« PreviousContinue »
of the authors of the Apocrypha comes forward with this apology: “ If I have done well, and as is fitting the story, it is that which I desired; but if slenderly and meanly, it is that which I could attain unto.” 2 Mac. xv. 38. There is scarcely a preface to a treatise on a difficult theme, which does not crave the indulgences of the reader. But there is nothing of this in the New Testament; yet never was there a book which so totally annihilated the writers, and displayed men so void of pride. How shall we account for men so humble employing so authoritative a tone? Let the deist reflect upon it.
The Character in which the Founder and first Teachers
of Christianity appeared.
When a new religion is propagated, it is desirable that men should have the fairest opportunity of examining its claims. Much will depend on the situation in which those who propagate it appear. Superior rank, and exalted station, or an office of authority, have all a tendency to dazzle the mind, and to impede a full examination. Vespasian is said to have performed miracles. Had the emperor deigned to ask me to inquire into the reality of his wonders, I would have replied, with the philosopher to one of his successors: “ I do not love to contend with the man who has five-and-twenty legions at his command!” Mohammed was the caliph as well as the prophet; and as soon as he could find disciples to compose a banditti
, he put arms into their hands, and appeared at their head; and the terrestrial theocracy which he made it his business to establish, presented both himself and his successors in the garb of a sultan, and the commander of armies. I do not like to examine the claims of the prophet's religion, while his sword and his spear glitter in mine eyes, and offend my sight; and his frowning aspect reddens at my doubts. If integrity be not dearer to me than life," I say I believe; enrol me among the faithful.” The legislators among the ancient pagans were placed in the same station. As soon as the people received their code, and yielded to their dominion, all the power of the state was in their hands.
“ Rex Anius, rex idem hominum, Phæbique sacerdos.”_Virgil. Anius, who is not only the priest of Apollo, but the king of men, may bid me examine his system, and satisfy myself as to its truth, which, he says, is evident to all. But I look around, and I perceive the lictors and the dungeon, which are not favourable to free inquiry. Endeavouring to conceal my fears, I turn to him and say, “ King Anius, urgent business calls me away, I pray thee have me excused.”
From these let us turn to the Founder of Christianity. Jesus appeared among the Jews as a private person, in no outward splendour, and vested with no civil authority. “ Who made me a judge or a divider among you?” said he to a man who wished him to interfere in settling some domestic disputes. All his influence arose from his wisdom, his goodness, and his divine power.
“ My kingdom,” he replied to Pilate, " is not of this world.” The apostles resembled their Master. They had no commission from any of the kings of the earth. They were private citizens, unconnected with the great; and plain men, strangers to the address of the courtier and the man of fashion. They were connected with none of the rulers of the world, in order to acquire influence. They knew nothing of them, but when they were dragged before their tribunals to answer for their doctrine and their conduct. Nor had they learnt the seduction of human eloquence. Most of them show, by their writings, that they were strangers to it, and incapable of its fascinating arts. But, as is evident from the New Testament, they brought forward their system with all plainness and simplicity, and presented it to their hearers for their consideration and reception. Men might object or express their difficulties and their doubts, without fear of injury on that account. Could any method be more favourable for mankind than this? If the apostles acquired any influence over the minds of others, it must have arisen from their unaffected goodness, integrity, and benevolence; not from the imposing power of external circumstances, or from cunning craftiness. I appeal to thee, O deist, was not the world fairly treated as to the manner of the introduction of Christianity; and had not men the fullest opportunity of examining its pretensions?
OF THE EVIDENCE FOR THE DIVINE AUTHORITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT,
ARISING FROM MIRACLES.
When persons profess to be the messengers of a revelation from God, whether in speech or writing, it is natural to ask, “ What evidence do you produce for so high a claim?” They may say, “ We are conscious to ourselves that we are inspired of God to declare his will to men, and we cannot doubt it.” But though this satisfies you, it does not satisfy my mind; it may be evidence to you, but it is none to me. If God give a revelation of his will, he will give evidence of this, not only to those whom he commissions to publish it, but to those whom he commands to receive it. This is but reasonable; and its reasonableness Christianity acknowledges.
Mohammed was able to produce no satisfactory external evidence of a divine mission. His kinsman Ali's reply to him is remarkable: “ O prophet, whosoever rises against thee, I will dash out his teeth, tear out his eyes, break his legs, rip up his belly.”
By such forcible arguments did the religion of the koran make its way in the world. Had any of the writers of the New Testament spoken thus, an impartial jury would give a verdict instantly against them, and dismiss the cause. But like honest men, conscious of the validity of their mission, they lay before us their credentials, and entreat us to examine them with attention.
In addition to the proofs arising out of the nature of the truths revealed, and the other considerations which have been noticed, they produce two kinds of evidence for our satisfaction; the one exhibiting a display of divine power—the other a manifestation of divine knowledge and wisdom; or, in other words, miracles and prophecies. More convincing proofs of God's interfering in an extraordinary manner to seal a commission from himself, it will be difficult to produce. Miracles were confined to the age of those who lay claim to inspiration—they introduced the gospel to mankind--but the evidence of them descends in the form of testimony, from generation to generation. Prophecy, where it has respect to a course of events, increases the evidence from age to age, by the accomplishment of particular predictions.
These two branches have this in their favour, that they have approved themselves to the general judgment of mankind: for when any person pretended to a divine commission, the usual proof was a miracle, or a prediction. Whatever credit might be due to the claim, the kind of proof was looked upon to be good. Let us consider the validity of those adduced in favour of Christianity, and in this chapter take a view of the miracles.
The Possibility and Existence of the Miracles of the New
ALMIGHTY power is that perfection of the Supreme Being which most generally and forcibly strikes the minds of men. An extraordinary display of it on objects within the reach of our observation, furnishes one of the most satisfactory evidences of divine revelation. This display we call a miracle. “ There can be no such thing as a miracle," some have loudly cried, “because the Deity has established certain laws, by which he maintains an inviolable order in the universe, and which cannot be broken through.” Let it be remembered that this is assertion, and not proof. That miracles are possible, none will deny who believe the existence and perfections of God. Nor are they improbable. He, who for valuable purposes established these laws, for valuable ends can suspend them; and what is there contrary either to reason or sound philosophy to maintain, that it is highly probable that God will suspend the laws of the natural world, in order to accomplish the most noble and important purposes in the moral world; namely, his own glory, and the reformation and highest happiness of mankind? Here is certainly an end worthy of God, and productive of the most beneficial effects in the order and state of the universe. Were it merely to excite wonder, to gratify curiosity, or to answer some inferior purpose, philosophy might argue against miracles, but it cannot with effect, when so valuable an end is intended and promoted by them. Besides, who can say that it was not a part of God's plan, a section in the divine constitution, that at certain seasons, and on certain occasions, the laws of nature should be suspended, and miracles wrought. Ordinary regulations are adapted to the ordinary course of things; extraordinary events require and warrant extraordinary interpositions and exertions.
The Number, Variety, and Manner of the Miracles performed
in Confirmation of the Christian Religion.
If only one or two miracles had been wrought to confirm the truth of Christianity, it might have been considered as a fortunate chance, which occurred at a convenient season. But the number was very great. Above fifty different instances occur in the gospels of Christ's miraculous exertions; and consequently the opportunities of examination were increased, and of deception proportionably lessened. Besides, in one scene of miracles hundreds were healed of different diseases, and thousands fed with a few loaves and fishes.
There was likewise a considerable variety in the miracles of the New Testament. Had they been only of one or two kinds, it might have been said, that the persons had some peculiar skill in performing these cures, or a peculiar art of imposing on men in respect to them. But so various are the miracles, that this objection cannot be adduced. Not one disease only, but all are subject to the power of Christ and his apostles; not only diseases, but lameness, blindness, dumbness, deafness, and other evils incident to humanity, are banished by their word; not only every calamity which is the lot of the living, but death itself is obedient to them, and gives up his prey at their command. Not only man, but every other being, bows in ready subjection to their voice. Not only living, but inanimate creatures, feel the power of Jehovah, and act contrary to their natures at his will: the winds, the waves, the rocks, the earth, the sun, the heavens, all are the subjects of miraculous exertions in those who first introduced the Christian dispensation. Every thing was obedient to their word; for Jehovah invested them with his
power. The manner in which these miracles were wrought also merits notice. The operations of nature are in general slowalmost always gradual; the miracles of the gospel were gene