« ПретходнаНастави »
reputation of a story that has little else to support it. This remark is also applicable to the popish miracles nearer these times, when it was as much as a man's life was worth to question or dispute them.
On the contrary, therefore, if a story make its way in opposition to prejudice, passion, established opinion, and public authority; if every adversary to the principle it is calculated to establish confess the truth of it, or, what is still more, be converted and drawn over, by having in their hands the means of discovering the falsehood if there be any there, then you may depend upon the truth of such a story, because nothing but the truth would force from men acknowledgement against the bent of their wills and inclinations.
Now under the impression of these remarks, let us investigate the Scripture history of Christ. Was it backed or upheld by prejudice, by preconceived opinion, by passion, by any public authority? The very reverse of every particular was the case. The Gospel had to contend with all these. So far, in the first place, from falling in with the established prejudices and opinions concerning the Messiah, it directly contradicted the opinion that had almost universally been taken up of him-that of a temporal prince. All the false Messiahs knew the importance of complying with the prejudices, and conforming their pretensions to this opinion; and they drew followers after them for a season by virtue of it. Christ, so far from humouring their prejudices, cut off the
hopes they had for ages flattered themselves with; he pulled down the dependence they placed, and the value they set, upon their ceremonies and traditions; he taught that even publicans and sinners and harlots should enter the kingdom of heaven before them, with all their pretended sanctity and strictness; he gave no encouragement to assert or claim deliverance from the Roman yoke, or to expect the independence of their nation, which was the passion of the Jews; he took away, what the Jews could never forgive him for, the superiority they supposed they had in God's favour over the Gentiles and the Samaritans; he called idolaters, with whom they would not so much as eat or drink, and told them that these should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whilst they should be cast out. Was this the way to make friends, to root and conciliate them all to his cause, amongst whom he might pass off false and uncertain stories of miracles and wonders, whilst he gained over their good-will and affection by the flattering doctrine he had held out to them? When the Gospel came among the heathen, it was no very palatable lesson to them to be told that they must forthwith quit those lusts and pleasures to which they were universally addicted, and take up for the future with constant purity of manners-to be taught that the idols and temples, and splendid shows and daily ceremonies were folly and absurdity. Nor was this history, whether contained in books or in the preaching of
the apostles, likely to fare much better with the priests and philosophers of those times, for the plain tendency of it was to ruin one profession and discredit the other.
As to the article of authority, that was all in opposition to the new religion. Pharisee and Sadducee, lawyers and Scribes, synagogues and sanhedrims, their own kings and Roman governors, princes and priests, philosophers and populace, were in arms against it. It was full three hundred years before Christianity became the religion of the state, or at all supported by civil government; so that there is not a colour for saying that it was a state contrivance, or a measure adopted by the rulers and great men of the world to keep the inferior part of mankind in awe. Christ never courted the favour of the rulers or powerful men of his own time and country. He dealt upon all occasions plainly and roundly with them. The event was what might be expected, that he drew down upon himself their indignation and resentment. They put him to death, persecuted his disciples, reviled, threatened, imprisoned, beat, punished, stoned; declared all who took a part infamous and excommunicated; yet we find the force of truth and evidence fought its way through the temper and disposition of the powers which Christ and the apostles had to contend with; and this a temper and disposition ready to make a handle and advantage of every thing which might influence the minds of the
people against miracles which had no foundation. Was this any thing like the case of a credulous multitude, already disposed to the matter which is delivered, and prepared to carry away with them whatever any one may please to tell them in confirmation of it? Is it not more like one who lives amongst vigilant enemies, eager to spy out any infirmity, and ready to publish them, to go on in spite of ill-grounded and idle reports, believing that any evidence short of improbability would gain credit?
To sum up the argument in a few words. We desire no other credit or favour to the Gospel history than what is due to any other history under the same circumstances. If it be found in experience that various accounts of facts published close upon, or near to, the time in which the facts are alleged to have happened; at the very place and in the country where they are alleged to have happened; addressed to the people among whom they happened; facts upon which much depended, or in consequence of which much was to be done and great alterations made, and in which, consequently, those to whom they were proposed were highly interested to inquire and inform themselves; facts, also, the belief of which was recommended by no previous inclination or favourable sentiments towards them, or upheld by authority and the sanction of great men; if, I say, account's so circumstanced have been found by experience to gain credit without foundation, there might then be no
foundation for the credit which was certainly given to the Scripture accounts. If, on the other hand, accounts or circumstances, almost unprecedented in human life, be credited for this reason, that they are found by experience not to deceive; then with what reason can we expect any deception in the accounts of the Gospel? Why should we withhold from it that assent which, I believe, every one of us would readily give to another history in the same circumstances of credibility?
I will now apply myself to an objection, which many seem to think enough to balance the force of the argument which arises from the actual credit which Christianity obtained in the first ages of the propagation of it; which objection, in two words, is this: If the miracles were really wrought as related, how is it possible that any one should resist them? How could those, however, who saw them, withstand the evidence they afforded? If Christ restored the blind, healed the sick, recovered the lame man who had lain for years at Jerusalem, raised Lazarus from the dead without the walls of the city; if Peter and John restored a cripple to perfect soundness, who had long begged at the gate of the Temple, and was well known to all who resorted thither; if the persons cured, and the circumstances of the cure, were there at hand to be examined, if they were actually examined by the Pharisees, and Priests, and rulers, as they are related to have been,-how comes it to pass