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sees, 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 agree able 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 Zebe
dee, and their mother, for the first and second post in the
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, where 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 was 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 transitions or connections; no set character of persons to be intro'duced; 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 doubt'ful 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 beginning of every gospel. The writer enters immediately upon the matters of fact he has to relate, without any laboured introduction, without any attempt to raise the expectation, or engage the affections of the reader. If it had been an artificial story, invented and composed with design, we should have many other particulars in it than now there are. They have not sought out occasions to enhance their Master's honour. The former part of his life is almost entirely past over, and, besides his miraculous birth, the obeisance paid him by the wise men, and some extraordinary circumstances at the temple at the purification of the virgin, scarce any notice of him from that time to his public appearance at about the age of thirty, excepting that one fact of his arguing with the doctors in the temple, Luke ii. 46. Had it been a story forged and contrived, his infancy and youth had not been thus slightly passed over; we should have had many accounts of wonderful preservations, and a miraculous providence attending him all along; there would have been related divers omens and presages of the figure he was afterwards to make in the world; numerous specimens of a pregnant capacity and zeal; whereas the historians have almost immediately entered upon his public appearance, which was what mankind was chiefly concerned in. When they have mentioned the meanness of their Lord's circumstances, or of their own original employment, they have added no apology for it, nor concerned themselves to account for their Master's choice of such followers; many Gastrel's Certainty of the Christian Revelation, p. 52.