« VorigeDoorgaan »
HAVING, in the Essays which are now brought to their nclusion, presented to the reader's attention an elementary sketch of the evidences which prove the truth of Christianity, and the divine origin of the Holy Scriptures; and having examined all the essential features (as I apprehend) of that system of divine love and wisdom, of which those Scriptures contain the record, I may now invite him to a brief review of the general course of my whole argument.
Let us, then, suppose that an honest inquirer after truth is induced, for the first time in his life, to peruse the New Testament. He soon discovers that it is no common book. He finds that it abounds in wise precepts, and that it states, in a manner at once simple and authoritative, a variety of doctrines respecting both God and man, which if true, are of infinite weight and importance. He observes more particularly, that it delineates the history and character of a perfectly virtuous person, who, unlike all other men, is described as uniting with an abject outward condition, and with a very unusual degree of humility, an authority and power indicative of a nature essentially divine ; and he reads that this person was crucified
by the Jews, and that his death was appointed and accepted of the Father, as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
Struck with the extraordinary contents of this wonderful book, and humbled in the view of the mysteries which it unfolds, the first questions which present themselves to the mind of the inquirer are these-Is this volume genuine ? Is it of the antiquity to which it pretends? Were its respective parts really written, as they profess to have been, by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude—i. e. by six of the apostles of Jesus Christ, and two of their companions? On these points he pursues a diligent course of investigation, and the facts which he ascertains are as follows:--that in the early part of the fourth century, (as appears from the declaration of a well-known and impartial writer), about seven eighths of the whole New Testament were, throughout Christendom, universally confessed to be genuine-that the same character was soon afterwards attributed, in the church, to the remaining part of the volume—that, during the course of two hundred years before that period, innumerable quotations were made from the New Testament by the fathers, whose works in the Greek and Latin languages are still extant--that to these quotations were added, by certain ecclesiastical writers, catalogues of the books of the New Testament, harmonies of the four Gospels, and extensive commentaries —that during the second, third, and fourth centuries, several versions were made of the whole volume, into foreign languages, some of which versions are in our hands—that the genuineness of the Gospels and Epistles was allowed by the bitterest enemies of early Christianity.- lastly, that these evidences are amply confirmed by others of an internal nature- viz., first, the Hebraistic Greek in which the whole book is writ
ten; secondly, the correct allusions which it contains to the customs prevalent, at the Christian era, among both the Jews and Romans, as well as to a variety of historical events (whether more or less obscure) which are, from other sources, known to have then taken place; and thirdly, the reciprocal incidental accordances, and general congruity, of its several independent parts.
On the ground of these various and accumulated evidences, our inquirer is at length well satisfied, that the genuineness of the professed works of the apostles and evangelists, (or of nearly all of them) is far more largely attested, and, on the whole, more satisfactorily ascertained, than that which nobody ever dreams of disputing--the genuineness of the Olympics of Pindar, of the Georgics of Virgil, of the Offices of Cicero, or the Annals of Tacitus.
Next in order comes the important question-Is the history contained in the volume thus proved to be genuine, a true history? On this subject the inquirer would have felt no temptation to entertain doubts, had not many of the events, recorded in the New Testament, been of a miraculous nature; but such being the fact, he does himself the justice of investigating, before he decides. Now, in the course of his investigation, he makes the following observations-viz., that two of the evangelists were eye-witnesses of the works of Jesus, and the other two companions of eye-witnesses—that in the four Gospels are to be observed, at once a variety so natural as plainly to indicate independence, and a harmony so extensive as to afford a moral demonstration of truth-that the fidelity of the historian of the Acts of the Apostles is equally evinced by the incidental correspondence of that book with the Epistles of Paul---that, independently of all such reciprocal coincidence, the history of
Conclusion. the New Testament affords in its several parts, considered singly, ample internal evidences of the simplicity, honesty, caution, and absolute veracity, of its authors-that all the twelve apostles, and many others, were engaged in bearing testimony to the miracles and resurrection of Christ-that they sealed that testimony (a testimony not to notions but to facts) by a willing submission to almost unexampled suffering, and even to death itself-that the history of the New Testament is, in various important particulars, confirmed by the corresponding declarations of Jewish and profane authors-that the miraculous parts of it were noticed and confessed by the enemies of our religion-finally, that early Christianity was diffused among mankind, to an extent, and with a rapidity, for which (under all the circumstances of the case) nothing can account, but the reality of our Lord's miracles, and those of the apostles.
Fully convinced, on these and other corresponding evidences, of the authenticity of the evangelical history, the man who is in search after truth now experiences a fresh delight in the perusal of it, and in the contemplation of that divine person, whose life and character it principally delineates. More especially he is led to reflect on the miracles of Jesus and his apostles. Their clearness, their publicity, their greatness, their variety, and the merciful and holy purposes to which they are directed, rise up in order before his view; and the result is a clear decision of his judgment-a firm, unalterable, persuasion of mindthat they can be justly attributed neither to the ingenuity of man, nor to the more powerful devices of evil spirits, but were effected by " the finger” of that Being who is alone all-wise and almighty. And, since they were wrought in attestation of Christianity, he is at length, on the most satisfactory principles, brought
to the conclusion, that Christianity is of divine authority—that it is the religion of God himself.
But, the proof of Christianity is cumulative; nor is our inquirer satisfied without endeavouring to embrace at least the principle features of the whole subject. Accordingly, in pursuing his delightful research, he soon discovers that Christianity is attested not only by the supernatural works of Jesus and his fol. lowers, but by that standing and most comprehensive miracle-prophecy connected with its fulfilment. Having satisfied himself of the genuineness of the Hebrew Scriptures (which rests on grounds very similar to those already urged in reference to the New Testament) he is greatly interested in observing that both divisions of the Sacred Volume are distinguished by an admirable line of prophecy, continued from age to age in the church, relating to a vast variety of circumstances, and already, to a very great extent, fulfilled by events on record. His attention, however, is particularly directed to those predictions by which Christianity itself is immediately attested-namely, those which were uttered by Jesus Christ, and those of which Jesus Christ was the subject. The former in connexion with their fulfilment (as far as it has already taken place) afford a proof that Jesus was a true prophet; the latter, proceeding as they did from a vast number of independent persons, living in various successive ages, correspond with the history and character of Christ, just as a lock, of the most complicated structure, corresponds with its key. Since, then, an actual foreknowledge of events is the attribute of Jehovah alone, the investigating mind, whose course we are tracing, is furnished with a fresh proof
a proof no less satisfactory than its precursor-that Christianity is the religion of God.
Powerful as are the evidences of the divine origin