« PreviousContinue »
BURIAL AND RESURRECTION
I must first acquaint my readers with the origin of the present treatise. No part of the history of Christ has created such difficulties, as that which relates to the Resurrection. Many of these have been obviated by commentators, but many still remained to excite curiosity or doubt. I adınit, that there is no part of evangelical history which, upon the whole, is so little satisfactory. One reason, perhaps, may be, that what we ourselves steadfastly believe, we conclude others will believe with equal readiness : another reason is, that, in examining the question, too little attention has been paid to the circumstances, whether eye-witnesses and
apostles spoke, as in the gospels of Matthew and of John, or whether Mark and Luke, who were not so, were the narrators : and thirdly, whether the last eight verses of Mark are to be considered as undoubtedly genuine. Clergymen, whose profession leads them to preach upon given subjects, frequently take things for granted; and unbelievers seeing, as they fancy, the weak side of the question, attack them upon points, upon which the majority are unprepared. When I first lectured upon the Christian religion, I so implicitly followed my predecessor, that it was a considerable time, before these doubts operated with such force upon my mind, as to induce me seriously to discuss, and to endeavour if I could to remove, them. The resurrection of Christ is the corner-stone of Christianity; the apostles made it the foundation of their faith, and with reason, for a dead man, publicly crucified, coming again to life, cannot be an imposition, which it is possible to practise successfully: Any apparent contradictions, however, in the writings of the four evangelists are to me no argument against the truth of Christianity. They are an argument only against the divine inspiration of the evangelists, and reduce the question at once to the standard of credible history;
and in fact, where is the history told by distinct persons, in which, however true the basis, the details are not tinged with variations. For myself, I have always believed the history, independent of the narration of even the three first evangelists; I have already shown in my " Introduction to the New Testament,” that the truth of Christianity does not depend upon the fact of the divine inspiration of its penmen, and that he, who wishes to convince another of its truth, must begin by considering the four evangelists as human beings, who wrote with all the conviction and sincerity of faith, but with all the fallibility of men. Time, however, and investigation gradually diminished the number of my doubts, and I felt convinced that the adoption of this principle, as applying equally to sacred and profane historians, would eventually and entirely remove them. Any apparent contradiction between Luke and Mark, especially in the last eight verses of the latter, gave me little uneasiness. Assuming even that the deficiency of our religious history had left the great question of the resurrection doubtful, and to those who lived in the first century it was not doubtful, still I had the miracles of Christ, which even the Jews admitted, the mi
racles of the apostles, the prophecies relating to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the prophecies of the Old Testament, upon which to ground my faith. With this view, I read a course of lectures upon the subject, giving it every advantage which a predetermined impartiality could confer, and endeavouring to extract from colloquial as well as separate study the several benefits which are attached to both. The result was, that my doubts were completely tranquillized, and where there might be any thing like doubt or anxiety, I found it either in the last eight verses of Mark, or in a various reading, or in the translation of the original text into the Greek language. Four years afterwards, viz. in 1777, the famous fragments from the Library at Wolfenbüttel, in which the whole Christian religion, and, in particular, the history of the Resurrection was most acrimoniously attacked, made their appearance. Without farther enquiry into the name of the author, it may be sufficient to mention that the ignorance displayed in the several parts of the work was completely at variance with the great learning, by which it is said to have been dictated. The investigation became, from this circumstance, doubly interest
Connected with this, was an attack upon
the credibility of the interment of Christ, in which the author avails himself of Luther's German translation, more defective in this, than in any other part of the translation, and even more defective than the one, published fifty years before Luther. It became, therefore, necessary, , (and the subject rewarded itself,) to give to this point also the advantage of a strict and impartial examination. The course of lectures, which produced the present treatise, was given in 1782. These “ Fragments,” however, (the vehicle of a most violent attack upon the Christian religion,) made a great impression in Germany; but they are still untenable upon the main point: for allowing the author the benefit of the contradictions which he states to have discovered in the gospels, it does not follow, as Lessing has well observed, that the history of the interment and of the resurrection is false, but that the gospels were not the effect of immediate inspiration, and subject to the same fallibility which all men either confess or feel. If four men write a history of what has taken place in their own time, and do not all rectify their narrations by one and the same standard, it is almost impossible they should perfectly agree, and that they should not be liable to variations.