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a community, unite to propagate an imposture, or to execute a plan of falsehood or injustice, the event is so uniform, that we may consider it as a law of the moral world, that however amicable and cordial they may be in the beginning, they will in the progress of the business disagree, and thwart' each other's views; and what commenced with oaths of secrecy, and vows of perseverance till the final accomplishment of the design, and a glowing affection to all concerned in it, is arrested in its course by jealousies, envies, hatred, mutual accusations, and the falling off of one after another; and ends in disclosing the black design, and unveiling to the world the hollowness of their hearts. But we perceive nothing of this nature among the apostles of Christ. The same testimony which they bore at first, they bore with their dying breath. One of them proved a traitor; but he had no secrets to tell. “I have sinned,” he cries out in agony, “in that I have betrayed innocent blood.” Paul and Barnabas had a warm dispute, and separated from each other; but it was to do apart what they had done together; namely, to bear witness to the divine mission of Jesus of Nazareth. A temporary disagreement took place between Peter and Paul, but in their heat they have no black imposture to bring to light; they have no accusation against the cause of Christ. With the exception of the unhappy Judas, whose mournful confession was full in its favour, constancy in declaring to the world, with affection and fervour, that Jesus is the Christ, was the attribute of all the rest.
Their Sufferings for the Sake of their Testimony.
Had the apostles not been the men they professed to be, their manner of life must have been one continued scene of suffering. To persons who were nourishing evil passions in their hearts, and panting after worldly enjoyments, the constant mortification to which they submitted, and the entire application of the soul to spiritual and divine things, through the whole course of their thoughts, and words, and actions, must have been an intolerable burden. Christianity was not like the systems of the philosophers, a code of speculative opinions, which left men at liberty to live as they pleased ; but it prescribed a rule of life which directed the conduct, temper, and sentiments, even to the very thoughts of the heart; and called them to be
entirely different from what they were before. Nothing but the existence and power of the principles of the gospel on the heart could have rendered such a life as that of the apostles tolerable, or, in fact, could have produced it. But to them, as being filled with the spirit of their Master, their religion was not an irksome task, but their delight: “Christ's yoke was easy, and his burden light; because they had learned of him who was meek and lowly in heart.”
But while in Christ they had peace, in the world they had tribulation, on account of their testimony. Instead of finding riches, honours, and pleasures, in the execution of their office, it drew upon them the bitterest persecution. Every kind of indignation was offered; every kind of injury sustained. It was not in one or two instances that this took place; they found by painful experience, that nothing else was to be expected but a constant course of suffering, while they continued to testify of Christ that he is the Saviour of the world. A brief enumeration of what one of them endured, as narrated in his own words, will give us the truest idea of their situation: “In stripes above measure, in prisons frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep. In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils hy mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”—2 Cor. xi. 2327. Such was the treatment the apostles met with; but they do not appear at all disconcerted or chagrined. Our Master, they say, told us of this before. “ If they have persecuted me they will also persecute you.”—John xv. 20. They consider persecution as a thing of course; and go on in their work with unabated zeal. Amidst their sufferings, love to Christ and his cause appears to burn with a more fervid flame. Not one of them who had entered on the warfare, after their Master's death, retires from the field of battle; they all continue in it as long as they breathed the breath of life. Can we account for their conduct on a supposition that they were actuated by impure motives? How much more easy and natural will it be to allow that they were honest, and good, and faithful men!
Their Martyrdom, as a Seal to their Testimony.
When men die for opinions, it shows that they are strongly attached to them. When persons of sound judgment and good sense, and, in other respects, of moral rectitude, do so, it is a proof that they believe the opinions to be true. But it is proper and necessary to inquire into the foundation of this belief. “If it is founded on facts—facts which are palpable, numerous, diversified, important, witnessed to by many, who all agree in the report, and where it was morally impossible they could have been imposed on—their martyrdom is to be considered as the final seal of their testimony. Such martyrs were the apostles of Christ; and the facts to which they bore testimony had all the qualities which have been just enumerated.
Had Mohammed died asserting the reality of his visit to heaven on the beast Alborac; and that all the strange things, which he
says he heard and saw were true; the evidence is so slender, that the farthest we could go in assenting to his declaration, is, “ He asserted it to be a fact." But when twelve men inform us that they lived with Jesus upwards of three years, heard his discourses, saw his miracles, witnessed his death, were in company with him many times after his resurrection, beheld him ascend to heaven, received the Holy Ghost according to his promise, and were enabled to speak languages which they had never learnt, to work miracles, and heal the sick, and raise the dead, (things which they had often performed), is it possible that they could be deceived as to the reality and certainty of the facts? The shadow of a doubt cannot remain.
There may have been martyrs of pride, who would rather suffer death than give up their sentiments; and who scorned to be compelled to unsay what they had said, and to adopt another's creed and cast away their own. There have been numerous martyrs of opinion, whose death proves nothing more than their sincerity. and that they believed their opinions to be true. How widely do the apostles of Christ differ from both, and rise above both. They may be justly denominated martyrs of facts. In matters of opinion there may be a mistake; in matters of absolute fact there can be none. It is of much weight, too, that they were not attached to the belief of these facts by birth, by the prejudices of education, or by their worldly interest. On the contrary, their belief is in opposition to them all, and shocks all their former and early sentiments and habits. What then but the certainty of the facts can present an adequate cause for such unexampled fortitude, in voluntarily submitting to tortures, and the most cruel death? I call it unexampled fortitude, for it was accompanied with a holy resignation to the divine will, an unshaken trust in God, and the liveliest hope of blessedness in a future state; and with the most ardent benevolence to their murderers, expressing itself in the tenderest pity, in declarations of full forgiveness, and in fervent prayers that God would not lay it to their charge, but show mercy to them, and make them good and happy. Can these men be impostors? Are they not “the servants of the living God, who show unto us the way of salvation ?”
It could not be the Design of the Apostles to accomplish a
good End by bad Means.
What has been said on the testimony of the apostles to the divine mission of Jesus Christ, leaves but one supposition behind; namely, that they had contrived among themselves a religion, which they conceived would be in the highest degree for the benefit of mankind; and in order to procure it a readier reception, they pretended that it came from God. Hence they were led to invent miracles and prophecies, because these would confer on it greater dignity, and give it more the appearance of a divine origin. As a still greater proof of zeal for the success of their scheme, they endured the bitterest persecution, and devoted themselves to death in its defence: with their last breath proclaiming it true and divine.
But the supposition is directly contrary to all ideas of moral order. To say nothing of the infinite improbability of these men, indeed of any men, being able to contrive such a religion and such evidences in its support—the apostles profess to honour God. Their writings and their lives display this in every part. They acknowledge God to be the avenger of all imposture and deceit; and they represent his displeasure as unspeakably dreadful. They particularly reprobate the maxim, " that men may do evil that good may come,” asserting that “their damnation is just.” And will they expose themselves to it for nought? Will they spend their lives suffering, and meet death in ignominy and torment, merely to offend God by their presumption? It cannot be: some other cause must be assigned,
OF THE EVIDENCE FOR THE DIVINE AUTHORITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT;
ARISING FROM SOME ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS, WHICH FURTHER COXFIRM THE TESTIMONY OF THE APOSTLES.
That the validity of the testimony of the apostles should be firmly established, must appear to all a matter of the last importance. If the mind has cause of doubt and uncertainty here, other parts of the evidence for Christianity will not be listened to with attention and respect. The particulars insisted on in the preceding chapter must have weight with all by whom they are considered. But there are arguments of an indirect kind, which, lying more remote from the view of an impostor, do still more strongly confirm the uprightness of the witnesses of Jesus, and render it utterly improbable that it was their intention to impose upon the world. The following sections present considerations of this nature; and these, when added to the direct evidence which has been already adduced, give all the assurance of integrity which a candid inquirer will ask; at least, all that is necessary and sufficient to carry conviction to an impartial mind.
The Improbability of the Apostles contriving a new
In the history of the world, I observe many persons attempting to impose on their fellow-creatures in many ways. Of numerous and fatal impositions, religion, alas! has been the fruitful source; and there is not a system in existence which has not been employed in this way. But to invent a religion for the express purpose, is an infinitely more arduous task than to make a handle of one already formed. Men feel veneration