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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 effecit.
(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 infamousf, his birth and education means, and his life indigent|| ; that he was most disdainfully rejected by the rulers, and accused of sabbath-breaking**, blasphemytt, and seditionit ; that he was reviled by the populace, as a debauchee$$, a lunatic Ill, and a dæmoniac ; and at last, by the united rage of both rulers and people, was publicly executed as the vilest of malefactors, with all imaginable circumstances of ignominy, scorn, and abhorrence***: Nor do they scruple to own, that terror and distress of spirit into which he was thrown by his sufferingsttt, though this was a circumstance at which some of the heathens took the greatest offence, as utterly unworthy so excellent and divine a person.—As to themselves, the apostles readily confess, not only the meanness of their original employments111, and the scandals of their former life$$$; 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|||II, their unbelief 191, their cowardice****, their ambitiontttt, their 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,
• 1 Cor. ii. 1, 2. υπεροχην λογο.
+ 1 Cor. i. 17. 1 John i. 45, 46. vii. 52. $ Luke ii. 447. Mat. xiii. 55. Mark vi. 3. || Mat. viii. 20. Luke viii. 3. John vii. 48. 1 Cor. ii. 8. ** John v. 16. ix. 16. ++ Mat. ix. 3. xxvi. 65. John X. 31-36. #1 Luke xxiii. 2. John xix. 12. $$ Mat. xi. 19. Luke vii, 34. Ul John X. 20. 1 John vii. 20. viji. 48.
••• Mat. xxvii. 32–44. f7+ Mat, xxvi. 38. Luke xxii. 44. Mat. xxvii. 46.
*** Mat. iv. 18-21. Luke v. 10. $$$ Mat. ix, 9. X. 3. Luke v. 8. Acts xxii. 4, 5. xxvi. 11. 1 Tim. i. 13, 15. || || || Mark ix. 32. Luke ix. 45. xviii. 34. Mat. Xvi. 22, 23. TII Mat. viii, 26. xvii. 20. Mark xvi. 14. Luke xxiv, 25. John XX. 24-27. **** Mat. xxvi. 56, 69–74. Gal. ii, 11-14. tttt Mat, IX. 20—34. Mark x. 35–44. Luke ix. 46. xxii. 24, 26.
(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 of virtue and piety in the world ; and what of it is to be found in these degenerate days, seems principally owing to these incomparable and truly divine writings.
* 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.
Where then there are such genuine marks of an excellent character, not only in laboured discourses, but in epistolary writings, and those sometimes addressed to particular and intimate friends, to whom the mind naturally opens itself with the greatest freedom, surely no candid and equitable judge would lightly believe them to be all counterfeit? or would imagine, without strong proof, that persons who breathe such exalted sentiments of virtue and piety, should be guilty of any notorious wickedness : And in proportion to the degree of enormity and aggravation attending such a supposed crime, it may justly be expected, that the evidence of their having really committed it, should be unanswerably strong and convincing.
Now it is most certain, on the principles laid down above, that if the testimony of the apostles was false, they must bave acted as detestable and villainous a part, as one can easily conceive. To be found, as the apostle with his usual energy expresses it, False witnesses of God*, in any single instance, and solemnly to declare him miraculously to have done, what we know in our own consciences was never done at all, would be. an audacious degree of impiety, to which none but the most abandoned of mankind could arrive. Yet, if the testimony of the apostles was false, as we have proved they could not be themselves mistaken in it, this must have been their conduct, and that, not in one single instance only, but in a thousand. Their life must, in effect, be one continued and perpetual scene of perjury ; and all the most solemn actions of it, in which they were speaking to God, or speaking of him as the God and Father of Christ, from whom they received their mission and powers, must be a most profane and daring insult on all the acknowledged perfections of his nature.
And the inhumanity of such a conduct would, on the whole, have been equal to its impiety : For it was deceiving men in their most important interests, and persuading them to venture their whole future happiness on the power and fidelity of one, whom on this supposition, they knew to have been an impostor, and justly to have suffered a capital punishment for his crimes.
It would have been great guilt, to have given the hearts and devotions of men so wrong a turn, even though they had found magistrates ready to espouse and establish, yea, and to enforce
* 1 Cor. xv. 15.
the religion they taught. But to labour to propagate it in the midst of the most vigorous and severe opposition from them, must equally inhance the guilt and folly of the undertaking : For by this means they made themselves accessary to the ruin of thousands; and all the calamities, which fell on such proselytes, or even on their remotest descendants, for the sake of christianity, would be in a great measure chargeable on these first preachers of it. The blood of honest, yea, and (supposing them as you must, to have been involuntarily deceived), of pious, worthy, and heroic persons, who might otherwise have been the greatest blessings to the public, would, in effect, be crying for vengeance against them; and the distresses of the widows and orphans, which those martyrs might leave behind them, would join to swell the account.
So that on the whole, the guilt of those malefactors, who are from time to time the victims of public justice, even for robbery, murder, or treason, is small, when compared with that which we have now been supposing : And corrupt as human nature is, it appears to me utterly improbable, that twelve men should be found, I will not say, in one little nation, but even on the whole face of the earth, who could be capable of entering into so blatk a confederacy, on any terms whatsoever.
And now, in this view of the case make a serious pause, and compare with it, what we have just been saying of the character of the apostles of Jesus, so far as an indifferent person could conjecture it from their writings; and then say, whether you can in your hearts believe them to have been these abandoned wretches, at once the reproach and astonishment of mankind ? You cannot surely believe such things of any ; and much less of them, unless it shall appear, they were in some peculiar cir. cumstances of strong temptation; and what those circumstances could be, it is difficult even for imagination to conceive.
But history is so far from suggesting any unthought-of fact to help our imagination on this head, that it bears strongly the contrary way; and hardly any part of my work is easier, than to shew, 3. “ That they were under no temptation to forge a story of
this kind, or to publish it to the world, knowing it to be false."
They could reasonably expect no gain, no reputation by it: But on the contrary, supposing it an imposture, they must, with the most ordinary share of prudence, have foreseen infamy and ruin, as the certain consequences of attempting it.