« PreviousContinue »
who were taking all opportunities to sink his character, and destroy his influence: And could they have wished for a better opportunity, than such an appeal? An appeal, which, had not the fact it supposed been certain, far from recovering those that were wavering in their estoem, must have been sufficient utterly to disgust his most cordial and steady friends.--And the same remark may be applied to the advices and reproofs, which the apostle there gives, relating to the use and abuse of their Spiritual gifts*; which had been most notoriously absurd, and even ridiculous, had not the christians to whom he wrote, been really possessed of them. And these gifts were so plainly supernatural, that, as it has often been observed, if it be allowed, that miracles can prove a divine revelation, and that the first epistle to the Corinthians be genuine, (of which, by the way, there is at least as pregnant evidence, as that any part of the New Testament is sot,) then it follows by a sure and easy consequence, that christianity is true. Nevertheless other arguments are not to be forgot in this survey.--And therefore, as I have proved under this head, that had the testimony of the apostles been false, it is not to be imagined, that they could have gained credit at all; and especially, when they had put the proof of their cause on such a footing, as we are sure they did ; I am now to shew
you, 5. “ That it is certain in fact, that the apostles did gain early
credit, and succeeded in a most wonderful manner;" from whence it will follow, that their testimony was true.
That the apostles did indeed gain credit in the world, is evident, from what I before offered to prove the early prevalence of christianity in it; and may farther be confirmed, from many passages in the New Testament. And here, I insist not so much on express historical testimonies, though some of them are very remarkable; especially that of the brethren at Jerusalem, who speak of many myriads of believing Jews assembled at the feast of Pentecosts. But I argue from the epistles written to several churches, which plainly prove, that there were congregations of christians in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Colosse, Thessalonica,
I Cor. xii, 1–7. siv. per tot. + I cannot but look upon it as a kind and remarkable providence to this purpose, that there is still extant an epistle of Clemens Romanus to the church at Corinth, probably written before the year of Christ 70, in which he plainly refers to 1 Cor. i. 12. in what he cites from “ an epistle of Paul written to them by the spirit at his first preaching the gospel among them.” Clem. Epist. 1. ad. Cor. 5. 47.
Acts azi, 20.
Philippi, Laodicea*, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphiat, Cretes, Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithyniaş, and many other places; insomuch that one of the apostles could say, that Christ had so wrought by him, To make the Gentiles obedient, not only in word or profession, but in deed too, that from Jerusalem, even round about unto Illyricum, he had fully preached the gospel of Christ|l, or as the word imports, had accomplished the purposes of it. And there is a great deal of reason, both from the nature of the thing, and from the testimony of ancient history**, to believe, that others of the apostles had considerable success elsewhere : So that Paul migbt with reason apply to them and their doctrine, what is originally spoken of the luminaries of heaven and the instruction they communicate, Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world++.
So great was the number of those, who were proselyted to christianity by the preaching of the apostles: And we have all imaginable reason to believe, that there were none of all these proselytes, but what were fully persuaded of the truth of the testimony they bore ; for otherwise, no imaginable reason can be given for their entering themselves into such a profession. The apostles had no secular terrors to affright them, no secular rewards to bribe themff, no dazzling eloquence to enchant them $$: On the contrary, all these were in a powerful manner pleading against the apostles: Yet their testimony was received, and their new converts were so thoroughly satisfied with the evidence which they gave them of their mission, that they encountered great persecutions, and cheerfully ventured estate, liberty and life itself, on the truth of the facts they asserted; as plainly appears from many passages in the epistles, which none can think the apostles would have ever written, if these first christians had not been in a persecuted condition||||.
# Col. iv. 16. + Rev. ii. and iii. I Tit. i. 5. § 1 Pet.i. 1. Rom. xv. 18, 19. Η σεπλερωκεναι.
** Euseb. Histor. Eccles. Lib. iii.cap. 1. ++ Compare Rom. x, 18. and Psal. xix. 4.
11 As for the distribution of goods in Judea, it is plain it was peculiar to that time and country; and the extraordinary persecution, which from the very infancy of christianity prevailed there, was more than an equivalent for any advantage, which the poorest of the people could gain by it. I did not therefore think it necessary to Inention it.
If I Cor. i. 17. ii. 1, 4, 13. 2 Cor. x, 10. xi. 6. | || Rom. viii. 36. 1 Cor. iv. 11-13. xv. 29-32. 2 Cor. i. 8, 9. iv. 8--11. vi. 4, 5, 9. xi. 23—27. Gal. vi. 17. Phil. i. 28-30. 1 Thess. i. 6. ii. 14, 15. 2 Thess. i. 4—7. 2 Tim. i. 8. ii. 3, 2, 12, 13. ii. 11, 12. Heb. x. 32-34. James ii. 6. v. 10, 11. 1 Pet. ii. 19, 20, üi. 14-17. iv. 1, 12-16. Rev, ü. 10, 13.
Nor will it signify any thing to object, that most of these converts were persons of a low rank, and ordinary education, who therefore might be more easily imposed upon than others : For, not to mention Sergius Paulus, Dionysius the Areopagite, or the domestics of Cæsar's household, with others of superior stations in life, it is sufficient to remind you, that, as I have largely shewn, the apostles did not put their cause on the issue of laboured arguments, in which the populace might quickly have been entangled and lost, but on such plain facts, as they might judge of as easily and surely, as any others ; indeed on what they themselves saw, and in part too, what they felt.
Now I apprehend, this might be sufficient to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion. You have seen that as there is no reason to believe, that the apostles, who certainly knew the truth, would have attempted a fraud of this kind ;- so if they had attempted it, they could not possibly have succeeded; -nevertheless they did succeed in a very remarkable manner;wherefore it plainly follows, that what they testified was true.
And now then, after this, the reasonableness of receiving the gospel, on admitting the truth of what they testified concerning Christ, is an easy consequence.—Yet some things are to be offered under this head, which are of great weight, and would not so conveniently have fallen under any of the former: And some considerable additional evidence to the truth of christianity arises, from what has happened in the world, since its first propagation. And therefore I chuse rather to make a distinct discourse on these, with the improvement of the whole, than to throw together the hints of them, in so hasty a manner as I must do, should I attempt to dispatch the subject in this discourse, the just limits of which I have already transgressed, lest the great chain of the argument should be broken.
POWER AND GRACE OF CHRIST.
Additional Evidences of Christianity, and Reflections on the
2 Pet. i. 16. We have not followed cunningly devised Fables.As I had before proved the books of the New Testament to be genuine, I proceeded in my last discourse, to argue from thence the certain truth of the christian revelation ; and we have made some considerable progress in the argument.
The matter in short stands thus. The authors of the New Testament certainly knew, whether the facts they asserted were true, or false ; so that they could not themselves be deceived: Neither can we think they would attempt to deceive others, since they appear by their manner of writing, to have been persons of great integrity and goodness ;
-and it is likewise evident, they could have no temptation to attempt a fraud of this nature : However, if they had attempted it, we cannot imagine they could have gained credit in the world, if the facts they asserted had not been true :-Nevertheless they did gain credit in a very remarkable manner; from whence it plainly follows, that these facts were true.—Now I am to shew farther, to complete the proof of our grand proposition, 6. “ That admitting the facts which they testified concerning
Christ to be true, then it was reasonable for their contemporaries, and is reasonable for us, to receive the gospel which they have transmitted to us as a divine revelation.”
The great thing they asserted was, that Jesus was the Christ, and that he was proved to be so,---by prophecies accomplished in him,--and by miracles wrought by him, and by others in his name. Let us attend to each of these, and I am per. suaded we shall find them no contemptible arguments; but must be forced to acknowledge, that the premises being established, the conclusion most casily and necessarily follows: And
this conclusion, that Jesus is the Christ, taken in all its extent, is an abstract of the gospel revelation, and therefore is sometimes put for the whole of it*.
The Apostles, especially when disputing with the Jews, did frequently argue from the prophecies of the Old Testament ;" in which, they say, many things were expressly foretold, which were most literally and exactly fulfilled in Jesus of Nazaretht. Now, greatly to the evidence, confirmation, and advantage of christianity, so it is, that these prophecies are to this day extant in their original language ; and this, in the hands of a people, most implacably averse to the gospel : So that, an attentive reader may still, in a great measure, satisfy himself, as to the validity of the argument drawn from them.
On searching these ancient and important records, we find, not only in the general, that God intended to raise up for his people an illustrious' deliverer, who amongst other glorious titles, is sometimes called the Messiah, or the anointed onet : But we are more particularly told, that this great event should happen, before the government ceased in the tribe of Judah$; while the second temple was standing|| ; and a little before its destruction, about 490 years after a command given to rebuild Jerusalem ; which was probably issued out in the seventh year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, or at least within a few years before, or after it. It is predicted, that he should be the seed of Abraham**, born of a virgin, of the house of Davidtt, in the town of Bethlehem [f; that he should be anointed with an extraordinary effusion of the divine Spirit$$, in virtue of which, he should not only be a perfect and illustrious example of universal holiness and goodness||||, but should also perform many extraordivary and beneficial miracles (1 ; nevertheless, that, for want of external pomp and splendour, he should be rejected and insulted by the Jews***, and at length be cut off and slain by themttt. It is added, that he should arise from the dead before his body should be corrupted in the gravefff; and should be received up to heaven, and there seated at the right hand of God g9$; from whence he should in a wonderful manner, pour out his Spirit on his followers|||||| ; in consequence of which, thougb the
* Acts viii. 37. ix. 22. xvii. 3. xviji. 5. 1 Jobp ii. 22. v. 1. + Acts ii. 25–31. . 18-25. vii. 37. viii. 35. X. 43. xiii. 23, 27, 32–37, 40, 41. xvii. 2, 3, xxvi. 22, 23, 27. xxviii. 23. I Dan. ix. 25, 26. Psal. ii. 2. § Gen. xlix. 10. || Hag. ii. 7, 9. Dan. ix. 25–27. ** Gen. xii. S. xviii. 18. xxii, 18. ++ Isa. vii. 14. xi. 1. Jer. xxiii. 5, 6. #1 Mic. v. 2. 15 Isa. xliii. 1. Ixi. 1. III Isa. xlii. 1, 4. liii 9. Psal. xlv. 7. 19 Isa. xxxv. 5, 6. *** Isa. liii. 2-4. ttt Isa. liii. 7-9. Dan ix. 26. *** Psal. xvi. 9, 10. Isa. xxvi. 19. liii. 10-12. $$$ Psal. xvi. 11. cx. 1. 1. Ill Joel ij. 28, 29.