Page images

barbarous wrong done to our brother man; it is the kind of wrong which we should most justly and keenly resent, could we be sensible of its being put upon ourselves.

A Nero playing upon his harp, in view of a city in flames, is a less frightful picture than that of the solitary philosopher basking in the serenity of his own speculations, but indifferent to the ignorance he could remove, the error he could correct, or the misery he could relieve.

As then there is no falsehood more apparently false, and more morally mischievous, than to suppose that error can be useful, and delusion conducive to happiness and virtue so, there can be no place for the medium or alternative of indifference between the truth or falsehood of the Christian religion. Every argument that could show it to be a blessing to mankind, being true, must in like degree tend to demonstrate it to be a curse and a mischief, being false.

If it be true, there can be no doubt that God, its all wise and benevolent author, must have given to it such sufficient evidence and proofs of its truth, that every creature whom he hath endued with rational faculties, upon the honest and conscientious exercise of those faculties, must be able to arrive at a perfect and satisfactory conviction. To suppose that there either is, or by any possibility could be, a natural disinclination or repugnancy in man's mind, to receive the truths of revelation, is " to charge God foolishly;" as if, when he had the making of man's mind, and the making of his revelation also, he had not known how to adapt the one to the other; nor is it less than to open the door to every conceivable absurdity and imposture, and to give to the very grossness and palpability of falsehood, the advantage over evidence, truth, and reason. If we are to conceive that any thing may be the more likely to be true, in proportion to its appearing more palpably and demonstrably false, and that God can possibly have intended us to embrace that, which he has so constituted our minds, that they must naturally suspect and dislike it, why so, then, all principles and tests of truth and evidence are abolished at once; we may as well take poison for our food, and rush on what our nature shudders at, for safety.

To suppose that belief or unbelief can either be a virtue or a crime, or any man morally better or worse for belief or unbelief, is to assume that man has a faculty which

we see and feel that he has not ;* to wit,-a power of making himself believe, of being convinced when he is not convinced, and not convinced when he is: which is a being and not being at the same time, the sheer end of "all discourse of reason."

To suppose that a suitable state of mind, and certain previous dispositions of meekness, humility, and teachableness are necessary to fit us for the reception of divine truth, as the soil must be prepared to receive the seed, is in like manner to argue preposterously, and to open the door to the reception of falsehood as well as of truth; as the prepared ground will fertilize the tares as prolifically as the wheat, and is indifferent to either.

And in proportion as the state of mind so supposed to be necessary, is supposed to be an easily yielding, readily consenting, and feebly resisting state; the more facile is it to the practices of imposture and cunning, and the less worthy conquest of evidence and reason. The property of truth is not, surely, to wait till men are in right frames of mind to receive it, but to find them wrong, and to set them right; to find them ignorant and to make them wise; not created by the mind, but itself the mind's creator; it is the sovereign that ascends the throne, and not the throne that makes the sovereign; where it reigns not, right dispositions cannot be found, and where it reigns, they cannot be wanting.

The highest honour we can pay to truth, is to show our confidence in it, and our desire to have it sifted and analyzed, by how rough a process soever; as being well assured that it is that alone that can abide all tests, and which, like the genuine gold, will come out all the purer from the fiercer fire.

While there are bad hearted men in the world, and those who wish to make falsehood pass for truth, they will ever discover themselves and their counsel, by their impatience of contradiction, their hatred of those who differ from them, their wish to suppress inquiry, and their bitter resentment, when what they call truth, has not been handled with the delicacy and niceness, which it was never any thing else but falsehood that required or needed.

All the mighty question now before us requires, is, attention and ability; without any presentiment, prejudica

This thought is Dr. Whitby's; who, after publishing his voluminous Commentary on the Scriptures, published this among his "Last Thoughts."

tion, or prepossession whatever; but with a perfect and equal willingness to come to such conclusion as the evidence of moral demonstration shall offer to our conviction, and to be guided only by such canons or rules of evidence as determine our convictions with respect to all other questions.



By the Christian religion, is to be understood the whole system of theology found in the Bible, as consisting of the two volumes of the Old and New Testament; and as that system now is, and generally has been understood, by the many, or general body of that large community of persons professing and calling themselves Christians.

That this system of theology might not be confounded with previously existing pretences to divine revelation, or held to be a mere enthusiasm or conceit of imagination, its best and ablest advocates challenge for it, historical data, and affect to trace it up to its origination in time, place, and circumstance, as all other historical facts may be traced.

Upon this ground, the doctrines become facts, and we are no longer called on to believe, but to investigate and examine. We are permitted, fearlessly to apply the rules of criticism and evidence, by which we measure the credibility of all other facts.

THE TIME assigned as that of the historical origination of Christianity, is, the three or four first centuries of the prevalence and notoriety of a system of theology under that name; reckoning from the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus, to its ultimate and complete establishment under Constantine the Great.

Any continuance of its history after this time, is unnecessary to the purpose of an investigation of its evidences; as any proof of its existence before this time, would certainly be fatal to the origination challenged for it.

THE PLACE assigned as that of the historical origination of this religion, is, the obscure and remote province of Judea, which is about equal in extent of territory to the

principality of Wales, being one hundred and sixty miles in length, from Dan to Beersheba, and forty six miles in breadth, from Joppa to Bethlehem, between 35 and 36 degrees east longitude from Greenwich, and between 31 and 33 degrees south latitude, in nearest coasting upon the eastern extremity of the Mediterranean sea, and in the neighbourhood of Egypt, Arabia, Phoenicia, and Syria.*

THE CIRCUMSTANCES assigned as those of the historical basis of this religion, are, that in the reigns of the Roman Emperors Augustus and Tiberius, and in the province of Judea, a Jew, of the lower order of that lowest and most barbarous of all the subjects of the Roman empire, arose into notoriety among his countrymen, from the circumstance of leaving his ordinary avocation as a labouring mechanic, and travelling on foot from village to village in that little province, affecting to cure diseases; that he preached the doctrines, or some such, as are ascribed to him in the New Testament; and that he gave himself out to be some extraordinary personage: but failing in his attempt to gain popularity, he was convicted as a malefactor, and publicly executed, under the presidency and authority of the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate. This extraordinary person was called JESUS or JOSHUA, a name of ordinary occurrence among the Jewish clan; and from the place of his nativity, or of his more general residence, he is designated as JESUS of NAZARETH: the obscurity of his parentage, or his equivocal legitimacy having left him without any name or designation of his family or descent.+

These are circumstances which fall entirely within the scale of rational probability, and draw for no more than an ordinary and indifferent testimony of history, to command the mind's assent. The mere relation of any historian, living near enough to the time supposed, to guarantee the probability of his competent information on the subject, would have been entitled to our acquiescence. We could have had no reason to deny or to doubt, what such an historian could have had no motive to feign or to exag

"The geography of Palestine lies in a narrow compass. It comprises a tract of country of nearly 200 miles in length, in its full extent, from the river of Egypt south of Gaza to the furthest bounds towards Damascus, and perhaps of more than 100 in breadth, including Perea, from the Mediterranean eastward to the desert Arabia."-ELSLEY.

+ Being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, Luke iv. 23. It was no matter of supposition that his mother had yielded to the embraces of Gabriel; that is, literally, the man of God, Luke i. 38.

gerate. The proof even to demonstration, of these circumstances, would constitute no step or advance towards the proof of the truth of the Christian religion; while the absence of a sufficient degree of evidence to render even these circumstances unquestionable, must, a fortiori, be fatal to the credibility of the still less credible circumstances founded upon them.

If there be no absolute certainty that such a man existed, still less can there be any proof that such and such were his actions, as have been ascribed to him. Those who might have reasons or prejudices to induce them to deny that such and such were the actions ascribed to such a person, could have none to deny or to conceal the mere fact of his existence as a man. To this effect, the testimony of enemies is as good as that of friends. One competent historian, (if such can be adduced), speaking of Jesus of Nazareth as an impostor, would be as unexceptionable a witness to the fact of his existence, as one who should assert every thing that hath ever been asserted of him.

The authentic and unsophisticated testimony of CELSUS, that Jesus of Nazareth wrought miracles by the power of magic; though it be no proof that Jesus of Nazareth wrought miracles by the power of magic, and no proof that Jesus of Nazareth wrought miracles, yet as far as it avails, it avails to the proof of the conviction of Celsus, that such a person as Jesus of Nazareth really existed.* We emphatically say such a person as Jesus of Nazareth; because the name Jesus being as common among the Jews, as John or Thomas among Christians; nothing hinders but there might have been some dozen, score, or hundred Jesuses of Nazareth; so that proof (if it could be adduced) of the existence of any one of these, unless coupled with an accompanying proof that that one was the Jesus of Nazareth distinguished from all others of that designation, by the circumstance of having been crucified under Pontius Pilate," would be no proof of the existence of the Jesus of the Gospel, of whose identity the essential predicates are, not alone the name Jesus, and the place Nazareth, but the characteristic distinction of crucifixion.

Still less, and further off than ever from any absolute identification with the Jesus of the Gospel, is the regal

*It must never be forgotten, that we have no testimony of Celsus, but only the testimony which Origen has fathered on him which is a very different thing.

« PreviousContinue »