« PreviousContinue »
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
ON THE PROBABILITY OF A DIVINE REVELATION TO MANKIND, AND ON THE GENUINENESS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
THE antecedent probability, that, during the course of his government over the world, God would bestow upon mankind a clear outward revelation respecting their nature, responsibility, and future prospects, and respecting that part of his own will and designs, with which they are particularly connected—or rather that he would renew that original revelation which we may suppose to have taken place when man was first created-is a point which will be disputed by no person of reflection, who takes a just view of the attributes of God, on the one hand, and of the spiritual wants of man, on the other. Since God is omnipotent, since he is also holy and benevolent,-lessons which we plainly learn from natural religion,—we may, in the first place, rest assured that he is able to reveal his truth to mankind; and, secondly, we may reasonably believe that he would actually do so, if, on a careful examination of the condition of man, we discover that such a revelation was necessary, in order to our being wise, virtuous, and happy.
[Ess. 1. Now, let any person of common sense and competent knowledge take a broad, general, view of this question, and decide upon it according to facts. Let him reflect on the moral and religious state of the ancient heathen nations. Let him examine the records of their absurd idolatry, and of their gross, yet allowed, vices. Let him mark the steady continuance of this extreme degradation, in the midst of an astonishing progress, among some of them, in art, literature, and science. Let him trace, in the writings of the wisest of their philosophers themselves, a palpable ignorance of many important sentiments, -chiefly respecting the Deity-which modern infidels have borrowed from Christianity, and fear not to avow as their own. Let him then turn his attention to the heathenism of our own days, and bestow a few moments' thought on the excessive folly, the disgusting lasciviousness, and the insatiable thirst for blood, which are its principal features; and he will no longer deny the practical necessity, and therefore the strong antecedent probability, of a divine revelation. And yet, on a fair examination of the analogy of the known course of God's providence, he would be ready to allow that this antecedent probability by no means demanded such a sudden and irresistible effulgence of light as should preclude the exercise of inquiry and faith, or at once evangelize our whole species; but, rather, the simple introduction, into the world, of divinely authorized knowledge, which, although it might be partial in its commencement, and slow in its progress, should nevertheless operate in a sure, steady, and uniform manner-just like the little leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened.
Such precisely are the pretensions of Christianity.
During the reign of Tiberius over the Roman empire, and while Pontius Pilate was Procurator of Judea-a period when the Jews were, from the coincidence of various signs, led to expect a messenger from heaven-there arose in that country a person of great wisdom, who was called Jesus Christ, or Jesus the anointed one. He was the founder of a system of religion, and professed to be commissioned by his heavenly Father, to promulgate a revelation of divine truth. He was followed by several disciples, and was put to death by his enemies; and, after his decease, his followers were extensively, and very successfully, engaged in propagating his religion, both among the Jews and in the world at large. These are facts which the infidel is not accustomed to deny. Nor can they be disputed with the least appearance of reason, since they are tacitly recognized, incidentally alluded to, or expressly declared, not only by Christians, but by several heathen writers, and are, moreover, in the most substantial manner, confirmed by a long course of remarkable events, to which they have given rise.
The history of this wonderful individual-of his birth, life, preaching, death, resurrection, and ascension-together with the whole doctrinal and moral system which he inculcated and established, are recorded in a single volume-the New Testament. This single volume, however, consists of the separate works of several independent authors; for it contains four distinct histories of the life of Jesus; a narrative of the proceedings of his followers, after his death; a considerable number of Epistles, in which the principles of Christianity are clearly unfolded; and, lastly, a book of Revelation, replete with prophetical descriptions of events which were to affect the church of Christ, during her great career, through much opposition and many sufferings, to victory, glory, and per