Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

to the Hebrews, James, the second of Peter, the second and third of John, Jude, and the Revelations, were for a while dubious, though afterwards admitted as genuine.

Now, had none of them ever been doubted, it might have been said it was because no one of them was inquired into; but some of them being doubted, shows there was inquiry, there was caution ; and this is, in my judgment, the strongest imaginable confirmation of the rest. What were the reasons of the doubts, or how they were afterwards cleared up, is not now the question. It affords a fair presumption that there was no room to doubt on any of the rest, because when there was any such room, you find scruples, hesitations, and disagreements. An historian who wrote an account and history of the christian religion between two and three hundred years after Christ's death, speaking of the books in use amongst Christians, divides them into three kinds; those which were pretended to be written by the apostles or apostolic men, but rejected by the church; those which had been doubted, but afterwards received ; and those, lastly, which had never, that he could learn, by any of the almost innumerable christian churches or societies, been doubted or disputed at all; which distinction is exact and judicious, and settling the authority of the last set beyond controversy, because it is established upon the unconscious and unanimous consent of a vast number of christian congregations, independent of one another, and who, as appears, were sufficiently disposed to doubt and disagree, where there was room for it.

I acknowledge that spurious pieces were published under the names of the apostles; but I contend that they never were received and acknowledged by the primitive Christians, in the way and with the consent that these scriptures were. may be once or twice repeated by others; they were read and perhaps quoted; but those who read them and doubted of them, or were inclined to doubt them, always made a vast difference betwixt these and the books of which there was no doubt.

I will add two reflections, which belong particularly to St Paul's epistles. St Paul appears to have generally employed some one to write his epistles, either from his own mouth or another copy he gave him ; but then to avoid the abuse of it, he always wrote a little, probably his benediction, in his own hand, expressly to prove it to be his own, and to guard the people he wrote to against any imposition. The salutation of me, Paul, with my own hand, which is the token in every

They

6

epistle ; so I write.' Generally the person by whom it was sent is mentioned in the ending of the epistle. No one, therefore, would present the epistle but that person ; and he must be known as coming from St Paul. A great number of persons are saluted by name, who, as well as the whole church, would no doubt see the letter, and particularly the first epistle to the Thessalonians is directed to be read in all the churches. Now this very circumstance, in my judgment, made a forgery impossible. Any such forgery during Paul's lifetime must have been discovered by his subsequent communication with the church; and if such epistle was not produced till after his death, then this plain objection must have overthrown its credit;

Here it is directed in the very body of the letter that it be publicly read in the church, and the church has never heard or seen, or been told of it, till now.'

My last reflection is this; in St Paul's epistles, there is an earnestness and a vehemence, I might call it an enthusiasm, and a passionate style, which I will undertake to say none could counterfeit; nor could such be found in any man's writings who was not thoroughly and entirely convinced of the truth of this religion. Let any one read St Paul's epistles with this view, and I am convinced he will confess that the author of these epistles, be he who he would, was really persuaded of the truth of what he wrote; not to mention the obscurity in many, or in most indeed, of his epistles, which a forger would have avoided.

Upon the whole, I trust that I have established this fundamental point to your satisfaction, that the books of scripture were really written by the persons to whom they were ascribed. The remaining points we must reserve.

LXVI.

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY.

PART II.

John XX. 31.

But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ the son of

God, and that, believing, ye might have life through his name.

Having proved, and I trust satisfactorily, that the books of the New Testament were written by the persons to whom they are ascribed, my next proposition is, that these persons could not possibly be deceived in what they related ; and this will necessarily introduce an inquiry how they stood connected, as to opportunity of knowledge and information, with the matters they relate, and of what nature those matters were.

One of the four gospels, which contain the history of our Saviour's life, the first, was written by Matthew. Who was that Matthew? The publican, whom Jesus Christ saw and called at the receipt of custom, and afterwards ordained to be one of the twelve apostles, who were to be with him as companions in his journeying and ministry till his ascension. So that you observe this author was an eyewitness himself, and had actually seen the greatest part of the things which he relates ; attended upon Christ as he passed from one place to another ; was present upon the spot when he wrought his miracles; heard his discourses; sat down with him at his last supper; and, above all, saw him himself after his resurrection from the dead. No authority can be stronger than that. If this be not bringing the account to the fountain head, I know not what is. St John, the author of the fourth gospel, was another apostle, and consequently, like all the other apostles, the regular companion of Jesus. He was likewise called before Matthew, therefore present at some things which Matthew

He was not only one of the disciples, but the disciple whom Jesus loved,' whom he distinguished upon two occasions by particular marks of regard; took and admitted, along with Peter and James, into the house at the raising of Jairus's daughter when no others were admitted ; was present along with Christ, together with Peter and James at the transfiguration ; was found, with Peter and James, on our Lord's

was not.

passion, in the garden. These circumstances we mention merely to show that he was not only a disciple, but a friend and particular favorite of his master; consequently perfectly well informed, we may be sure, of his bistory. He himself stood by the cross when Jesus was crucified; and when he describes that transaction, especially the piercing of his side and the flowing out of blood and water, he adds these reinarkable words; He that saw it bare record, and his record is true; and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.' Moreover he was present after Christ's resurrection, at the conversation betwixt Christ and Peter, and was himself the subject of that conversation. This is that disciple,' he adds,

which testifieth these things, and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.'

What we know of Mark is, that he lived and had a house at Jerusalem ; was acquainted with the apostles; that he was a disciple of some note and distinction, for it was to his house that Peter went when he was miraculously delivered out of prison, and where he found many gathered together and praying. Soon after this, he left Jerusalem to accompany Barnabas and Paul in their expedition to the Gentiles. After residing with them for some time, he left them and returned to Jerusalem, which return afterwards occasioned a dispute betwixt Barnabas and Paul ; Barnabas being desirous to keep Mark with him, Paul, not thinking it good to take him, departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. St Paul, however, long after this, begged Timothy to bring Mark along with him to Rome, · For he is profitable to me for the ministry ;' so that the offence, whatever it was, was made up. The account delivered down to us by many historians is, that Mark attended upon Peter, and wrote his gospel under Peter's eye, and by his direction. However, we are the less solicitous to ascertain any thing further concerning Mark, because there is hardly any thing in his gospel which is not contained in that by St Matthew. Thus much appears, that although he might not perhaps have been an eyewitness of many of the transactions he records, which, whether he was or not, cannot now be known, he was a companion of apostles, and apostolically aiding and assisting some of those in the ministry. At his house the first disciples, according to their custom, used to meet. He was probably the friend of Peter, as Peter went to his house the first place after his deliverance from prison; and what is as material as any thing, he was living at Jerusalem, the very spot where the most important part of Christ's miracles were exhibited.

St Luke wrote his Gospel, and the Acts of the Apostles. He was the companion and fellow traveller of Paul, as appears both from his speaking in the first person plural in his account of St Paul's travels, We went, it was determined that we should sail into Italy,' it came to pass when we were gone forth,' and other passages of the same kind, which show that the writer of the history was one of the company.

We find him also with St Peter at Rome, when St Paul wrote the first chapter of his second epistle to Timothy. The preface to St Luke's gospel is exceedingly worthy of notice ; • Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things, which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.'

Now this short preface informs us of a great deal. It informs us, first, that the great facts of the gospel history were most surely believed amongst the Christians of those times. It informs us, secondly, upon what grounds they are believed, namely, as they delivered them, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses. It acknowledges, thirdly, that he himself was not an eyewitness, but that he received the account from those who were ; writing as they delivered the instances. It asserts, fourthly, that St Luke had a perfect understanding of all things from the first, or, as it should have been rendered, he had penned and traced every account up to its source, to the fountain head, and so as to have no doubt in his mind; for he professes, you see, to inform Theophilus of the certainty of those things wherein he had been instructed.

In the Acts of the Apostles, St Luke having, as I said before, to attend and accompany St Paul, was eyewitness of many things which he there relates; in particular, Luke was with Paul in the ship when that extraordinary wreck happened, by which they were thrown ashore on the island of Malta ; he lodged with Paul in the same house when he miraculously healed one of the family, and many other diseased persons in the island. He must have known, therefore, with absolute certainty, the truth or falsehood of what he relates about it.

« VorigeDoorgaan »