. Acts ix. 16. Acts xx. 23, 24. xxi. 13. 1 Cor. iv. 9. 2 Cor. xii. 10. 1 Thes. iii. 3, 4. 2 Tim. iv. 6. xiv. 22. 2 Tim. iii, 12. iv. 5. James v. 10, 11, 1 Pet. ii. 20, 21, iv. 1, 12-16. v. 9.
|| Heb. xü. 4.
in it, and their foolish cause must have died with them, without ever gaining any credit in the world."
One may venture to say this in general, on the principles which I before laid down : But it appears still more evident, when we consider the nature of the fact they asserted, in conjunction with the methods they took to engage men to believe it : Methods, which, had the apostles been impostors, must have had the most direct tendency to ruin both their scheme and themselves.
(1.) Let us a little more particularly reflect on the nature of that grand fact, the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ; which, as I observed, was the great foundation of the christian scheme, as first exhibited by the apostles.--The resurrection of a dead man and his ascension into, and abode in the upper world, was so strange a thing, that a thousand objections would immediately be raised against it ; and some extraordinary proof would justly be required as a balance to them. Now I wish the rejecters of the gospel would set themselves to invent some hypothesis, which should have any appearancc of robability, to shew how such an amazing story should ever gain credit in the world, if it had not some very convincing proof. Where, and when, could it first begin to be received ? Was it ir the same, or a succeeding age? Was it at Jerusalem, the spot or ground on which it is said to have happened, or in Greece, or Italy, or Asia, or Africa ? You may change the scene,
and the time, as you please, but you cannot change the difficulty.
Take it in a parallel instance. Suppose twelve men in London were now to affirm, that a person executed there as a malefactor in a public manner, a month, or six weeks ago, or if you please, a year, or five, or ten years since, for it is much the same, was a prophet sent from God with extraordinary powers, that he was raised from the dead, that they conversed with him after his revival, and at last saw him taken up into heaven: Would their united testimony make them be believed there ? Or suppose them, if you please, to disperse, and that one or two of them should come hither, and go on to more distant places, suppose Leicester, Nottingham, or York, and tell their story there ; and that others were to carry it over to Paris, or Amsterdam, or to Vienna, or Madrid: Could they expect any more credit with us, or with them ; or hope for any thing better, than to be looked upon as lunatics, and treated as such ?-And if they should go into other places, and attempt to mend their scheme, by saying their master was put to death one hundred, or two hundred years ago, when there could be no historical evidence of it discovered, and no proof given but their own confident assertion : Would they remove, or would they not rather increase, the difficulty !--Or would they, in any of these cases, gain credit by the most dexterous tricks of legerdemain, of which you can suppose them masters ? Especially if they should undertake, in consequence of such supposed facts, to engage men to renounce the religion in which they had been educated; to deny themselves in their dearest passions, and most important worldly interests; and even, probably, to hazard their liberties and their lives, in dependance on a future reward, to be received in a place and state, which no man living on earth had ever seen or known? You would readily allow this to be an insupposable case: And why should you suppose it to have happened sixteen or seventeen hundred years ago? You may assure yourselves, that the reason, and the passions of mankind, were then as strong, as they are now. But let us a little more particularly consider,
(2.) The manner, in which the apostles undertook to prove the truth of their testimony to this fact; and it will evidently appear, that instead of confirming their scheme, it must have been sufficient utterly to have overthrown it, had it been itself the most probable imposture that the wit of man could ever have contrived.--You know, they did not merely assert, that they had seen miracles wrought by this Jesus, but that he had endowed themselves with a variety of miraculous powers. And these they undertook to display, not in such idle and useless tricks as sleight of hand might perform, but in such solid and important works, as appeared worthy a divine interposition, and entirely superior to human power : Restoring, as they pretend, sight to the blind, soundness to lepers, activity to the lame, and in some instances, life to the dead. Nor were these things undertaken in a corner, in a circle of friends, or dependants ; nor were they said to be wrought on such, as might be suspected of being confederates in the fraud : But they were done often in the public streets, in the sight of enemies, on the persons of such, as were utter strangers to the apostles, but sometimes well known to the neighbours and spectators, as having long laboured under these calamities, to human skill utterly incurable*. Would impostors have made such pretensions as these? Or if they had, must they not immediately have been exposed and ruined ?
Nor is there any room at all to object, that perhaps the apostles might not undertake to do these things on the spot, but only assert they had done them elsewhere : For even then, it would have been impossible they should have gained credit ; and they would have seemed the less credible, on account of such a pretence. Whatever appearances there might have been of gravity, integrity and piety, in the conversation of Peter, for instance, very few, especially few that had known but little of him, would have taken it upon his word, that he saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead at Bethany : But fewer yet would have believed it upon his affirmation, had it been ever so solemn, that he had himself raised Dorcas at Joppa; unless he had done some extraordinary work before them, correspondent at least, if not equal to that. You will easily think of invincible objections, which otherwise might have been made; and undoubtedly, the more such assertions have been multiplied, every new person, and scene, and fact, had been an additional advantage given to the enemy, to have detected and confuted the whole scheme, which Peter and his associates had thus endeavoured to establish.
But to come still closer to the point: If the New Testament be genuine, as I have already proved it, then it is certain, that the apostles pretend to have wrought miracles in the very presence of those, to whom their writings were addressed ; pay more, they profess likewise to have conferred those miraculous gifts, in some considerable degrees, on otherst, even on the very persons to whom they write; and they appeal to their consciences as to the truth of it. And could there possibly be room for delusion here? It is exceedingly remarkable to this purpose, that Paul makes this appeal to the Corinthianss, and Galatiansg, when there were amongst them some persons disaffected to him,
• Acts ii, 1–10. v. 15. Ix. 33–42. xiv. 8—10. xix. 11, 12. xx. 9—12. xxviii. 7-9, + Acts viii. 17. xix. 6. $ 1 Cor. i. 5, 7. ii. 4, 5. ix. 2. xii. 8–11, 28-30. xiv. I---18, 26, and seq. 2 Cor. xi. 5, 6. xiii. 12, 13. xii. 3, 10. Gal. iii. 2. 5.