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the fiercest infernal spirits, and calıned the rage of tempests, did with serene majesty awaken into life, as from a slumber.It is also on the same foundation certain, That this illustrious person, having by the malice of his enemies been most unjustly and cruelly put to death, did on the third day arise from the dead :And that, after having given to his disciples the most abundant proofs of that important fact, he at length ascended to heaven gradually in their sight; angels appearing, to assure them he should as visibly descend from thence to the universal judgment, the adıninistration of which he had declared to be committed to bim.
I must freely declare, that had I been an entire stranger to the sacred story, and proceeded no farther in it than this, supposing me firmly to have believed all these wonderful things, though delivered in the shortest abstract that could have been made of them, I should readily have concluded, that this extraordinary person, being sent, as it plainly appears from the history, that he was, with a divine revelation for the benefit of all nations and of all ages, had taken care to leave some authentic records of the doctrine, which he taught. And if I had farther found, that he had left no such records written by himself, I should naturally have concluded, that he took effectual care, that some of his followers should be enabled to deliver down to posterity the system of religion which he taught, in the most accurate manner'; with all such extraordinary assistance from God, as the nature of the subject required, in order to rendering their accounts exact. And I believe, every reasonable man would draw this inference: Because it is very apparent, that the great end of this vast and astonishing apparatus, for vast and astonishing it would appear, if what relates to Jesus alone were taken into the survey, must in the nature of things be frustrated, if no such records were provided : It being morally impossible, that unwritten tradition should convey a system of religion pure and uncorrupted, even to the next generation; and much more, that it should so convey it to the end of time. And it would seem, so far as we can judge, by no means worthy the divine wisdom, to suffer the good effects of such a great and noble plan to be lost, for want of so easy an expedient : Especially, since men of the age and country in which these things happened, were not only blessed with the use of letters, but were remarkable for their application to them, and for great proficiency in various branches of learning. And if I should not only have an abstract of this history of Jesus, which I judged credible, but should also be so happy as to have the four gospels in my hand, with convincing evidences of their being genuine, which we here suppose ; I should on these principles assuredly argue, that not only the leading facts, but likewise the system of doctrines and discourses delivered in them, might entirely be depended upon : Nor could I conceive the truth of such doctrines and discourses to be separable from the general truth of the leading facts referred to above; having, as I here suppose, proper evidences to convince me, that the penmen of these books were the persons, by whom the memory of these events was to be delivered down to posterity: Which is a farther principle, that none of common sense and modesty can pretend to contest; none appearing as their competitors, whose pretensions are worthy to be named.
But my apprehension of the full authenticness and credibility of these writers would, on the supposition I am here making, greatly increase, as I proceeded to that excellent and useful book, which the good Providence of God has now given me an opportunity of illustrating; the acts of the holy apostles: Since I learn from thence, that in a very few days after the ascension of Jesus into heaven, the Spirit of God was, according to his promise, poured out upon his apostles in an abundant manner, attended with the visible appearance of a lambent celestial flame; And that, in consequence of this amazing unction, the poor fishermen of Galilee, and their companions, were in a moment enabled to speak, with the greatest readiness and propriety, Latin, Greek, Arabic, Coptic, Persic, and a variety of other languages, the first rudiments of which they had never learnt; and also to perform all kinds of miracles, equal to those of their master, and in some circumstances, superior to them. My veneration for the writings of these men, and I here suppose, I know those of the New Testament to be so, must be unparalleled, when I think who and what they were: And I am so struck with this plain, but divinely powerful argument, that I must intreat my reader to review with me, a little more particularly, some of the actions and circumstances of these holy men, to whose writings I am labouring to conciliate his unreserved regard.
Let them all be considered, as preaching the gospel in that extraordinary manner, on the day of Pentecost; and a few days after, when some of their companions had been seized and threatened by the Sanhedrim, as anointed again with such an effusion of the Spirit, as shook the very house in which they were, and inspired them all at once with the same sublime hymn of praise. Let them be considered, as afterwards led out of prison by an angel, and commanded by him to go and preach the gospel in the temple, under the remarkable phraseology of “the words of this life;" as if the whole life and happiness of the human race depended on their knowing and receiving it. Nor let us here forget that extraordinary power, common to all the apostles, of communicating the miraculous gifts of the spirit by the imposition of their hands. Had we nothing particularly to say of any one, more than these grand things which, we hear of them all, it must surely command our reverence to their writings, and set them at a vast distance from any of merely human original.
But through the singular providence of God it hath so happened, that we have the most particular history of the lives of those apostles, to whose writings we are generally most indebted: I mean, John, Peter and Paul.
With respect to John we know, that besides the concern he had in the cure of the lame man, he was favoured with the visions of God in the Isle of Patmos; where our Lord, after an abode of more than half a century on the throne of his glory at his Father's right hand, did him the unequalled honour to use him as his amanuensis, or secretary; expressly dictating to him the letters he was pleased to send to the seven churches in Asia. How easily then may we suppose him so to have presided over his other writings, as to have secured him from mistakes in them!
Consider Peter, as striking Ananias and Sapphira dead with a word; as curing, by the like powerful word, one cripple at Jerusalem, and another at Lydda; and calling back Dorcas, even from the dead. Let us view him in that grand circumstance, of being marked out so particularly by an angel to Cornelius, and sent to him as the oracle of God himself, from whom that worthy and honourable person was to hear words, by which he and all his house should be saved: And after this, let us view him, as once more delivered out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews, by an angel, who struck off his chains, and opened the doors of his prison, the very night before he was to have been executed. And let any one, with these particulars in his eye, added to the foregoing, in which he shared with all his brethren, say, what more could be necessary, to prove the divine inspiration of what he taught; so far as inspiration was requisite, to render it entirely authentic: Or let any one farther say, upon what imaginable pretence the authority of his writings can be denied, if that of his preaching be granted.
And to mention no more, let Paul, that great scribe, ifta structed in the kingdom of heaven, to whose pen we owe so many invaluable epistles, he considered in the same view : And let us endeavour to impress our minds with the various scenes, through which we know he passed, and the distinguished favours, with which his master honoured him ; that we may judge, how we are to receive the instructions of his pen. Let us therefore think of him, as so miraculously called by the voice of Christ to the profession of his gospel, when he was persecuting it even to the death ; as receiving a full and distinct revelation of that glorious, but to him quite unknown gospel, by the immediate inspiration of its divine author ; which is a fact he expressly witnesses, and in which he could not possibly be mistaken. Think of the lustre of those astonishing works, which shone round him wherever he went, and of those wrought in his favour, which shewed him so eminently the care of heaven : Dæmons ejected ; distempers cured, sometimes with a touch, and sometimes without, by a garment sent from him to the patient ; his motions guided from place to place by a divine oracle ; Elymas struck blind for opposing him ; his bands loosed by an earthquake; his strength and vigour instantaneously restored, when the rage of the mutable and barbarous populace at Lystra had stoned him and left him for dead; and to add no more, his safety in a shipwreck, with that of near three hundred more in the same vessel for his sake, promised by an angel, and accomplished without the loss of a single person, when they had expected nothing but an universal ruin. Let us, I say, think of Paul in these circumstances ; and with these facts full in our view, let us judge, whether it is at all probable, yea whether it be morally possible, that a man, sent out and attended with such credentials as these, should be so left of God, amidst all these tokens of his constant care, as to mingle error with sound doctrine, and his own fancies with the divine revelations, which we are sure he received: Or whether, if he were not left to such effects of human frailty in his preaching, but might have been regarded by his hearers with entire credit, he would be left to them in those writings, by which he was, as it were, to preach to all future generations of men, from one end of the world to the other, and by which, being dead, he yet speaketh, in all languages, and to all christian assemblies,
I cannot forbear thinking this plain argument, so well adapted to popular use, abundantly sufficient to carry conviction to every candid mind, in proportion to the degree of its attention and penetration. And I am almost afraid, that some should think I have bestowed an unnecessary labour, thus particularly to state a matter, which hath such a flood of light poured in upon it from almost every page of the sacred story. But I have been obliged, in the course of this exposition, to meditate much on these facts; and under the deep impression I could not but speak, as out of the fulness of my heart.
Yet after all I have already said, I should be very unjust to this argument, if I did not endeavour to represent to my reader, how much it is strengthened, on the one hand, by the express and comprehensive promises, which our Redeemer made to his apostles ; and on the other, by the peculiar Janguage in which the apostles themselves speak of their preaching and writings, and the high regard they challenge to each ; a regard, which nothing could justify thein in demanding, but a consciousness that they were indeed under a full inspiration.
The promises of our Lord Jesus Christ must undoubtedly have a very great weight with all, that have reflected on that indisputable testimony, which God himself bore to him in num. berless instances. And therefore, though they are so very well known, I must beg leave, not only to refer to them, but to recite the chief of them at large: And I entreat the reader to consider, how he can reconcile them with an apprehension, that our Lord Jesus Christ did at the same time intend to leave the persons to whom he inade such promises, liable to mistake both in facts and doctrines; and being deceived themselves, to mislead such as should depend upon their testimony, where they professed themselves to be thoroughly informed.
In that copious and excellent discourse, which our Lord addressed to the apostles, just before be quitted the guestchamber to go to the garden of Gethsemane, that is, but a few hours before his death, the grand consolation he urges to his sorrowful disciples, is this ; that he would send bis Spirit upon them. The donation of which Spirit is represented, as the first fruits of Christ's intercession ; when after so long an absence, and such terrible sufferings, he should be restored to his Father's embraces. This is spoken of as the first petition preferred by him, and the first favour granted to his church for his sake: John xiv. 16. I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another comforter, that he may abide with you for ever. Yea, Christ declares, and he could not be mistaken in it, that the agency of this Spirit should so abundantly counter-balance all the advantages, they received from his bodily presence, that strong as their affection to him was, they would in that view VOL. IV.