« PreviousContinue »
war, superiour to the most improved in their sentiments and doctrines relating to the deity*. Undoubtedly, also, our Saviour recognizes the prophetick character of many of their ancient writers. So far, therefore, we are bound as Christians to go, But to make Christianity answerable with its life, for the circumstantial truth of each separate passage of the Old Testament, the genuineness of every book, the information, fidelity, and judgment of every wri- .. ter in it, is to bring, I will not say great, but unnecessary difficulties, into the whole system. These books were universally read and received by the Jews of our Saviour's time. He and his apostles, in common with all other Jews, referred to them, alluded to them, used them. Yet, except where he expressly ascribes a divine authority to particular predictions, I do not know that we can strictly draw any conclusion from the books being so used and applied, beside the proof, which it unquestionably is, of their notoriety and reception at that time. In this view, our scriptures afford a valuable testimony to those of the Jews. But the
* "In the doctrine, for example, of the unity, the eternity, the oninipotence, the omniscience, the omnipresence, the wisdom, and the goodness of God; in their opinions concerning providence, and the creation, preservation, and government of the world.” Campbell on Mir. p. 207. To which we may add, in the acts of their religion not being accompanied either with cruelties or impurities ; in the religion itself being free from a species of superstition which prevailed universally in the popular religions of the ancient world, and which is to be found perhaps in all religions that have their origin in human artifice and credulity, viz. fanciful connexions between certain appearances and actions, and the destiny of nations or individuals. Upon these conceits rested the whole train of auguries and auspices, which formed so much even of the serious part of the religions of Greece and Rome, and of the charms and incantations which were practised in those countries by the common people. From every thing of this sort the religion of the Jews, and of the Jews alone, was free. Vide Priestley's Lectures on the Truth of the Jewish and Christian Revelation ; 1794.
nature of this testimony ought to be understood. It is surely very different from, what it is sometimes represented to be, a specifick ratification of each particular fact and opinion; and not only of each particular fact, but of the motives assigned for every action, together with the judgment of praise or dispraise bestowed upon them. St. James, , in his Epistle*, says, ' Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord.' Notwithstanding this text, the reality of Job's history, and even the existence of such a person, has been always deemed a fair subject of inquiry and discussion amongst 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 Timothyt, 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
Chap. v. 11.
† Chap. iii. 8.
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 pursued by the disciples of his school, seems to have much prevailed of late, of attacking Christianity though 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.
Rejection of Christianity. WE
E acknowledge that the Christian religion, although it converted great numbers, did not produce an universal, or even a general conviction in the minds of men, of the age and countries in which it appeared. And this want of 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.
VOL. II. 47
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 suspence, 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
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 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
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 enter-, tained 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 allow