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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 failings of their number related, but no vindication, apology, or mitigation added; nor have they filled their accounts with tedious complaints of the injustice, malice, or unreasonableness of their own, or their Master's enemies; they have not bestowed any set encomiums upon Christ himself. The character indeed that results from the facts they have mentioned, is the most perfect that can be conceived: but yet, here are no hints at the masterly strokes of his character; no enlarging on the justness, propriety, aptness, beauty of his parables; no enhancing of his miracles from the number, greatness of them, or the manner of their performance: but only a plain simple narrative of his discourses and behaviour, with the reflections that were made upon him by others, which are likewise delivered with a remarkable plainness and simplicity.
I may have dwelt too long upon these two or three particulars; but I own a discovery of naked simple truth in history is enchanting. It gives one uncommon delight to observe it in any history, though of no extraordinary importance; one is so often disgusted with that favour on the one side, spite and malice on the other, which do so continually occur in the works of the most celebrated historians of all ages and nations, of all sects and religions. To find it therefore in the most early accounts of our religion, is a peculiar satisfaction; and though these accounts may be destitute of some ornaments, not altogether inconsistent with truth and faithfulness, yet they have what illustrates and recommends them much more than exactness of method, purity of stile, the harmony of periods, and the most elaborate and finished oratory of set speech could ever have done.
There is but this one point of practice I would take this opportunity to recommend to you; and that is, the frequent and diligent reading of the scriptures, especially of the New Testament; and that you would not read them now and then a chapter; but some large portions at a time, when you have leisure, and find yourselves disposed for serious consideration, and best fitted for making reflections. You might thus for yourselves make such remarks, whereby you might be charmed with the natural representation of things, the plain simplicity of the narration, and be more fully convinced of the credibility of the whole narration, and consequently be more persuaded of the truth and divine original of that religion you profess, which is the foundation of comfort under the troubles and afflictions you are exercised withal in this world, and of the hope you have of happiness for yourselves and your friends in the next.
INTERNAL MARKS OF CREDIBILITY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.
For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his Majesty. 2 Peter, i. 16.
We are laying before you the arguments for the truth of our religion; a design that needs no apology, and that may justly be undertaken without any particular provocation. It would be. necessary and useful though there were none that contested the truth of it, or that offered any objections against it. for every man ought to have grounds for the religious principles he entertains.
Without therefore any harsh reflections upon others, I shall calmly prosecute my argument, and proceed to set before you some farther evidences of the credibility of the gospel history, namely, that Jesus Christ dwelt in Judea at the time mentioned in the gospels, taught in the name of God, wrought many miracles, and foretold many events which afterwards came to pass, in confirmation of his mission from heaven, suffered on the cross, rose again, and ascended into heaven, and that the apostles and others, by powers derived from him, confirmed his doctrine. by many wonderful works, and propagated it in many parts of the world.
If the account we have received of these things be credible, we have, the highest reason to believe our religion is true, and of divine original..
I proposed in a former discourse, you may remember, to consider the marks and characters there are of truth, in the account we have of these things in the books of the New Testament.
I have already made considerable progress in these internal testimonies, these marks and characters of truth, observable in the writings of the New Testament which render the account we have received highly probable, and such as may be admitted by reasonable and inquisitive persons. Some of them were the just and natural representation which is here given of all matters related and treated of, the impartiality of the history, the plainness and simplicity of the narration. I shall not now stay to rehearse any other particulars than those now mentioned. I may by and by go them all over again, when I sum up the argument. For the present I proceed to what remains..
8. Here are many facts and circumstances set down, so that if the relation were not true, they might have been easily confuted. This is a good argument of the truth and credibility of any history, and is very observable in this. For men writing a forged and invented story, to have taken this method, had been to expose themselves to an easy and certain confutation, and all the reproaches of falsehood and imposture, and would have been declined and avoided by all persons of an ordinary sagacity.
The scenes of the most material actions are not the deserts of Arabia, or some other obscure and unfrequented places; the time fixed is not some distant age, nor is the account given ob- scure and general.
The facts are related as lately done, some of them as transacted at Jerusalem, then undersubjection to the Roman government, and garrisoned by a band of Roman soldiers, others at Cesarea, others in cities of great resort in Syria, and other parts: so far is the account from being general and obscure, that here are notes of time, circumstances of place, names of persons, occasion of action, and many other particulars that might facilitate inquiries, and render a detection no difficult matter, if the relation had not been true. Thus, "these things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing," John i. 28.
The chief seat of our Saviour's preaching and miracles was Galilee, and the towns and villages bordering upon the sea of that name, called likewise the sea of Tiberias: his frequent crossing of that sea from one side to the other; what things happened on one side, what on the
other, are for the most part set down very distinctly: and for this reason, among others, probably, was this place chosen; that by passing over to the other side of that water, he could avoid that concourse of people his miracles might otherwise have occasioned, and which was necessary for preventing all umbrage of tumult or disturbance in the government: and this was a country at no great distance from Jerusalem: from whence the high priest and pharisees might easily send officers to see what was done, or was related to have been done there, and might inquire into the truth of matters. This country was likewise very near to Cesarea, at this time the seat of the Roman proconsul, and inhabited by great numbers of Jews, as well as Greeks and Syrians: "And they came over unto the other side of the sea into the country of the Gadarenes; and when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs, a man with an unclean spirit," Mark v. 1, 2. Him, our Saviour delivered; after which upon our Saviour's permission, the evil spirits that came out of the man, entered into swine feeding there, which ran violently into the sea: " and when Jesus was passed over again by ship unto the other side," ver. 21. he cured the daughter of one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name.
There are accounts render inquiries easy. loaves and two fishes.
Luke ix. 10, 11.
of miracles wrought, in which vast numbers were concerned, which must Five thousand men, besides women and children, were fed with five This was done in a desart place, belonging to the city of Bethsaida.
Our Saviour is said to have been crucified at Jerusalem, at the time of the passover.
The gift of tongues is said to have been bestowed likewise at Jerusalem, at Pentecost; and at these two feasts, it is well known, there used to be at that time a resort of vast numbers of people, Jews and proselytes, to Jerusalem; not only from all parts of Judea, but also from many other countries.
The first instance of the invitation of a heathen into the religion of Christ, was Cornelius, a Roman, an officer of Cesarea, a considerable person in a noted city. The mention of such facts as these, in this manner, if not true, must have laid them open to an easy confutation, and all the reproaches of imposture.
But there are other particulars related, which had a tendency to raise resentment in persons of figure and power, and, if false, must some of them have exposed them to punishment, without any grounds for pity or justification from any. The account given of the persecution of our Saviour, by the high priests and pharisees, is of this nature; and his condemnation by Pilate, governor of Judea of this kind is the account given of the beheading of John the baptist, and the occasion of it. Matt. xiv. Nor would it have been safe to have told such a story as is done, of St. Paul's being seized in the temple by a great number of Jews, and carried thence to be stoned by them; Acts xxi. of his being taken out of their hands by Lysias the chief captain; of the Jews that devoted themselves afterwards, under a curse, to kill Paul; of Lysias sending him afterwards under a guard to Felix, the governor of Cesarea, Acts xxii. or Paul's preaching before Felix and Drusilla; and that Felix trembled when Paul reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, and that he hoped to have had money given him of Paul, that he might lose him; and that Felix delivered over Paul to Portius Festus, his successor, willing to do the Jews a favour, Acts xxiv. 25, 26. nor would they have related an appearance of Paul before king Agrippa and Bernice, who came to Cesarea to salute Festus, Acts xxv. 13. nor the apology he made for himself before them. Such facts as these would never have been mentioned in this manner, if not true. This then is another argument of the credibility of this history.
9. Another internal testimony of the truth of this history is, the marks of honesty and integrity of the persons engaged in the first publishing the gospel, and who were the witnesses of thn main facts here related, which appear in the writings of the New Testament. These we may learn by nicely observing their conduct in the prosecution of this design.
There is indeed another way of making out the honesty of these persons; for the proving of that, and that the gospel was no invention, or cunningly devised fable, as the apostle's expression is in the text, but what they were fully persuaded of in their own minds, we might argue in this
Was it likely, that a few persons of an obscure birth in Judea, supported by no considerable alliances, should entertain a thought of subverting the religious worship and customs of their
own country, and of the rest of the world, unless they were fully persuaded they had special illuminations and extraordinary assistance from God, and should be supported by him with a power of working such miracles as this history relates they performed? Were they ignorant of the bigotry and stiffness of their own countrymen, or of the circumstances of other people in the world, whose religions were supported by antiquity, great unanimity, by the power of the nations in which they obtained, by the influence and arms of the Roman empire, then spread over almost all the known parts of the world; all which religions were very inviting and engaging, by the vast indulgence they gave to the corrupt inclinations of men? Could they imagine they should be able by mere artifice, or bare force of argument, to propagate a religion entirely new, that would lay a disgrace on the rites and ceremonies instituted by Moses, as mean: and insignificant, that paid no honour to their temple, or their sacrifices, or their solemn feasts, and denied altogether the traditions of the elders, for which the Jews had so high a veneration: in a word, that retained scarce any part or principle of that religion, besides the one article of the one God, that made the heavens and the earth, and that would assert the gods of all other countries and people were devils, or senseless idols, and represent their religious principles and practices as absolutely absurd and abominable?
Was it likely that any persons should, for the sake of a forgery, run the hazard of all those sufferings and inconveniences they could not but expect in the prosecution of such a design? What could they expect but disgrace and contempt at least, to be deemed madmen at best, that. would propagate notions contrary to all the rest of mankind, perhaps to be treated as seditious and turbulent, men that had bad designs, contrary to the common belief of the civil constitutions of the world? No advantage possible to be obtained without great fatigue and many dangers : they must encounter the passions as well as the sentiments of mankind.. Would any men undergo this for the sake of a mere invention? What is there so taking in being the head of a. party? especially, could it be likely that men of a low education, as most of these persons were, should be seized with this sort of ambition, and enter on a design encumbered with so many dif ficulties? Would they not rather choose peace and quietness at home, and a competence in the callings they were bred up in? As for Paul in particular, what temptation of gain or honour could he have in this undertaking? Was he not bred up in the most honourable and flourishing: sect in his own nation, under a master of considerable reputation, and must he not here have the fairest view of all that could flatter his pride and ambition, if these were the principles that governed him?
But in answer to all this, it may be said, this does not seem very likely. However, it is not impossible, and can never be proved, that no men may form projects, which have not at first appearance any prospect of success; some men are fond of their own schemes, and have an high opinion of their own abilities, imagine they can surmount very great difficulties, and by address and artifice, break through a great deal of opposition. Some have engaged in great and hazardous designs, and have succeeded beyond what the most could have imagined; and the few instances there have been of this kind, may give encouragement to others of a bold and pre-sumptuous imagination..
As to the mean occupations of most of the twelve, some such persons have had high spirits,. and have been carried by their ambition into vast designs: as for the pains they must take, the fatigues they must undergo, many persons will forego outward ease, and sensual pleasure, and be at a great deal of pains to carry a point they have once proposed to themselves. As for the sufferings and inconveniences they run the hazard of, all men do not judge alike of these things: the timorous and the daring are very differently affected by them. Some imagine difficulties in every thing; others reckon every thing they have a mind to, easy to accomplish. Some men's spirits are sharpened by the appearance of difficulties, and they are even fond of such undertakings. As to Paul's prospects of honour and advancement in his own nation and his own sect, it might be so as has been represented; but perhaps he had met with some check, and his pretensions were not gratified, and in a disgust he might resolve revenge, and enter into a design that should ruin the sect that had shown him unkindness. So that a great deal may be said on both sides, in this general speculation, on the passions, interests, views, and inclinations of men.
I cannot say we need decline this way of arguing as if we had no advantage in it; for certainly, considering the state of the world at that time, the circumstances of Jews and Gentiles,
the apostles must have had a very unaccountable turn of mind, and have been very different from the rest of their species, it by their own skill and contrivance they imagined they could bring any great number of persons over to their opinions, which were singular, and opposite to all others; and if they had not entertained hopes of making a considerable number of proselytes, they could not act upon secular views and considerations. However, at present I do not insist upon this; and the course of my argument leads me to the other method of surveying and examining their conduct, to see what marks they give of design, what of honesty and integrity. This seems to be more decisive than the other way. We have, in the writings of the New Testament, sufficient materials to go upon in this inquiry.
That they did not set out in this undertaking with secular views, and were not actuated by them in the prosecution of it, appears in all the parts of their conduct; they did not aim at pleasure and ease, at wealth or honour.
That they did not seek ease and bodily pleasure, appears from the fatigues they underwent, the journeys they took; and that imprisonment, stripes, and scourging, did not discourage them in prosecuting their design. But this is so evident that it need not be insisted on.
And if men propose the aggrandizing themselves by heaping up wealth, or by raising to themselves authority and power, they will often forego and neglect bodily pleasure: but neither did they seek wealth, for they made no profit of the religious instructions they gave men, nor of the powers they claimed and put in practice, of healing distempers, and removing other bodily inconveniences men laboured under. They freely employed this power on the poor and necessitous, such as were able to make no requitals for it; though they were far from being possessed of any superfluous riches. Peter and John, of mere benevolence healed the lame man that was daily laid at the gate of the temple to ask alms of them who entered into it: and Peter said unto him, "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: in the name of Jesus of Nazareth rise up and walk," Acts iii. 6. Men that are rich will give any part of their substance to recover their health, and preserve life, when under painful and dangerous illnesses; and any advantages might be made of this power, supposing it possible to be lodged in men of a sordid spirit, or a worldly mind; especially if we consider that the apostles are represented, not only as possessed of the power of healing themselves, but likewise of a capacity of bestowing gifts of the Holy Ghost on others. Selfish and covetous persons would have purchased such a gift at any rate : but the apostles detested such a thing as making profits of this part of their power. They met with temptations of this kind, but rejected them with the utmost abhorrence and indignation. When the gospel had been received by some at Samaria, and the apostles had conferred some gifts on some of the converts; "When Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost; but Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought the gift of God may be purchased with money; thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter," Acts viii. 18-21.
In divers places where Paul spent a considerable time in sowing the seed of religious principles, in convincing and teaching, he refused all gratuities, though he did, it is true, accept of some supply from others. "When I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man; for that which was lacking to me, the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied; and in all things, I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you:" 2 Cor. xi. 9; but all this appears, from the expression made use of, to have been only a supply for the present, and what could not last long. And it is plain from what St. Luke relates, that during part of his stay at Corinth, he worked with his own hands for the gaining what was necessary for the support of life: "After these things, Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth, and found a certain Jew, named Aquila, with his wife Priscilla; and because he was of the same craft he abode with them, and wrought, (for by their occupation they were tent-makers"), Acts xviii. 1—3. At Thessalonica likewise this was the case: for he tells the Thessalonians: "You remember, brethren, our labour, and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God," 1 Epistle ii. 9. Nor did he suffer others to make any considerable advantages. "Did I make a gain of you, by any of those whom I sent unto you? I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother: did Titus make a gain of you? walked we not in the same steps?" 2 Cor. xii. 17, 18.
Yea the apostle professed himself a loser on the account of this religion, which whether true