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harmonies of the evangelists, if their authors had not framed them on very different general hypotheses. Two of these appear to me to be particularly ill founded, and yet they have prevailed so much, that I think it worth while briefly to animadvert upon them.
Osiander, * among the more ancient harmonists, and Dr. Macknight, t among the modern, go upon the supposition that all the evangelists relate every thing in chronological order, so that little or nothing is to be transposed in any of them; and to obviate the many difficulties that must occur to every person who considers this scheme of a harmony, (as, from the same principle, they are obliged to maintain the exact truth of every minute circumstance in all the accounts,) they suppose that all incidents agreeing in ever so many circumstances, but differing in any one particular, were really distinct, and must be referred to a different time: and from this source they multiply many discourses and miracles, which others have thought to be the same ; alleging, and justly enough, the probability of our Saviour having repeated the same discourses or miracles, but not considering the natural improbability of a great number of the same external foreign circumstances accompanying such discourses or miracles.
Such harmonists make no difficulty of multiplying such incidents as those of our Saviour's clearing the temple of buyers and sellers, as often as they have occasion for it, (and yet as none of the evangelists give the least hint of his having done this more than once, I do vot think that we have sufficient authority for supposing that even this event happened twice,) but it appears to me that, by the same rule, we might make more than one baptism of Jesus, more than one institution of the Lord's supper, more than one crucifixion, and more than one resurrection.
The foundation of this hypothesis is such a notion of the inspiration of the Gospels, and other books of Scripture, as appears to me to be equally indefensible and unnecessary; and I cannot help thinking that the endeavours of the friends of revelation to demonstrate the perfect harmony of the historical books of Scripture, and to remove every minute contradiction in them, (so as to exclude from the writers every difference of opinion, and every different conception concerning any fact, or the smallest circumstance relating to a fact,) have not only been unsuccessful, and have thereby given the enemies of revelation a manifest advantage; but that, even if they could have succeeded to their wish, the result would, in reality, have been unfavourable to the proper defence of revelation, with those who duly consider the nature of historical evidence.
* Andrew Osiander, a native of Bavaria, who published in 1545, “ Harmonia Evangelica cum Annot. Libello." This work was republished,' “ Gr. Lat. cum Elencho," in 1561. Osiander died in 1552, aged 54.
+ James Macknight, minister of Maybole, N. B., published in 1756 the “ Harmony of the Four Gospels, in which the natural Order of each is preserved;
with a Paraplırase and Notes." This work was reprinted in 1763 and 1804. There was a Latin translation at Bremen in 1772. The author died in 1800, aged 79.
When a number of persons agree in their account of the principal circumstances of any transaction, of which they pretend to have been equally witnesses, it is a strong presumption that they do not impose upon us ; because the capital circumstances of things are well known to engage the attention of all beholders alike. But if they agree in their account of every minute circumstance, it rather affords a suspicion that they have had some communication with one another, and have agreed together to tell the same story, in the very same manner; that, therefore, the number of proper independent witnesses is not so great, and consequently that the account is not so much to be depended upon. Because little circumstances are not apt to engage the attention of all beholders alike, and therefore we find, in fact, that whenever eye-witnesses attend to minute particulars, they always do vary in their accounts.
No two persons ever gave exactly the same account of any considerable transaction, though they had the same opportunity of being well informed concerning it. On this account, differences in the narration of lesser circumstances seem to be as necessary to complete and satisfactory evidence, as an agreement with respect to what is capital and essential to any story. Nay, in many cases, the more persons differ in their accounts of some things, the more conclusive and satisfactory is their evidence with respect to those things in which they agree.
It appears to me that the history of the evangelists has this complete evidence. They agree in their account of every circumstance of importance, which shews that their histories were written by men who were either themselves witnesses of the transactions they record, or were well informed concerning them by those who were witnesses ; and yet their style and manner of writing, their more full or more concise account of discourses, together with their very different arrangement of the parts of their narrative, and their disagreement with respect to facts of small consequence, demonstrate, in my opinion, that (excepting John, who is well kuown to have written some tiine after the rest of the evangelists) they had no communication with one another, and therefore that they are to be considered as original and independent witnesses of the same facts.
It will, I doubt not, appear in the course of my own observations, that transactions unquestionably the same, are related with circumstances that are absolutely incompatible; so that I will venture to say that, in spite of all the ingenuity in the world, their perfect consistency, and consequently this high notion of the inspiration of the writers, is indefensible. This hypothesis, therefore, not being supported by fact, must necessarily be given up. The very determination to defend a notion loaded with such difficulties as these, discovers such a disposition to defend an hypothesis at all events, as must prejudice the minds of unbelievers against a history so absurdly contended for.
Besides, this bigh notion of inspiration is as unnecessary, with respect to the proper use of the Gospel history, as it is indefensible in itself. All the great ends of the Gospel will be sufficiently answered, if provision be made for the credibility of the principal facts, such as the reality of the moral discourses, and especially of the miracles, death, and resurrection of Christ, as a proof of his divine mission, and a confirmation of our faith in the assurances he has given us with respect to a general resurrection, and his second coming to judge the world, and to reward all men according to their works. And it is certainly sufficient to produce this belief, that a competent number of persons, having sufficient opportunity of observing and distinguishing the facts, attest the truth of them, and that the subsequent history should shew that the publication of these facts produced such an effect upon the minds and conduct of those to whom they were properly proposed, as might be expected from the consideration of their characters and circumstances. But the credibility of such leading facts as those above-mentioned will not be affected by any difference that may be observed in the Gospel historians, with respect to lesser circumstances attending them.
Now, it seems to have been the plan of Divine Provi. dence, never to provide miracles w bere natural causes were sufficient to procure the desired effect. And certainly twelve persons expressly chosen to attend our Lord, during the whole of his public ministry, in order to be witnesses of his life, discourses, death, and resurrection, besides the in. numerable multitudes that must necessarily have been witnesses to many of them, without any express appointment, were naturally sufficient to ensure the credibility of all the great events above-mentioned. No other history is attended with any evidence that can be compared with that of the Gospel; and, admitting the Gospel history, on account of its greater importance, to require a stronger evidence, still nothing can be necessary but a stronger evidence of the same kind, or human testimony more abundant and more favourably circumstanced.
Ådmitting that, if the whole credibility of the Gospel history, as we receive it, rested on divine, independent of human testimony, something might be gained, it is evident that we now receive the Gospel history on the faith of human testimony only. For the early transcribers of the Gospels were no more inspired than our printers; and in the course of time that has elapsed from the first promul. gation of Christianity to the present age, copies of the Gospel have been so often transmitted from one to another, that a succession of human authorities so great as to exceed all computation, must have intervened, since the first writing of the Gospels to their coming into our hands. Since, therefore, Divine Providence has thought proper to entrust this valuable deposit in human hands, for so many centuries, how can it be thought inconsistent with the same plan, to convey it to us in a similar manner from the very beginning ; the apostles being naturally as capable of relating and writing an account of what they heard and saw, as other persons could be to copy the account after them ?
I own I can see no meaning or consistency in the appointment of witnesses to accompany our Lord, in order to transmit to posterity an authentic and credible account of his life, doctrine, and miracles, if, after all, it was the intention of the Divine Being to supersede this testimony, by books bearing sufficient marks of supernatural inspirution. In reality, one single book, the divine inspiration of which was fully proved, would render all other evidence superfluous.
It is objected to these arguments, that if we once suppose that the evangelists may not be absolutely depended upon, with respect to any particulars in their history, they cannot be depended upon at all. But if there was any real foundation for this objection, we should give up all faith in history. For there is no period in any history, written by different persons, but several events have been differently
represented ; and yet it is not fact that our faith in history is shaken by this circumstance.
To use an example : some contemporary historians say, that, in the battle of Marston Moor, (1644,] prince Rupert commanded in the right wing, while others place bim in the left; and they give a different account of several incidents in that engagement, depending upon that position. But though, on this account, it should not be in our power to determine in which of the wings it was that this general fought, does it therefore follow that there was no battle on Marston Moor, that the king's forces were not defeated in that battle, or even that the prince did not command in it? This will not be pretended.
In like manner, though it should be found that, according to one evangelist, Christ purged the temple on the day of his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, whereas, according to another of them, this was not done till the day after, will it therefore follow that we have no reason to believe that he did purge the temple at all? Or, because all the evangelists express the inscription which Pilate put upon the cross of Christ in different words, must we conclude that there was no inscription upon it, or that Christ was not crucified at all ? And because the evangelists seem to have had different ideas of the manner in which the resurrection of our Lord was announced to the apostles, and especially concerning the vision of angels on that occasion, will it follow that they were so far incompetent witnesses, that we have no reason to believe that there was a resurrection ?
I appeal to any person's feelings, whether even the fullest conviction of such variations as these would tend to produce any incredulity with respect to facts of any consequence, in which all the accounts agree. The most perfect faith in all great events will admit of very great latitude with respect to smaller ones; so that there is no occasion to fix any boundary where certain persuasion terminates, and where uncertainty begins. In this respect the Gospel history exactly resembles all other credible histories; and indeed, being equally addressed to the feelings of human beings, there can be no reason why there should be any difference between them in this respect.
It is alleged, that there was a particular express promise made by our Lord to his apostles, that the Spirit of truth should lead them into all truth, and bring all things to their remembrance, whaisoever he said unto them. (John xiv. 26.) But both the reason of the thing, and the fact itself, may