« PreviousContinue »
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 be haviour, with the reflections that were made upon him by others which are likewise delivered with a reinarkable 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 style 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 bave 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
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 Pet. 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 Cbrist 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 im
partiality 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 wbat 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 obscure and general.
The facts are related as lately done, some of them as transacted at Jerusalem, then under subjection 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 of miracles wrought, in which vast numbers were concerned, which must render inquiries easy. Five thousand men, besides women and children, were fed with five loaves and two fishes. This was done in a desert place, belonging to the city Bethsaida, Luke ix. 10, 11.
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 at Cesare a, 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. of 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 loose 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 the 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 alliance, 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
rcumstances 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