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suit of happiness, the desire of honour, and a sense of favours bestowed, and many others. Besides these, some peculiar principles of action arise from the different characters of men, one of which is a predominant or governing principle, which acts as the mainspring of the rational machine, and directs the conduct, and regulates the life. I observe one man eminently pious; a thousand instances of love to God and man blaze forth in his life. A second, whom I know is the slave of ambition; I have traced the passion in his heart from his earliest years; it has grown with his growth. I am acquainted with a third who is under the absolute dominion of avarice; the only business of his life is to possess. There is another whom I have observed with attention; he is the votary of pleasure, and he has followed it as a trade for many years; the indulgence of all his appetites and sensual passions appears to be the sole end of his existence. There is an old friend with whom I have had dealings for many years, and have always found to be a man of sterling and tried integrity; he may be trusted with untold gold. His opposite neighbour is an arrant cheat; he will deceive and defraud whenever it is in his power.
From the knowledge we acquire of such characters, enlarged by the numerous lessons of history, we can judge, with tolerable accuracy, what men will do. Is an eminent example displayed of moderation of wishes, and contentment with a little? No one says, “ Alexander, or Cæsar, was the man.” If we are informed of prisoners being treated with unparalleled cruelty, we do not suspect Mr Howard. Do we hear of a course of remarkable self-government, as to the appetites and passions? Every one exclaims, “It is neither Nero nor Heliogabalus." If we read of a robbery, accompanied with a shocking murder, in the dead of night, laid to the charge of Socrates or Epictetus, we throw the book away with indignation, and cry, “ the charge is false.”
Every one can easily enlarge the list of examples.
These general, and especially these distinguishing and peculiar, principles which bear sway in the hearts of men, constitute that moral order which enables us to form a judgment of human conduct. In the common affairs of life, and in things of the greatest importance to our present happiness, we are guided, by the rules of this moral order, to decide what particular persons will do, and what measures they will adopt; and we thereby acknowledge its existence, and its certainty. Will it not be equally applicable to the system of Christianity, and the testimony of the apostles? It certainly is: for we are to proceed here by the very same rules of reasoning, and the same kind of evidence, as in other things which depend on testimony. Let the impartial reader, who is in search of truth, keep this constantly in view; and then let him consider what kind of men the witnesses of Jesus were, and what degree of credit is due to the testimony which they adduce.
The Quality and Number of the Witnesses.
What office can be conceived more important to the happiness of mankind, than that of the persons who were to be the witnesses of Jesus, and to testify his divine mission to the world. The choice rested with himself. Had he selected them from the rabbies, and scribes, and chief priests, it might have been suspected that there was a design, by means of human learning, to impose upon mankind. By the choice which was made, this suspicion is avoided. Christ called men from the ordinary employments of the mass of society. As to their moral improvements and character, they appear to have been plain, serious, good men, who had read the Old Testament with considerable attention, and were well acquainted with its contents.
By the mouth of two or three witnesses every end of testimony is fully answered. But the matter to be testified here was uncommon; and therefore Christ employed a much greater number. He called twelve. This will be allowed to be ample. If two or three may be suspected of artifice, and may be able to unite in publishing a falsehood, it is difficult for twelve to
At the same time their union in bearing testimony will strengthen the weight of the evidence.
The persons chosen had the best opportunities of understanding what they were to testify. Christ admitted them into his family. They lived with him upwards of three years. He favoured them with his most intimate friendship; and they had a perfect knowledge of his character, disposition, the actions of his life, his death, and all the wondrous scenes which followed, till they at last beheld him ascend to heaven. Nothing was kept secret from them; and there was no reserve.
The Grecian philosophers had their esoteric* and their exoterict doctrines. Mohammed pretended a revelation from heaven, to prevent a Mussulman from entering his habitation, except when requested by himself. Nothing like these is to be found in Jesus. He was accessible at every hour: his disciples saw the whole of his behaviour, and heard the whole of his doctrine. They lived with him on terms of the greatest, yet most respectful intimacy; so that never men had fairer opportunities of knowing any matter, than were presented to the apostles, of knowing every thing relative to the character and mission of Jesus Christ.
Their Qualifications for bearing Testimony to Christ.
In those who appear to give their testimony in matters of importance, we have a right to look for two things—capacity and integrity. Let us examine if they are to be found in these men.
A moderate portion of intellect will be sufficient in the present case. The thing to be testified is not a matter of abstruse speculation; but a collection of facts, on which some plain principles, naturally resulting from them, are founded. What measure of capacity a man possesses, nothing will more plainly discover than his writing of a book. The witnesses of Jesus have done this; and the New Testament will convince every one that there was no defect of understanding to disqualify them for the office.
But the heart must be sound as well as the head. Integrity is absolutely necessary to render a testimony credible; and is indeed the chief thing. To a candid inquirer, who will give every circumstance its due weight, it must be evident, that if words in unpremeditated speech, or in writing—if a long course of actions and sufferings can demonstrate integrity, never were there on earth more upright men than the apostles of Jesus Christ.
But sometimes, where men have appeared to possess a good understanding and unquestionable integrity, they have been so entirely under the influence of enthusiasm, as to become the senseless dupes of an over-heated imagination, and of intoxicated passions. Though, therefore, the apostles should * Secret.
not be impostors, yet, if they be enthusiasts, it renders their testimony of no avail. The remark is just, but it does not apply. Consult the records of their lives—all is wisdom and soberness. Add to this the study of their writings: there is no enthusiasm there; a sound judgment appears from beginning to end. The subject is the highest that can employ the mind; but we find no wild flights of imagination. There are passages which express the most vigorous energies of the soul, and all the ardour of the strongest affection: but the subject lays a sufficient foundation for them; and then, rapture is reason, not enthusiasm. Indeed, an enemy to Christianity, if he have one spark of candour remaining in his breast, must justify them from the charge.*
Their Sincerity, and personal Conviction of the Truth
of their Testimony.
From the manner of a person's conversation, or writing, sagacious men can judge, with a considerable degree of accuracy, whether he is in earnest or not. No book has been perused with so much attention as the New Testament, both by friends and foes. One design, at least, of the enemies, has been to spy out faults. Insincerity and deceit are the greatest. But what discoveries have they made? When Mohammed introduces passages in the koran, containing a command or permission from heaven to multiply his wives, by adding to the number those on whom he had cast the eye of desire, and likewise to seclude them from the society of those whom jealousy feared; it requires no more than ordinary sagacity to perceive the sensual motive. But is there any thing like this in the writers of the New Testament? Every line marks them as sincere, disinterested, and honest men. With the utmost simplicity they mention their prejudices, their weaknesses, and their faults. The highest tone of sincerity vibrates through the whole of the book. There is a constant abhorrence of iniquity, a sense of God's presence and holiness, and a deep and clear view of him as the avenger of all iniquity. But their sincerity appears in the whole tenor of their lives and actions in a most remarkable manner.
* The apostles, unless they really believed what they so often asserted concerning the resurrection of Christ, could not be enthusiasts. If they stole his dead body, as the soldiers asserted, the very act must have cured them of enthusiasm. If it remained in the grave, fraud, and not enthusiasm, must have published that Jesus was risen. But their conduct shows that they were convinced that he rose from the dead, and appeared to them afterwards, and ascended to heaven before their eyes. Hence that noble ardour for the propagation of the truth, which animated the whole of their future life. Men may call this enthusiasm if they will; but their deportment and writings clearly demonstrate that they were the furthest of any of the human race from the character of enthusiasts, in the common despicable sense of the word.
Their Constancy and Perseverance in bearing Testimony.
All the apostles stood forth as witnesses to the divine mission of Jesus Christ; and their continuance in bearing testimony, year after year, to the end of life, carries with it great weight.
When men first engage in any remarkable service, the novelty of the situation and employment may create, for a season, a considerable alteration in their thoughts and manners; and they may for a while lay a restraint upon themselves. But when the impetus has spent its force, they will display their true character; and we shall see what they really are. if they have entered on the work from the mere ardour of a warm imagination, and kindled passions, or from the eager influence of false expectations, they will, when their fire is spent, and they find themselves mistaken in their hopes, quit the irksome situation, and retire to a more gainful or more pleasing employment. Had the apostles of Christ formed any plan of worldly enjoyment or advantage, they must have, in a very short space of time, been completely undeceived. Did ambition swell their hearts? They soon found that they had nothing to expect but degradation in the eyes of the world. Were they blinded by avarice? They speedily learnt that they were not on the road to wealth. Was it love of ease and pleasure which animated their hopes? It was not long before they were fully convinced that these were not to be found in bearing testimony to Jesus Christ. But this conviction made no alteration in their conduct; it neither led them to throw aside their office, nor did it even cool their zeal in the execution of it. They went on with unshaken constancy and unabating ardour to the end of their days, in bearing witness to their Master's cause before the world.
When twelve men, whether as individuals, or at the head of