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Israel," Matt. xv. 30, 31. "The multitude marvelled, saying, it was never so seen in Israel: but the pharisees said, he casteth out the devils through the prince of the devils," Matt. ix. 33, 34. Some were offended at the meanness of his parentage and education. "Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? and his sisters, are they not all with us? whence then hath this man all these things? and they were offended at him," Matt. xiii. 54-57. "The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven: and they said, is not this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven," John vi. 41, 42. Again: "And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: (viz. at Jerusasalem) for some said he is a good man; others said, nay, but he deceiveth the people. Howbeit, no man spake openly of him (i. e. in favour of him) for fear of the Jews. Now about the midst. of the feast, Jesus went up into the temple and taught: and the Jews marvelled, saying, how knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" John vii. 12-15. "And many of the people believed on him, and said, when Christ cometh will he do more miracles than this man hath done?" ver. 31. 66 Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, of a truth, this is the prophet: others said, this is the Christ: but some said, shall Christ come out of Galilee?" ver. 40, 41.
The ninth chapter of St. John's gospel is an account of the miracle wrought upon a blind man whom he restored to sight; the scruples of divers of the people; the inquisitiveness of the pharisees about it; the shyness of the parents of the blind man to answer all their questions; the reflections of the pharisees, the reply of the blind man are altogether so natural, that the story can be nothing else but a bare representation of a real matter of fact: the chapter cannot be abridged, but may be read at your leisure, with the view for which I refer to it with great satisfaction. "There was a division, [or argument,] among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, he hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said, these are not the words of one that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?" John x. 19-21. And, at some times, great numbers of people were so moved by the sight of his miracles, and the new and surprising nature of his discourses, that they entertained a very strong persuasion he must be the deliverer they expected, and therefore invited him to take the authority and state of a king, and undertake to deliver them from the Roman government, particularly after he had fed five thousand with five loaves and a few small fishes, "When they had seen the miracle which Jesus had done, said, this is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world." So that perceiving "they would come and take him by force, to make him a king," he was obliged to depart "into a mountain alone," John vi. 14, 15. to frustrate this their design, so contrary to all his intentions. At another time, great numbers are said to have conducted him in triumph into Jerusalem: "And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way, others cut down branches from the trees and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest," Matt. xxi. 8, 9. Nevertheless, as the multitude are variable in their affections, and as the Jewish people were in great subjection to the pharisees, and their rulers the inveterate enemies of our Saviour, and being, it is likely, tired out with his delays to take upon him temporal authority, and make some change in the government, as they expected he should, they at last cried out, Crucify him! crucify him!' Matt. xxvii. 20. desired the life of Barabbas, and that Jesus should be destroyed. But though the common people were divided in their opinion concerning him, and varied at times in their affection for him, the pharisees are represented as steadily opposing him with the greatest malice from the first to the last. He had with great freedom corrected their misrepresentations of the law; censured their additions to it, which were such as to subvert and make void the main branches of it; rebuked them for their pride and ambition, and hypocrisy. It is very likely therefore they should be implacable to him, as they are represented, and seek all opportunities to defame and destroy him. When some of their officers, whom they had sent out to apprehend him, returned without executing their orders, and expressed some approbation of his discourses, they answered, saying, "Are ye also deceived? Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him? But this people, who know not the law, are cursed," John vii. 47, 48.. And they were continually making those exceptions against him, which might have a tendency
to make him odious to the people.
"Then came to Jesus, scribes and Pharisees, which were at Jerusalem, saying, why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread," Matt. xv. 1, 2. They reflected upon him for his free conversation, in that he eat with publicans and sinners. Matt. ix. 11. They objected against him, that his disciples did not fast, and practise other austerities in much esteem at that time. Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast: but thy disciples fast not?" Mark ii. 18. It was a very great objection against him, with which they endeavoured to scandalise him, that he wrought cures upon infirm people even on the sabbath day, and because his disciples, as they went through the corn fields, plucked some ears of corn on the sabbath day. Mark ii. 23. They charged him with blasphemy, and assuming to himself the prerogatives of God himself, in that healing an infirm person, he says unto him, " thy sins are forgiven thee," ver. 5. At another time they affixed this odious charge upon him for styling God his father, thereby making himself as they inferred, equal with God. John v. 18.
The representation of the apprehensions of the disciples concerning our Saviour are extremely natural: from the words they had heard him speak; from the manner in which he taught; from the many wonderful works they had seen him perform; thence they entertained a strong persuasion he must be the Messias: and when he inquired what thoughts they had of him, they readily replied that he was Jesus the Son of the living God. But when he spoke to them of his sufferings, that the Son of man should be delivered into the hands of men, and they should kill him, and after that he was killed, he should rise again the third day; they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him. Mark ix. 31, 32. And in divers other places. They were possessed with the common prejudices of their countrymen, and were in continual expectation of seeing him in the highest splendour and power. This was the thing that was twice the foundation of the hopes they had of authority and power themselves as his favourites, since they were his intimate acquaintance and constant companions. This was the reason of their abandoning him at the last, under his disgrace and sufferings; and by this we may account for Peter's denial of his master, when he saw him submit to trouble he had no expectation of. This was likewise the reason of the great difficulty there was of convincing them it was really he, when he came among them after his resurrection. I might refer to the moving scene that passed between our Saviour and his disciples the night before his being apprehended. The sorrow they all manifested upon the declaration he made of the near approach of his death; the consolations he suggested to them; the prayer he put up for them; the professions they made of affection for him; the warnings he gave them; the promises they made of fidelity to him, and that they would rather die with him than deny him are all such as none can read, I should think, but must be persuaded it is no other than a faithful narrative of a real transaction. The Geclaration likewise that Peter made, though all should be offended he would not, Mark xiv. 29. was agreeable to the forwardness and zeal he had shewn upon divers other occasions. And are not the scoffs of the people, and the triumphs of the Pharisees, said to be delivered by them against our Saviour when hanging upon the cross, just such as might be expected upon the occasion from the cruel insolence of one and the malicious satisfaction of the other? "And they that passed by, reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself: if thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, he saved others, himself he cannot save: if he be the king of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God: let him deliver him now if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God," Matt. xxvii. 39-42. And though I pass over many particulars, I must not omit to refer you to his compassionate lamentation of the miseries of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation, when the prediction of their destruction by him is related, which could proceed from no other but one who was really the person the evangelists have represented our Saviour to be. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not," Matt. xxiii. 37. "And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, if thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes," Luke xix. 41, 42.
If we proceed to the history of the acts of the apostles, we shall find still the same just ant
natural representation of things. The charge said to be made against Stephen by the leading men of the Jewish nation, was the most popular that could be imagined, and most likely to reconcile the people to his destruction, which they aimed at. "And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him before the council, and set up false witnesses against him, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this place and the law," Acts vi. 12, 13.
The reception Barnabas and Paul met with at Lystra is as agreeable to the sentiments of superstitious heathens, surprised at first into such a high veneration for them, upon account of a miracle they had seen them work, that they were ready to pay them such honours as they gave their deities, and were as soon enraged against them when they disdained their idolatrous honours and denied their gods. "When the people saw what Paul had done (He had cured a man impotent in his feet, who had been a cripple from his mother's womb) they lift up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men," Acts xiv. 11. But when there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, they stoned Paul, and drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead," ver. 19. And the uproar at Ephesus, upon the progress Paul had made, in drawing off some persons from the received superstition, was no other than might be expected in a city where the livelihood of a vast number of persons depended upon the sale of images and shrines of the goddess Diana, Acts xix. This just and natural representation of things is an argument of the truth and credibility of any history; when the reflections, objections, and whole behaviour of persons of the better and meaner sort are all conformable to their several characters, the opinions and sentiments that obtain among them, and the circumstances they are supposed to be in.
6. The impartiality of the history of the New Testament is another argument of its truth, and makes the whole appear credible. This is a rare and uncommon character, and I think is not more conspicuous in any history than in this. I would give you some few instances of it under these three heads.
1. Many things are here mentioned, that were in appearance, and in the eye of the world, disadvantageous to our Saviour.
2. The writers have not omitted those things that were really disadvantageous to themselves, and their companions, some of them in the eye of the world, and others really so; their own faults and miscarriages.
3. There are many disorders and miscarriages mentioned among the first converts to Christianity.
As to the first head, things that were to outward appearance, and in the eye of the world, disadvantageous to our Saviour, are, the low circumstances of his parents; the mean accommodations of his birth; that when he appeared publicly to the world, his townsmen and near relations despised and rejected him; that among his followers, there were few who were considerable for their knowledge of the law, for wealth or dignity; that the rulers, the scribes, and Pharisees, disowned his pretensions, and opposed him continually; that some, who for a time followed him, afterwards went off from him, and deserted him; that he was betrayed into the hands of the high priest and rulers, by one of those who had been chosen out for his constant companions, and had had an intimacy with him; that he was crucified in the most ignominious manner with two malefactors. Had it been a story invented, these particulars had never been part of it. Had it been a contrivance, they would never have thought of recommending to the generality of the Jews, a person, whom their rulers, and that sect which had the highest veneration among them, condemned and rejected; nor to the Gentiles, a person disowned and crucified by his own nation. Had the whole been a fiction, a crucifixion had certainly never been a part of the story. Had not they heard of the translation of Enoch? Was not the assumption of Elijah, who was carried up to heaven in a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, 2 Kings ii. 11, a model they might easily have followed and improved? Would not this have been much more glorious than a crucifixion, though afterwards succeeded by an ascension? Was it possible this fact should have been overlooked by any one person; much less by a college, or number of persons, who had attempted an agreeable story to be recommended to mankind? Certainly their view could be no other than the relating of real matter of fact.
Another proof of their impartiality is, what they have mentioned really, or to appearance,
disadvantageous in their own character and conduct, and that of the other chief followers of Christ. They have inserted in this account the mean original and occupation of several of themselves; that they were but fishermen; and the infamous employment of Matthew, who was a publican. Many of their own faults and failings are mentioned in such a manner, that one would not imagine they had concealed any of the aggravating circumstances of them: nor do they seem to have softened the harshness of the reprimands their master gave them: and many of them are such as they might have kept a secret among themselves. Some of them were originally known only to Christ and the twelve, and divers of them, but two or three of the number could be privy to. This account represents the twelve infected with ambitious views of honour in a temporal kingdom; they had a contention which of them should be the greatest: it was a dispute they had one with another as they were travelling without other company. The importunate ambition of the two sons of Zebedee, and their mother, for the first and second post in the Messiah's kingdom. Their fears and diffidence when they were in a storm, though Christ was with them. How severe a rebuke have they given us an account of, which they received from Christ, when they had understood him to speak concerning temporal provisions, and he had been admonishing them concerning the leaven of the Pharisees? "Why reason ye, because ye have brought no bread? Perceive ye not yet, neither understand? Have ye your heart hardened? Having eyes, see ye not? And having ears, hear ye not? And do ye not remember?" Mark viii. 17, 18. And what a contemptible figure did they make, whom Christ had left behind him when he went up into the mountain with Peter, James, and John? for when he came down again, he found a great multitude about them, the scribes and Pharisees questioning with them, and a man hasting to him, bringing his son to him with a dumb spirit, telling him, "I spake to thy disciples, that they should cast him out, but they could not;" Mark ix. 15-18, upon which they received that just reprimand of their unbelief even before the multitude; "Then Jesus answered, saying, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to me," Matt. xvii. 17. And what could be more shameful than their forsaking Christ, and leaving him when he was apprehended by the officers of the high priest? except only the denial of Peter, repeated again and again, with circumstances unbecoming a man of honour, a worshipper of the true God, and much more a companion and disciple of Christ. Indeed, if the honour of any of them were to be consulted, it was Peter's: yet we find he is not spared at all, any more than the rest. He was one of them whom Christ called to be with him at the first: had made the most express declaration of his character; had been the first instrument of opening the gospel after our Saviour's resurrection, both to Jews and Gentiles; and yet we have as many shameful miscarriages mentioned concerning him, as concerning any of the rest. When "Jesus began to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders, and chief priests, and scribes, and be killed and be raised again the third day;" Matt. xvi. 21, then Peter took upon him to rebuke his Master, as if what he had said proceeded from melancholy fears that arose in his mind, and not from a certain knowledge of what was to befal him, saying, "Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee:" ver. 22. upon which he received the severest reprimand recorded, as given to any of the twelve: "But Jesus turned and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan, thou art an offence unto me; for thou savourest not the things which be of God, but those that be of men," ver. 23. He was doubtless engaged with the rest in the contention for precedency: he was guilty of diffidence when Christ called to him to come to him upon the water: he was drowsy and overcome with sleep when he was with Christ in the garden, when he was in an agony that might have filled those present with him with the highest concern, and tenderest compassion for him: he disowned Christ in a most hardy and peremptory manner, when his master was in his view, under an unrighteous persecution, immediately after the warmest and most confident professions of zeal and affection: and we have notice taken of a dissimulation he was afterwards guilty of, in favour of the Christians that were of the uncircumcision, to the prejudice of the simplicity of the gospel, Gal. ii. 11, 12. I might observe the contention between Paul and Barnabas, which is recorded in the Acts: so that though for a long time they had been companions in preaching the gospel, they separated, and went asunder for the future. But enough has been said.
Lastly. The impartiality of the history appears in the accounts that are given of the first converts to Christianity after our Saviour's ascension. If we should read the history of any
particular reign, filled with high encomiums of the posture of affairs, and find it represented as a time wherein the arts of peace and war flourish; in which all arts and sciences are promoted and encouraged by a wise and prudent administration: the government just and mild; the people tractable and obedient; no impediment in the counsels, nor miscarriages in the execution; the negotiations abroad, as well as counsels at home, managed with the utmost sagacity; armies ever victorious; no interruption of commerce, nor disasters in war: no wonder if posterity judge such a performance a panegyric, a romance, or any thing rather than a history: or, if the accounts given of the state of Christianity in its infancy had resembled the pictures which have been since drawn by some modern representations of the manners of the first converts: that they were universally eminent prodigies of virtue and piety, scarce any tokens of human frailty, with now and then a rapturous exclamation on the unanimity and harmony of sentiments and affections that prevailed among them: one might very well have suspected matters of fact must have been falsified and misrepresented, that it was a story very much improved, if not altogether invented. But this is not the case. In this, as well as in every other part of this history, there appears a perfect impartiality. It is indeed related to the honour of the converts to Christianity at Jerusalem, that" the multitude of them that believed, were of one heart, and of one soul; neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common: neither was there any among them that lacked; for as many as were possessors of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need," Acts iv. 32-35. And we may easily believe there were such an harmony among them at first, when the same author has acquainted us, that in a short time afterwards, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, "there arose a murmuring of the Grecians," or Hellenists, "against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration," Acts vi. 1. Nor can we have any reason to discredit the fore-mentioned account of the generosity of them who were possessed of houses and lands, that they put the price of them into a common stock for the relief of those that wanted. I say, we have no reason to doubt that this generosity was general, when the same author has been so particular, as to record the dissimulation of two of the number, of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts v. 1. who endeavoured to put a cheat upon the apostles, and kept back a part of the price of their lands when they pretended to make a contribution of the whole value. The preposterous fondness of the Hebrew converts for the rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic law is likewise recorded; and the disturbance they gave the gentile converts on that account.
In the epistles of the apostles that have been handed down to us, are preserved memorials of many particulars not very honourable to the first converts to Christianity. The readiness of the churches of Galatia to depart from the purity and simplicity of the gospel. The scandalous disorders of the church of Corinth in some solemn parts of their worship; the contentions among them in behalf of their teachers; their preposterous use of the gift of tongues proceeding from vanity and ostentation; the unaccountable conceits of others, who depended upon an empty faith without works, and a speculative knowledge without a suitable practice, referred to in the epistles of St. James and St. John. Upon the whole, it seems most evident from the facts related in this history of what seems disadvantageous to Christ himself, what was so to the writers themselves, and the first Christians, that those persons from whom we have received these accounts, had a very particular regard to truth, and preferred its interest before all selfish considerations.
7. The remarkable plainness and simplicity of the narration is another argument, and internal character of the credibility of the history. Matters of fact, all related without any remarks of the writers. There is, as one observes, No preparation of events; there are no artful tran'sitions or connections; no set character of persons to be introduced; no reflections on past 'actions, nor the authors of them; no excuses or apologies for such things as a writer might 'probably foresee would shock and disturb his readers; no coloured artifices or arguments to set off a doubtful action, and reconcile it to some other, or the character of the person that did it.' Thus far this author. How simple and plain, how free from all pomp and ostentation is the
a Gastrel's Certainty of the Christian Revelation, p. 52.