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OF THE EVIDENCES FOR THE DIVINE AUTHORITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT,
ARISING FROM CONSIDERATIONS SUGGESTED BY ITS CONTENTS,
The preceding chapter presents a system of religious principles, with which every one should be well acquainted, who means to study, with advantage, the evidences of Christianity. They indeed themselves form a body of evidence, of which those who are in quest of truth from pure motives, will feel the force in no ordinary degree. For want of the knowledge of these principles, many valuable treatises have been read with little effect. But when the nature of Christianity is understood, its excellence seen, and its importance felt, there is a field prepared, by previous cultivation, for the reception of the seed of evidence, which, there is reason to believe, will spring up, and bring forth fruit abundantly unto everlasting life. So long as the mind is ignorant of the principles of the gospel, reading on its evidences is like sowing on the highway or on a rock.
Besides the evidences arising from the doctrines of the gospel, there are some considerations closely connected with them, and suggested by the contents, spirit, structure, and design of the New Testament, which merit particular attention. If they do not of themselves amount to a full proof that it is divine, they at least render it plain that it is the most extraordinary book which was ever written; they strengthen the presumption in its favour; and they lay a still stronger and surer foundation for external evidence to rest upon.
The New Testament conveys more Improvement to the Mind
than any other Book.
Most of the men who composed this book spent their early days in manual employments. They lived about three years
with Christ as his disciples. After his death they became teachers of his religion; and they wrote the New Testament. The Grecian philosophers, and some Romans, spent all their days in the pursuits of literature, and in the acquisition of knowledge. They also wrote books. On a comparison, judging merely from the character of the writers, which may be expected to excel ?—Can it be a question ? Can any imagine these unlettered Jews capable of writing a book to be even named after the works of men of such exalted genius as the Grecian sages ? But let both be examined with impartiality; and it will be found, that with respect to real information and knowledge, the New Testament is as far above the best heathen writings, as the heavens are above the earth. It may indeed be justly asserted, that the New Testament, connected with the Old, here stands alone, and has neither equal nor second. The knowledge it conveys concerning God, his perfections, and government; concerning man, his nature, duty, and happiness; concerning the present world, and a future state of retribution; in short, concerning every object which it is important for us to be acquainted with, is unequalled.
The ideas are most excellent, most abundant, and expressed with clearness and simplicity. The imagination may be more entertained with the decorations of fancy in other books; the taste may be more gratified with elegant composition;. but no where else is there such a mass of interesting truths, on every subject which concerns man as a citizen of this world, and as an immortal creature. In both these respects the New Testament contains the greatest measure of mental improvement; and tends to make men not only more pious and moral than all other books can, but likewise more rational and wise.
The argument will derive still more weight from the consideration, that the whole mass of truth in the gospel is not discerned at once. From the day when was written to the present time, every age has found out something new. During the two last centuries, how many important discoveries have been made of latent truths, which are now clear as the light of day. Nor is the mine exhausted. From the same field, wise and good men will, by persevering research, continue to present to the world their precious and ample treasures, as the reward of pious industry.
If any thing more be thought necessary to produce a conviction of its superior excellence, let it be compared with other books. I need not say,
compare it with the koran;" for the good ideas there are borrowed from the New Testament.
Or shall I say, compare it; and you will perceive the man of Mecca corrupting what he pilfers, defiling it with prejudices and passions while it passes through his mind, and blending it with his own absurd reveries. I need not compare it with the books of Christian writers; because they glory in having derived their sentiments from the code of their religion. You urge me to compare it with the writings of modern deists. But the comparison would be unfair. They borrowed their ideas of moral truths from the New Testament; they lighted their taper at the fire of this sun. If you can point out one good principle in them, which is not contained in it, there will then, and not till then, be room to boast. But compare them if you will; I am not afraid of the issue. The just line of comparison is with the most celebrated books, in the eastern and western parts of the world, before the coming of Christ. Let the sages of Greece and Rome, let the votaries of Brahma and of Fo, produce their sacred books for a critical inspection on this point. I am confident that every fair opponent will, without a moment's hesitation, give the palm to the men of Galilee.
But whence comes it to pass, that these unlettered men should be able to write the best, the most instructive book which the world contains; and that none since, in any country or age, have been able to improve upon it, or write a better? Some adequate cause must be assigned. Those who, instead of a satisfactory answer, would laugh, and ridicule the book, must retire from the field occupied by fair reasoners and respectable antagonists, to the ground allotted to the unreputable corps of buffoons. When they are gone, let the others judge who acts the wisest part—the opponent of the gospel, who rejects the most improving book that ever was written ? or the Christian who receives it, and accounts for its pre-eminence from its being written by the inspiration of infinite wisdom ?
There are no false Principles in the New Testament.
When I read the writings of those ancient historians, orators, poets, or philosophers, which are so highly celebrated as to form the text-books of modern education, I am grieved to see the multitude of false principles with which they abound. Ambition is fostered and recommended; the love of fame encouraged; military glory displayed before the youthful throng, in the most fascinating colours; and those are represented as the first of human kind, who bear away the laurels from the ensanguined field. Literary pride is fanned, and incense offered to adepts in science. Admiration of wealth and distinction is generated; and the profanum vulgus (the poor people) pointed at as an object of hatred and contempt.
From these revered, may I not add idolized authors, I turn to the New Testament; and I find myself in a new world. What a difference of mind and heart! A spark of the same spirit I do not perceive; I cannot discover a false principle from beginning to end. If it be said, I am a partial judge, I challenge the acutest unbeliever to peruse the book with this view. Let him point out one false principle stated with approbation, or recommended to imitation; and I will give up its claim to divine authority. But no such thing is to be found.
Here is a remarkable phenomenon which must be accounted for by deists in a satisfactory manner. Will it be said, “ They were Jews?” But does this remove the difficulty? How came they to be wiser than other people? Merely their being Jews will not solve the difficulty. Josephus was a Jew. He lived nearly at the same time with the writers of the New Testament; but in “ The Antiquities of his Nation,” and in his “ History of the War with the Romans," it is easy to detect a considerable number of false principles. Philo, his contemporary, is chargeable with the same faults. The Talmuds, the productions of the most learned rabbies of a following age, are still worse.
But what is more remarkable, we do not find a freedom from false principles in Christian writers, though they derived their ideas of truth and duty from the New Testament. Commentaries have been written on this book in almost every age. With a pure text before them, they have had every advantage for furnishing the world with a pure comment; but they do not succeed. In the ancient fathers, how easy is it to perceive the false principles of converted pagans and philosophers. In latter ages, the false principles of the feudal system often rise before our eyes. Every commentary of the last century, without exception, though it was more enlightened than any of the preceding, will furnish the attentive reader with many examples of the same thing. How extraordinary must this appear to the adept in moral science! Some fishermen in Galilee wrote a book, in which not one false principle is to be found. There is no other book in which they are not to be
found. We find them crowded in the wisest of the ancient heathens. They are to be found in contemporary and succeeding Jews. They are to be found in Christian commentators, from the days of the apostles to the present time. Nor would the most enlightened disciples of Jesus, who now adorn his church, be able wholly to escape the same censure. Were they to attempt to write a history like that of the gospel, how many errors should we find in it, and how many faults!
Let him who rejects the New Testament assign a reason for this. Will he say, “ Though Christians have not been able to write a book without interspersing false principles, a Hume, a Gibbon, a Voltaire, a Rousseau, could with ease accomplish it?" May not a Christian with justice retort, “ What they could do is best known by what they have done?” But do we not perceive in them false principles and evil dispositions without number? Were this a treatise, and not a sketch, how easy would it be to bring them forward justifying a disregard of God, and of his worship, and patronizing or recommending pride, ambition, sensuality, a contempt of others, &c. &c. &c. It will, indeed, be obvious to the most inadvertent observer, that no standard of moral sentiments and conduct is lower than theirs. Still, then, the New Testament stands alone and without a rival. Divine inspiration will account for its superiority and singularity. Let him who will not allow this assign a more satisfactory reason.
The New Testament is in direct opposition to every depraved
Principle in Human Nature.
Laws, it has been asserted, must be suited to the dispositions and manners of the people for whom they are made. Divine rectitude scorns the idea. Let laws, it says, be perfectly good, however bad the persons for whom they are designed. The former is, indeed, the dictate of human policy; and men, guided by no higher principles, have acted according to it, both in ancient and modern times. This was the wisdom of the ancient legislators among the heathens; and many in modern times have laughed loud at the folly of attempting to give a perfect code of laws to an imperfect and depraved nation. The religion which the legislators of old blended in their system was of a piece with their laws, and was designed to be sweet