Page images
PDF
EPUB

Christian divines. St. James's authority is considered as good evidence of the existence of the book of Job at that time, and of its reception by the Jews; and of nothing more. St. Paul, in his Second Epistle to Timothy, has this similitude: "Now, as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth." These names are not found in the Old Testament. And it is uncertain whether St. Paul took them from some apocryphal writing then extant, or from tradition. But no one ever imagined that St. Paul is here asserting the authority of the writing, if it was a written account which he quoted, or making himself answerable for the authenticity of the tradition; much less, that he so involves himself with either of these questions, as that the credit of his own history and mission should depend upon the fact, whether Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses or not. For what reason a more rigorous interpretation should be put upon other references, it is difficult to know. I do not mean that other passages of the Jewish history stand upon no better evidence than the history of Job, or of Jannes and Jambres (I think much otherwise); but I mean, that a reference in the New Testament, to a passage in the Old, does not so fix its authority, as to exclude all inquiry into its credibility, or into the separate reasons upon which that credibility is founded; and that it is an unwarrantable, as well as unsafe rule to lay down concerning the Jewish history, what was never laid down concerning any other, that either every particular of it must be true, or the whole false.

I have thought it necessary to state this point explicitly, because a fashion, revived by Voltaire, and 3 Chap. iii. 8.

pursued by the disciples of his school, seems to have much prevailed of late, of attacking Christianity through the sides of Judaism. Some objections of this class are founded in misconstruction, some in exaggeration; but all proceed upon a supposition, which has not been made out by argument, viz. that the attestation which the Author and first teachers of Christianity gave to the divine mission of Moses and the prophets extends to every point and portion of the Jewish history; and so extends as to make Christianity responsible in its own credibility, for the circumstantial truth (I had almost said for the critical exactness) of every narrative contained in the Old Testament.

CHAP. IV.

Rejection of Christianity.

WE acknowledge that the Christian religion, although it converted great numbers, did not produce a universal, or even a general conviction, in the minds of men of the age and countries in which it appeared. And this want of a more complete and extensive success is called the rejection of the Christian history and miracles; and has been thought by some to form a strong objection to the reality of the facts which the history

contains.

The matter of the objection divides itself into two parts; as it relates to the Jews, and as it relates to Heathen nations: because the minds of these two descriptions of men may have been, with respect to Christianity, under the influence of very different causes. The case of the Jews, inasmuch as our

Saviour's ministry was originally addressed to them, offers itself first to our consideration.

Now, upon the subject of the truth of the Christian religion; with us, there is but one question, viz. whether the miracles were actually wrought? From acknowledging the miracles, we pass instantaneously to the acknowledgment of the whole. No doubt lies between the premises and the conclusion. If we believe the works, or any one of them, we believe in Jesus. And this order of reasoning is become so universal and familiar, that we do not readily apprehend how it could ever have been otherwise. Yet it appears to me perfectly certain, that the state of thought in the mind of a Jew of our Saviour's age was totally different from this. After allowing the reality of the miracle, he had a great deal to do to persuade himself that Jesus was the Messiah. This is clearly intimated by various passages of the Gospel history. It appears that, in the apprehension of the writers of the New Testament, the miracles did not irresistibly carry, even those who saw them, to the conclusion intended to be drawn from them; or so compel assent, as to leave no room for suspense, for the exercise of candour, or the effects of prejudice. And to this point, at least, the evangelists may be allowed to be good witnesses; because it is a point in which exaggeration or disguise would have been the other way. Their accounts, if they could be suspected of falsehood, would rather have magnified, than diminished, the effects of the miracles.

John, vii. 21-31. "Jesus answered, and said unto them, I have done one work, and ye all marvel. -If a man on the Sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye

angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the Sabbath day? Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this he whom they seek to kill? But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing to him: do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ? Howbeit we know this man, whence he is: but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is. Then cried Jesus in the temple as he taught, saying, Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not. But I know him, for I am from him, and he hath sent me. Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come. And And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than those which this man hath done?"

This passage is very observable. It exhibits the reasoning of different sorts of persons upon the occasion of a miracle, which persons of all sorts are represented to have acknowledged as real. One sort of men thought that there was something very extraordinary in all this; but that still Jesus could not be the Christ, because there was a circumstance in his appearance which militated with an opinion concerning Christ in which they had been brought up, and of the truth of which, it is probable, they had never entertained a particle of doubt, viz. that "When Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is." Another sort were inclined to believe him to be the Messiah. But even these did not argue as we should; did not consider the miracle as of itself decisive of the question; as what, if once allowed, excluded all further debate

[ocr errors]

upon the subject; but founded their opinion upon a kind of comparative reasoning, "When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than those which this man hath done?"

""

Another passage in the same evangelist, and observable for the same purpose, is that in which he relates the resurrection of Lazarus: "Jesus," he tells us (xi. 43, 44), "when he had thus spoken, cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth: And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. One might have suspected that at least all those who stood by the sepulchre, when Lazarus was raised, would have believed in Jesus. Yet the evangelist does not so represent it :-" Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him; but some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done." We cannot suppose that the evangelist meant, by this account, to leave his readers to imagine that any of the spectators doubted about the truth of the miracle. Far from it. Unquestionably he states the miracle to have been fully allowed: yet the persons who allowed it were, according to his representation, capable of retaining hostile sentiments towards Jesus." Believing in Jesus" was not only to believe that he wrought miracles, but that he was the Messiah. With us there is no difference between these two things; with them, there was the greatest; and the difference is apparent in this transaction. If St. John has represented the conduct of the Jews upon this occasion truly (and why he should not I cannot tell, for it rather makes against him than

« PreviousContinue »