« ElőzőTovább »
able. On one occasion ten thousand people, and on another eight thousand, are said to have been miraculously fed by him (see ỹ 60. and 66.); many of whom must have been still alive when *the gospels appeared. He was tried by the supreme council of the Jews, examined by the tetrarch of Galilee and his captains, condemned by the Roman governor, and put to death in the metropolis at the chief religious solemnity of the Jews, before all the people who had come up from the different quarters of the coune try to worship. If these and the like particulars found in the gospels had been fictitious, it is natural to think that the Jews, not only in their own country, but every where else, would have disclained the facts both in conversation and writing immediately upon the first appearance of the books which asserted them, when they could easily have confuted them, the persons of whom such falsehoods were told being many of them then alive ; and by so doing, might have suppressed the Christian religion at once, which most of them looked upon with abhorrence, as an impious schism diametrically opposite to the institutions of Moses. Yet it does not appear that any of them went this way to work, neither Jew nor Gentile in the earliest ages attempting to fix the stain of falsehood on the evangelists, or to disprove any of the facts contained in their histories. The truth is, the gospels were permitted to go abroad every where, without being called in question by any person; which could be owing to no cause whatsoever, but to the general belief which then prevailed, and to the particular persuasion of every individual capable of judging in such matters, that all the passages of the gospel-history exhibited things certain and indubitable.
$ 2. In the second place, the gospels are credible for this reason, that the principal facts contained in them are vouched, not only by all the Christian writers now remaining from the earliest ages down to the present time, but by the Jewish writers also, and even by the heathens themselves. For that Jesus Christ lived in Judea under the reign of the emperor Tiberius, both Tacitus, and Suetonius, and the younger Pliny, testify. That he gathered disciples, was put to death in an ignominious manner by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, and that after his death he was worshipped as a God, the same authors affirm. Nor does Porphyry himself, nor Julian the emperor, nor any other of the ancient enemies of Christianity, deny these things. On the contrary, they plainly acknowledge that miracles were done by Jesus and his apostles. And by ascribing them to the power of magic, or to the assistance of demons, which was the solution given by Christ's enemies in his own lifetime, they have left us no room to doubt of the sincerity of their acknowledgments. The writers likewise of the Talmudical books among the Jews acknowledge the principal transactions of Christ's life, for they durst not contradict, nor even pretend to doubt of facts so univèrsally known. But they ridiculously imputed them to his has ving the true writing of the name JEHOVAH in his possession, which they said he stole out of the temple. In short, as Grotius has well expressed it, there is no history in the world inore certain and indubitable than this, which is supported by the concurring testimony, not to say of so many men, but of so many different nations ; divided indeed among themselves in other particulars, but all agreeing in acknowledging the truth of the matters contained in the gospels.
63. In the third place, the gospels are credible, because the principal facts contained in them are confirmed by monuments of great fame subsisting in every Christian country at this very day. For instance, baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the rite by which from the beginning men have been initiated into the profession of Christianity, keeps up the remembrance of Christ's having taught those sublime truths concerning the Father Almighty, the eternal Son, and the Holy Spirit the Comforter, with which the world is now enlightened, as the gospels inform us.—The Lord's supper, celebrated frequently by all believers, prevents the memory of Christ's death from being lost in any age or country of the world.—The stated observation of the first day of the week, in honour of Christ's resurrection from the dead, hinders that grand event from falling into oblivion. And as these monuments perpetuate the memory, so they demonstrate the truth of the facts contained in the gospel-history. For if Jesus Christ neither lived, nor taught, nor wrought miracles, nor died, nor rose again from the dead, it is altogether incredible that so many men, in countries so widely distant, should have conspired together to perpetuate such a heap of falsehoods, by beginning the observation of those institutions of baptism, and the Lord's supper, and the Sabbath: incredible likewise, that, by continuing the observation of them, they should have imposed those falsehoods upon their posterity.—Nor is this all : the truth of the gospel history is demonstrated by a monument of greater fame still; I mean, the sudden conversion of a great part of the world from Judaism, and from the many different forms of heathenism to Christianity, effected in all countries, notwithstanding the sword of the magistrate, the craft of the priests, the passions of the people, and the pride of the philosophers, were closely combined to support their several national forms of worship, and to crush the Christian faith. Had this total overthrow of all the religions then subsisting been brought to pass by the force of arms, the influence of authority, or the refinements of policy, it had been less to be wondered at. Whereas, having been accomplished by the preaching of twelve illiterate fishermen, and their assistants, who were wholly destitute of the advantages of birth, learning, and
fortune, and who, by condemning the established religions of all countries, were every where looked upon as the most flagitious of men, and opposed accordingly with the utmost virulence by all, it is inconceivable how the world could be converted, if the facts recorded in the gospels were false. And what makes this monument of the truth of our Lord's history very remarkable, is, that the world was thus converted in an age justly celebrated for the height to which learning and the polite arts were carried by the Greeks and Romans, the renowned masters of the sciences. Nay, which is still more remarkable, almost the very first triumphs of the Christian religion were in the heart of Greece itself. For churches were sgon planted at Corinth, at Athens, at Berea, at Thessalonica, and at Philippi; as is evident from Paul's epistles directed to the churches in these cities. See on Mat. xxiv. 14. § 123. Even Rome itself, the seat of wealth and empire, was not able to resist the force of truth, many of its inhabitants embracing the Christian faith. Nor was it the lower sort of people only in those cities which first became Christians. Among the early converts, we find men of the highest rank and charac: ter; such as Sergius Paulus, proconsul of Cyprus, Erastus, treasurer of Corinth, Dionysius, a member of the senate of Areopagus, in Athens; nay, and the domestics of the emperor himself : all of them persons whose education qualified them to judge of an affair of this kind, and whose offices and stations rendered them conspicuous. In process of time, it was not a single person of figure in this city or that nation who obeyed the gospel ; but multitudes of the wise, the learned, the noble, and the migh-, iy, in every country, who being all fully convinced of the truth of the gospel, and impressed with the deepest sense of Christ's dignity, worshipped him as God; notwithstanding he had been punished with the ignominious death of a malefactor, and they themselves had been educated in the belief of other religions, to desert which they had not the smallest temptation from views of interest, but rather the contrary, inasmuch as by becoming Christians they denied themselves many sensual gratifications which their own religions indulged them in, lost the affections of their dearest friends who persisted in their ancient errors, and exposed themselves to all manner of sufferings in their persons, reputations, and fortunes. Add to this, that, although the conversion of the world was sudden, it was not on that account unstable, or of short continuance. For the Christian religion has remained to this day in full vigour during the course of almost eighteen hundred years, notwithstanding its enemies every where strenuously attacked it both with arguments and arms.-Upon the whole, monuments so remarkable still subsisting in the world, loudly proclaim the truth of the gospel-history, because their original cannot be accounted for on any supposition but this ;
that the reports contained in the gospel concerning the doctrine, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, after the strictest scrutiny which those who lived nearest to the time and place of action could make, were found to rest on proofs not to be gainsaid. And to entertain the least suspicion of the contrary, is to suppose that when the gospel was first preached, all mankind in every country had renounced the common principles of sense and reason, or, in other words, were absolutely mad.
§ 4. In the fourth place, the character of the evangelists, both as writers and men, renders their history credible in the highest degree. They were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word, that is, of the things which they preached and wrote of, relating scarce any thing but what they either saw, or heard, or performed themselves. Now, these being all matters obvious to sense, in judging of them, neither acuteness of genius nor depth of learning were necessary, but only a sound understanding, a faithful memory, and organs of sense rightly disposed. Wherefore, though the evangelists were vulgar and illiterate men, the subject of their gospels being for the most part matters falling under the cognisance of sense, and in many of which they were themselves actors, they could not possibly be mistaken in them.-And as they could not themselves be deceived in the things of which they wrote, so neither can it be imagined that they had any design to deceive the world. For it is well known that impostors always propose to themselves some reward or other of their fraud; riches it may be, or honours, or power. If so, those who think the evangelists impostors, ought to shew what advantages they promised to themselves by imposing upon the world such a story as their gospels. It is well known that these men set themselves in opposition to all the religions then in being, and required the express renunciation of them under the severest penalties; and by so doing, made all the world their enemies. Hence it came, that instead of amassing riches or wallowing in luxury, the first Christians, but especially the ring-leaders of the sect of the Nazarenes, as they were called, the apostles and evangelists, were every where oppressed with poverty, hunger, nakedness, wretchedness. Instead of high offices of trust and power, the bitterest persecutions awaited them in all places, and death itself in its most terrible forms. Nor did these things befal them beyond their own expectations, by reason of cross accidents thwarting well-laid schemes. They knew what was to happen ; their Master had foretold it to them, Matt. x. 16,—28. xxiv. 9. Luke xii. 11. John xvi. 1,—4. and they themselves expected no other things, Acts xx. 22-24. 1 Cor. iv. 9, &c. Now, can it be imagined, that, with the known loss of all that is dear in life, with the constant peril of death, and with the certain prospect of damnation, a number of men in their right wits should have propagated what they were sensible was a gross falsehood, and have persisted in the fraud even to death, sealing their testimony with their blood ? No: this is a pitch of folly which human nature is not capable of. And therefore we must acknowledge that the evangelists, and all the first witnesses of our Lord's miracles and doctrine, who by the Providence of God were generally thus brought to seal their testimony with their blood, were fully persuaded of the truth of what they published in their sermons and writings. It is not to the purpose to reply, that enthusiasts have suffered persecution, and even death, in support of false opinions. For although a person's dying for his opinions does not prove their truth, it certainly proves the martyr's persuasion of the truth of his opinions. Let this be granted in the case of the evangelists, and the controversy is at an end. For if they themselves really believed what they wrote, and could not possibly have any intention to deceive us, their gospels must doubtless be true; the things contained in them being generally matters obvious to sense, which enthusiasm could by no means discolour, and in judging of which, persons of the mearest capacities could not be deceived.
5. In the last place, the perfect agreement subsisting between the gospels rightly understood, and the modesty wherewith they are written, are circumstances which heighten their credibility not a little. The apparent inconsistencies observable in some of the narrations when compared together, prove undeniably that the evangelists were in no combination to make up their histories, and deceive the world. In many instances, these inconsistencies are of such a kind as would lead one to believe, that the subsequent historians did not compare the accounts of particular transactions which they were about to publish, with those that were already abroad in the world. Each evangelist represented the inatters which are the subject of his history, as his own memory under the direction of the Spirit suggested them to him, without considering how far they might be agreeable to the accounts which his brethren-historians had already given. same time, the easy and full reconciliation of these inconsistencies, which arises from a proper knowledge of the gospels, and of the manners and customs of antiquity, admirably discovers the sober spirit of truth by which those writers were guided in every part of their narrations. Moreover, the modesty wherewith the evangelists have written their histories is very remarkable; for none of them singiy has related all the transactions of our Lord's life. Neither do they all together relate the whole of them. So far, are they from giving a complete history, that it is but a few of the particulars which are preserved even among them all. And such things as they have thought fit to