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EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY.
Authenticity of the Scriptures inferred from Genuineness—Their Reception as genuine is
Evidence of the Miracles therein recorded-Argument from Miracles-Definition of a Miracle-Miracles are possible; The Work of God alone; Capable of being provedExamination of Hume's Argument-Miracles are natural and necessary Accompaniments of a new Revelation-Heathen and popish Miracles-Criterion of Miracles.
We have produced, in the preceding lecture, a variety of external and internal proofs of the genuineness of the Christian Scriptures. If any man should still deny that they were written by the persons to whom they are ascribed, we have a right to ask, By whom then were they composed? We do not, however, expect an answer to the question; for, as they were never attributed to any other authors by those who had the best opportunities of knowing their history, it would be ridiculous, at this late period, to attempt to trace them to a different origin. It is certain that the books were known and read, and received as genuine, in the second century; it is certain that they were known and read, and received as genuine, in the first. It remains, therefore, to ascertain what credit is due to them, and to the books of the Old Testament, the genuineness of which has been also established.
I formerly stated the difference between the genuineness and the authenticity of a writing. It is genuine, if it be the work of the person under whose name it was published; it is authentic, if its contents are true. These proper. ties are by no means inseparable. A book may be genuine, but unworthy of credit, because it is full of fables and fictions; and it may be true, although bearing a false name. In the present case, however, they are inseparable; that is, the genuineness of the sacred writings infers their authenticity; and that this is a legitimate conclusion, will appear from the following observations.
Let it be remembered, that the books were narratives of events, which are said to have taken place in the age and before the eyes of the persons who were called to receive them as authentic. There was no opportunity to take advantage of the credulity with which men are often and justly chargeable, and to support a plausible account by feigned authorities which would overawe their judgments. But every person was competent to decide at once, without a tedious process of reasoning, whether what was related was true or false. Let it be observed, too, that the events were not of a common kind, and of an uninteresting nature, the accuracy of which it was the concern of no individual to settle, so that the account, although blended with fiction, might be permitted to pass without contradiction. Many of them were miraculous and were designed to attest a religion on which the future hopes of mankind should be founded, and by which their present conduct should be regulated. They were connected with what is usually considered as the most important subject which can engage our attention. It is contrary to all the principles of reason to suppose, that in such a case, men would yield a listless assent; and still more, that they would be satisfied with evidence which they knew to be false.
The religion which Moses called the Israelites to embrace was not absolutely new, because their fathers had worshipped the same Being who was now announced as the God of the nation. But there is reason to believe that they had in a great measure forgotten him during their residence in Egypt, and were tainted with the idolatry of the people among whom they had lived for more than two hundred years. Many of them, therefore, can be considered as no better than heathens,-probably the majority, if we may judge of their former state by their subsequent conduct; and, consequently, the change which they were required to make, was almost as great as if Moses had undertaken the conversion of the Egyptians themselves. The greatness of the change is manisest from a review of the religion. They were commanded to renounce the gods of Egypt, and of all other nations, to whose service they appear from their history to have been strongly addicted, and to worship Jehovah alone. Upon this fundamental tenet was founded a system of observances, which, instead of being modelled after the idolatrous forms to which they had been accustomed, as some have supposed without the slightest evidence, was contrived in express opposition to the usages of Egypt and other countries, for the purpose of effecting a complete separation. The rites enjoined were multiplied to a great number, were to be practised not only in the sanctuary, but in the whole detail of life, required constant attention and circumpsection, and must have been felt to be extremely inconvenient. Besides, they subjected the Israelites to no inconsiderable expense, by the frequent sacrifices which they found it necessary to offer, and by the tithes which they were commanded to pay to the priests. There were also certain injunctions to which there is nothing similar in the laws of other nations, and which are of so peculiar a character, that it is altogether unaccountable, upon the principles of political wisdom, that any legislator should have proposed them, or any people should have submitted to them. I refer to the law of the Sabbatical year, when the ground was not to be tilled and sown; to the law ordaining that thrice a year all the males should repair to the place where the sanctuary stood; to the law forbidding the multiplication of horses; and to the law of the jubilee, which required mortgaged possessions to return to the original proprietors, and slaves to be restored to liberty. It is evident that these laws interfered with public and private interest. They exposed the country to the danger of famine, invasion, and conquest, and demanded from individuals a sacrifice of property which might have given rise to open resistance.
It is altogether incredible that any legislator of a sound mind would have made such enactments by his own authority, or that any nation would have acquiesced in them, merely because he chose to impose them. Such, indeed, is the texture of the whole law, that we cannot conceive Moses to have contrived it, or the Irsaelites, if left at liberty to choose, to have received it. It may be said, that he persuaded them that Jehovah was its author. But how did he persuade them? How did he accomplish his purpose? Was it by boldly affirming that his law was a revelation from heaven? The Israelites must have been simple indeed if they believed him-simple to a degree of which there is no other example. Did they quietly submit to have the yoke of ceremonies wreathed about their necks? to live in a state of separation from the world ? to be the objects of the ridicule and hatred of mankind, merely because Moses told them that such was the will of God? Truly, he who can believe this is as simple as they are supposed to have been. But their history forbids the supposition, and shows that they were an obstinate refractory race,-very unfit materials to be moulded into any form at the pleasure of an impostor. Besides, we know that it was not by simple affirmation that Moses gained his end, but that he appealed to evidence, and the evidence was miraculous. While he asserted that the law was from God, he told them that they had themselves heard a part of it published with his own voice, and that the other parts had been delivered by him as his accredited messenger,--accredited by signs and wonders which they had seen with their own eyes. Would this new pretence, if it was a pretence, have added any weight to the first? No; VOL. I.-9
it would have had the contrary effect; it would have furnished the means of disproving it, and have put it in the power of every Israelite to say, “It is perfectly plain to me that your claim to be the minister of Jehovah is false, for I never heard his voice, nor saw one of those supernatural works by which you say he attested your commission.” The reception of the law is therefore a proof that the people were satisfied of the authority of Moses to impose it, or rather, that they were satisfied that the law emanated from the God of their fathers; and, consequently, is a proof that they had witnessed the miracles in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness.
Thus, the genuineness proves the authenticity of the books, or the truth of the religion contained in them. They were published at the time to which they are assigned, and consequently would not have been received if the events recorded in them had not actually happened.
The same reasoning may be employed to prove the authenticity of the books of the New Testament, and particularly the historical books. The religion which they announced was not new, but was the development and completion of the revelation made by the ministry of Moses and the prophets; but it differed from that revelation in some important respects, and still more from the views of it which were generally entertained; for, although the Jews professed the religion of their fathers, they had greatly corrupted it. The Messiah whom the books introduce to our notice, is not the person who was expected in that character. He was a man of obscure birth, and in a humble rank of life ; his doctrine was spiritual ; his actions were of a peaceful nature; he avoided worldly honours; instead of encouraging his countrymen to rebel against the Romans, and assert their national independence, he taught them to subinit to the established government; and after a short course of contradiction and suffering, he died upon a cross. There was not one trait in his character which corresponded with the prevailing hope of a mighty conqueror, and a splendid temporal monarch. But this is not all. They were required to adopt not only new opinions, but new practices; to renounce the religious institutions which had been established in the nation for fifteen hundred years, and to which they were strongly attached, not only as sacred, but as the means of recommending them to the favour of God. They were to forsake the temple and the altar, with their pompous services, and be content with a simple ritual, which prescribed nothing to please the senses. At the same time, they were to forego the flattering distinction which they had long enjoyed of being the peculiar people, to see the Gentiles invested with the same privileges, and to regard them as in every respect their equals, as subjects of the Messiah, and members of his church. We cannot suppose that they would have admitted upon slight grounds a religion which demanded such important changes and such costly sacrifices. To the Gentiles, the religion of the gospel was new,
in every sense of the word. It was a new God whom it announced; for although he had been worshipped for ages by the Jews, he was unknown, except by vague report, to the nations of the world. Yet he claimed the exclusive possession of Divinity, and required to be worshipped without a rival. Of the person by whom this religion was founded, they had never heard before ; and the character in which he was exhibited was strange, and in the first instance unintelligible ; for, ignorant as they were of the Divine law, and of the degree and extent of human guilt and depravity, they had no expectation and felt no need of a spiritual Saviour. The doctrines connected with his person and work, and the general scheme of Christianity, would appear to them to be extravagant, unphilosophical, and false. Not less objectionable in their eyes, would be the system of duties which it enjoined. Of some of them they had no idea, and of others they entertained a contemptuous opinion ; while the opposite
views were so common, that all sense of their moral turpitude was lost, and their wisest men had recommended them both by precept and by example. There is a consideration which is equally applicable to Gentiles and to Jews—that the new religion being so adverse to those already established, the persons who first embraced it would not only be reproached for their singularity, fickleness, and credulity, but would incur the hatred of zealots and bigots, awaken the susi picon and jealousy of the higher powers, and subject themselves to such restraint and punishment as might be deemed necessary to check this dangerous innovation.
In this state of things, the religion of Christ was presented to mankind in the discourses of the apostles, and in the written records which have been transmitted to us. By what means did it obtain credit? This was not a case in which bold affirmation and eloquent appeals would succeed. There was no predisposition in favour of the religion, there was a strong prejudice against
What was wanted was evidence, clear, convincing, and overwhelming. Now the books tell us, that such evidence was furnished, both by the author and by the preachers of the religion, in the miracles which they performed in Judea, and in other countries. We have here a satisfactory solution of the problem, how the books, and the religion taught in them, came to be received; but it is impossible to explain the fact, upon any other hypothesis. If those who lived in that age saw miracles, they could not doubt the truth of the system, in support of which they were wrought; but if they did not see them, how were they persuaded? The effect is certain, and we can discover no other adequate cause. It would be the greatest miracle of all, says Chrysostom, if the world believed without miracles. When all the circumstances of the case are taken into consideration, it would be a fact in the history of mankind without a parallel, and absolutely inexplicable. Admit the miracles, and all is intelligible; deny the miracles, and all is mystery. Deny the miracles, and you must say, that there were two epochs, namely, the age of Moses and the age of Christ, when the human mind underwent a sudden revolution, and acted in opposition to the laws by which, at all other times, it is governed. Men believed without evidence; without evidence, they adopted opinions contrary to their deep-rooted prejudices; engaged in practices repugnant to their strongest inclinations ; sacrificed the good opinion of those whose favour they once highly prized; and exposed property, liberty, and life to hazard, for a dream. But as human nature is the same in all ages, those who lived at the periods referred to must have had good reason for their conduct. Now the only reason which could justify their conduct, was such evidence as left no room for doubt: and in this case, the evidence must have been miraculous, for in no other way could a revelation from heaven be proved.
The argument founded on the testimony of the primitive times is weakened in the minds of some, by a misapprehension respecting the persons by whom it is borne. They were Christians who received the books of the New Testament, and have attested the facts upon which our religion is founded. They are, therefore, looked upon with a degree of suspicion, as if they were interested persons. It seems to be supposed, and infidels take it for granted, that there was a set of men who, having become Christians no man knows why, laid their heads together to practise an imposition upon the world. This puts one in mind of the Indian hypothesis that the earth rests upon an elephant, and the elephant stands upon a tortoise ; but upon what the tortoise is supported, we are left to conjecture. The witnesses, it is said, are Christians, and therefore are not to be depended upon. But what made them Christians ? This question is overlooked by the objectors; but a right answer to it would show that their testimony is worthy of credit. I cannot do better than to transcribe the words of Mr. Addison, in his short treatise on the evidence of
the Christian religion :-"Let us now suppose, that a learned heathen writer who lived within sixty years of our Saviour's crucifixion, after having shown that false miracles were generally wrought in obscurity, and before few or no witnesses, speaking of those which were wrought by our Saviour, has the following passage :- But his works were always seen, because they were true; they were seen by those who were healed, and by those who were raised from the dead. Nay, these persons, who were thus healed and raised, were seen not only at the time of their being healed and raised, but long after. Nay, they were seen not only all the while our Saviour was upon earth, but survived after his departure out of this world; nay, some of them were living in our days.' I dare say you would look upon this as a glorious attestation for the cause of Christianity, had it come from the hand of a famous Athenian philosopher. These forementioned words, however, are actually the words of one who lived about sixty years after our Saviour's crucifixion, and was a famous philosopher in Athens; but it will be said, he was a convert to Christianity. Now, consider this matter impartially, and see if his testimony is not much more valid for that reason: Had he continued a Pagan philosopher, would not the world have said that he was not sincere in what he writ, or did not believe it; for if so, would they not have told us, he would have embraced Christianity? This was indeed the case of this excellent man: he had so thoroughly examined the truth of our Saviour's history, and the excellency of that religion which he taught, and was so entirely convinced of both, that he became a proselyte, and died a martyr.” “I do allow that, generally speaking, a man is not so acceptable and unquestioned an evidence, on facts which make for the advancement of his own party. But we must consider that, in the case before us, the persons to whom we appeal were of an opposite party till they were persuaded of the truth of those very facts which ihey report. They bear evidence to a history in defence of Christianity, the truth of which history was their motive to embrace Christianity. They attest facts which they had heard while they were yet heathens, and had they not foundreason to believe them, they would still have continued heathens, and have made no mention of them in their writings."
It appears, that from the genuineness of the books, we may infer their authenticity. They would not have been received, if they had not been true; or what amounts to the same thing, the religion which is taught in them would not have been embraced, if the men of that age had not witnessed, or were otherwise assured of the facts upon which it was founded. The truth of the facts is the only conceivable motive by which they would be induced to become converts to it. It is affirmed in the New Testament, that miracles were wrought, not only by Jesus Christ, but by his apostles. This affirmation is not only made in general terms, but is confirmed by particular instances; and the time when, the place where, and the persons upon whom the miracles were wrought, are frequently specified. What is more, the very persons to whom some of the books are addressed, are appealed to as witnesses of the miracles. In the second epistle to the Corinthians, Paul says to them : “ Truly, the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds ;"4 and in the epistle to the Hebrews, he mentions it as an unquestionable fact, that when the gospel was preached to them, God bore the preachers witness, “ both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will.”+ The argument, then, is reduced to a narrow compass. These assertions were either true or false. If they were false, how could the apostle venture to make
• The Evidences of the Christian Religion, sect. iii.
# Heb. ü. 4.