« ПредишнаНапред »
natural representation of things. The charge said to be made against Stephen by the leading men of the Jewish nation, was the most popular that could be imagined, and most likely to reconcile the people to his destruction, which they aimed at. “ And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him before the council, and set up false witnesses against him, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this place and the law,” Acts vi. 12, 13.
The reception Barnabas and Paul met with at Lystra is as agreeable to the sentiments of superstitious heathens, surprised at first into such a high veneration for them, upon account of a miracle they had seen them work, that they were ready to pay them such honours as they gave their deities, and were as soon enraged against them when they disdained their idolatrous honours and denied their gods. “ When the people saw what Paul had done (He had cured a man impotent in his feet, who had been a cripple from his mother's womb) they lift up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men,” Acts xiv. 11. But 6 when there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, they stoned Paul, and drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead,” ver. 19. And the uproar at Ephesus, upon the progress Paul had made, in drawing off some persons from the received superstition, was no other than might be expected in a city where the livelihood of a vast number of persons depended upon the sale of images and shrines of the goddess Diana, Acts xix. This just and natural representation of things is an argument of the truth and credibility of any history; when the reflections, objections, and whole behaviour of
of the better and meaner sort are all conformable to their several characters, the opinions and sentiments that obtain among them, and the circumstances they are supposed to be in.
6. The impartiality of the history of the New Testament is another argument of its truth, and makes the whole appear credible. This is a rare and uncommon character, and I think is not more conspicuous in any history than in this. I would give you some few instances of it under these three heads.
1. Many things are here mentioned, that were in appearance, and in the eye of the world, disadvantageous to our Saviour.
2. The writers have not omitted those things that were really disadvantageous to themselves, and their companions, some of them in the eye of the world, and others really so; their own faults and miscarriages.
3. There are many disorders and miscarriages mentioned among the first converts to Christianity
As to the first head, things that were to outward appearance, and in the eye of the world, disadvantageous to our Saviour, are, the low circumstances of his parents ; the mean accommodations of his birth; that when he appeared publicly to the world, his townsmen and near relations despised and rejected him; that among his followers, there were few who were considerable for their knowledge of the law, for wealth or dignity; that the rulers, the scribes, and Pharisees, disowned his pretensions, and opposed him continually; that some, who for a time followed him, afterwards went off from him, and deserted him; that he was betrayed into the hands of the high priest and rulers, by one of those who had been chosen out for his constant companions, and had had an intimacy with him; that he was crucified in the most ignominious manner with two malefactors. Had it been a story invented, these particulars had never been part of it. Had it been a contrivance, they would never have thought of recommending to the generality of the Jews, a person, whom their rulers, and that sect which had the highest veneration among them, condemned and rejected; nor to the Gentiles, a person disowned and crucified by his own nation. Had the whole been a fiction, a crucifixion had certainly never been a part of the story. Had not they heard of the translation of Enoch ? Was not the assumption of Elijah, who was carried up to heaven in a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, 2 Kings ii. 11, a model they might easily have followed and improved? Would not this have been much more glorious than a crucifixion, though afterwards succeeded by an ascension? Was it possible this fact should have been overlooked by any one person ; much less by a college, or number of persons, who had attempted an agreeable story to be recommended to mankind ? Certainly their yiew could be no other than the relating of real matter of fact.
Another proof of their impartiality is, what they have mentioned really, or to appearance,
disadvantageous in their own character and conduct, and that of the other chief followers of Christ. They have inserted in this account the mean original and occupation of several of themselves; that they were but fishermen; and the infamous employment of Matthew, who was a publican. Many of their own faults and failings are mentioned in such a manner, that one would not imagine they had concealed any of the aggravating circumstances of them : nor do they seem to have softened the harshness of the reprimands their master gave them : and many of them are such as they might have kept a secret among themselves. Some of them were originally known only to Christ and the twelve, and divers of them, but two or three of the number could be privy to. This account represents the twelve infected with ambitious views of honour in a temporal kingdom; they had a contention which of them should be the greatest: it was a dispute they had one with another as they were travelling without other company. The importunate ambition of the two sons of Zebedee, and their mother, for the first and second post in the Messiah's kingdom. Their fears and diffidence when they were in a storm, though Christ was with them.
How severe a rebuke have they given us an account of, which they received from Christ, when they had understood him to speak concerning temporal provisions, and he had been admonishing them concerning the leaven of the Pharisees? “Why reason ye, because ye have brought no bread? Perceive ye not yet, neither understand ? Have ye your heart hardened? Having eyes, see ye not? And having ears, hear ye not? And do ye not remember?” Mark viii. 17, 18. And what a contemptible figure did they make, whom Christ had left behind him when he went up into the mountain with Peter, James, and John ? for when he came down again, he found a great multitude about them, the scribes and Pharisees questioning with them, and a man hasting to him, bringing his son to him with a dumb spirit, telling him, “ I spake to thy disciples, that they should cast him out, but they could not;" Mark ix. 15—18, upon which they received that just reprimand of their unbelief even before the multitude; " Then Jesus answered, saying, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to me,” Matt. xvii. 17. And what could be more shame. ful than their forsaking Christ, and leaving him when he was apprehended by the officers of the high priest ? except only the denial of Peter, repeated again and again, with circumstances unbecoming a man of honour, a worshipper of the true God, and much more a companion and disciple of Christ. Indeed, if the honour of any of them were to be consulted, it was Peter's : yet we find he is not spared at all, any more than the rest. He was one of them whom Christ called to be with him at the first: had made the most express declaration of his character; had been the first instrument of opening the gospel after our Saviour's resurrection, both to Jews. and Gentiles; and yet we have as many shameful miscarriages mentioned concerning him, as concerning any of the rest. When “ Jesus began to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders, and chief priests, and scribes, and be killed and be raised again the third day;” Matt. xvi. 21, then Peter took upon him to rebuke his Master, as if what he had said proceeded from melancholy fears that arose in his mind, and not from a certain knowledge of what was to befal him, saying, “ Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee:" ver. 22. upon which he received the severest reprimand recorded, as given to any of the twelve: “ But Jesus turned and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan, thou art an offence unto me; for thou savourest not the things which be of God, but those that be of men,” ver. 23. He was doubtless engaged with the rest in the contention for precedency: he was guilty of diffidence when Christ called to him to come to him upon the water: he was drowsy and overcome with sleep when he was with Christ in the garden, when he was in an agony that might have filled those present with him with the highest concern, and tenderest compassion for him: he disowned Christ in a most hardy and peremptory manner, when his master was in his view, under an unrighteous persecution, immediately after the warmest and most confident professions of zeal and affection: and we have notice taken of a dissimulation he was afterwards guilty of, in favour of the Christians that were of the uncircumcision, to the prejudice of the simplicity of the gospel, Gal. ii. 11, 12. I might observe the contention between Paul and Barnabas, which is recorded in the Acts : so that though for a long time they had been companions in preaching the gospel, they separated, and went asunder for the future.—But enough has been said.
Lastly. The impartiality of the history appears in the accounts that are given of the first converts to Christianity after our Saviour's ascension. If we should read the history of any
particular reign, filled with high encomiums of the posture of affairs, and find it represented as a time wherein the arts of peace and war flourish; in which all arts and sciences are promoted and encouraged by a wise and prudent administration : the government just and mild ; the people tractable and obedient; no impediment in the counsels, nor miscarriages in the execution; the negotiations abroad, as well as counsels at home, managed with the utmost sagacity; armies ever victorious; no interruption of commerce, nor disasters in war: no wonder if posterity judge such a performance a panegyric, a romance, or any thing rather than a history: or, if the accounts given of the state of Christianity in its infancy had resembled the pictures which have been since drawn by some modern representations of the manners of the first converts: that they were universally eminent prodigies of virtue and piety, scarce any tokens of human frailty, with now and then a rapturous exclamation on the unanimity and harmony of sentiments and affections that prevailed among them : one might very well have suspected matters of fact must have been falsified and misrepresented, that it was a story very much improved, if not altogether invented. But this is not the case.
In this, as well as in every other part of this history, there appears a perfect impartiality. It is indeed related to the honour of the converts to Christianity at Jerusalem, that the multitude of them that believed, were of one heart, and of one soul ; neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common: neither was there any among them that lacked; for as many as were possessors of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need,” Acts iv. 32–35. And we may easily believe there were such an harmony among them at first, when the same author has acquainted us, that in a short time afterwards, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, “ there arose a murmuring of the Grecians,” or Hellenists, “ against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration,” Acts vi. 1. Nor can we have any reason to discredit the fore-mentioned account of the generosity of them who were possessed of houses and lands, that they put the price of them into a common stock for the relief of those that wanted. I say, we have no reason to doubt that this generosity was general, when the same author has been so particular, as to record the dissimulation of two of the number, of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts v. 1. who endeavoured to put a cheat upon the apostles, and kept back a part of the price of their lands when they pretended to make a contribution of the whole value. The preposterous fondness of the Hebrew converts for the rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic law is likewise recorded ; and the disturbance they gave the gentile converts on that account.
In the epistles of the apostles that have been handed down to us, are preserved memorials of many particulars not very honourable to the first converts to Christianity. The readiness of the churches of Galatia to depart from the purity and simplicity of the gospel. The scandalous disorders of the church of Corinth in some solemn parts of their worship; the contentions among
them in behalf of their teachers; their preposterous use of the gift of tongues proceeding from vanity and ostentation ; the unaccountable conceits of others, who depended upon an empty faith without works, and a speculative knowledge without a suitable practice, referred to in the epistles of St. James and St. John. Upon the whole, it seems most evident from the facts related in this history of what seems disadvantageous to Christ himself, what was so to the writers themselves, and the first Christians, that those persons from whom we have received these accounts, had a very particular regard to truth, and preferred its interest before all selfish considerations.
7. The remarkable plainness and simplicity of the narration is another argument, and internal character of the credibility of the history. Matters of fact, all related without any remarks of the writers. There is, as one observes," • No preparation of events; there are no artful tran•sitions or connections; no set character of persons to be introduced; no reflections on past * actions, nor the authors of them ; no excuses or apologies for such things as a writer might • probably foresce would shock and disturb his readers ; no coloured artifices or arguments to set beginning of every gospel. · The writer enters immediately upon the matters of fact he has to relate, without any laboured introduction, without any attempt to raise the expectation, or en. gage the affections of the reader. If it had been an artificial story, invented and composed with design, we should have many other particulars in it than now there are. They have not sought out occasions to enhance their Master's honour. The former part of his life is almost entirely past over, and, besides his iniraculous birth, the obeisance paid him by the wise men, and some extraordinary circumstances at the temple at the purification of the virgin, scarce any notice of him from that time to his public appearance at about the age of thirty, excepting that one fact of his arguing with the doctors in the temple. Luke ii. 46. Had it been a story forged and contrived, his infancy and youth had not been thus slightly passed over ; we should have had. many accounts of wonderful preservations, and a miraculous providence attending him all along; there would have been related divers omens and presages of the figure he was afterwards to make in the world; numerous specimens of a pregnant capacity and zeal : whereas the historians have almost immediately entered upon his public appearance, which was what mankind was chiefly concerned in. When they have mentioned the meanness of their Lord's circumstances, or of their own original employment, they have added no apology for it, nor concerned themselves to account for their Master's choice of such followers ; many failings of their number related, but no vindication, apology, or mitigation added; nor have they filled their accounts with tedious complaints of the injustice, malice, or unreasonableness of their own, or their Master's enemies; they have not bestowed any set encomiums upon Christ himself. The character in. deed that results from the facts they have mentioned, is the most perfect that can be conceived : but yet, here are no hints at the masterly strokes of his character; no enlarging on the justness, propriety, aptness, beauty of his parables ; no enhancing of his miracles from the number, greatness of them, or the manner of their performance: but only a plain simple narrative of his discourses and behaviour, with the reflections that were made upon him by others, which are likewise delivered with a remarkable plainness and simplicity.
off a doubtful action, and reconcile it to some other, or the character of the person that did it.' *Thus far this author. How simple and plain, how free from all pomp and ostentation is the
a Gastrel's Certainty of the Christian lievelation, p. 52.
I may have dwelt too long upon these two or three particulars; but I own a discovery of naked simple truth in history is enchanting.' It gives one uncommon delight to observe it in any history, though of no extraordinary importance ; one is so often disgusted with that favour on the one side, spite and malice on the other, which do so continually occur in the works of the most celebrated historians of all ages and nations, of all sects and religions. To find it
therefore in the most early accounts of our religion, is a peculiar satisfaction; and though these accounts may be destitute of some ornaments, not altogether inconsistent with truth and faith, fulness, yet they have what illustrates and recommends them much more than exactness of method, purity of stile, the harmony of periods, and the most elaborate and finished oratory of set speech could ever have done.
There is but this one point of practice I would take this opportunity to recommend to you; and that is, the frequent and diligent reading of the scriptures, especially of the New Testament; and that you would not read them now and then a chapter; but some large portions at a time, when you have leisure, and find yourselves disposed for serious consideration, and best fitted for making reflections. You might thus for yourselves make such remarks, whereby you might be charmed with the natural representation of things, the plain simplicity of the narration, and be more fully convinced of the credibility of the whole narration, and consequently be more persuaded of the truth and divine original of that religion you profess, which is the foundation of comfort under the troubles and afflictions you are exercised withal in this world, and of the hope you have of happiness for yourselves and your friends in the next.
INTERNAL MARKS OF CREDIBILITY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.
For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the pouer and
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his Majesty, 2 Peter, i. 16.
We are laying before you the arguments for the truth of our religion ; a design that needs no apology, and that may justly be undertaken without any particular provocation. It would be. necessary and useful though there were none that contested the truth of it, or that offered any objections against it: for every man ought to have grounds for the religious principles le entertains.
Without therefore any harsh reflections upon others, I shall calmly prosecute my argument, and proceed to set before you some farther evidences of the credibility of the gospel history, namely, that Jesus Christ dwelt in Judea at the time mentioned in the gospels, taught in the name of God, wrought many miracles, and foretold many events which afterwards came to pass,.. in confirmation of his mission from heaven, suffered on the cross, rose again, and ascended into heaven, and that the apostles and others, by powers derived from him, confirmed his doctrine by many wonderful works, and propagated it in many parts of the world.
If the account we have received of these things be credible, we have, the highest reason to:believe our religion is true, and of divine original..
I proposed in a former discourse, you may remember, to consider the marks and characters.: there are of truth, in the account we have of these things in the books of the New Testament.
I have already made considerable progress in these internal testimonies, these marks and characters of truth, observable in the writings of the New Testament which render the account we have received highly probable, and such as may be admitted by reasonable and inquisitive persons. Some of them were the just and natural representation which is here given of all matters related and treated of, the impartiality of the history, the plainness and simplicity of the narration. I shall not now stay to rehearse any other particulars than those now mentioned. I may by and by go them all over again, when I sum up the argument. For the present I proceed to what remains.
8. Here are many facts and circumstances set down; so that if the relation were not true, they might have been easily confuted. This is a good argument of the truth and credibility of any history, and is very observable in this. For men writing a forged and invented story, to have taken this method, had been to expose themselves to an easy and certain confutation, and all the reproaches of falsehood and imposture, and would have been declined and avoided by all : persons of an ordinary sagacity.
The scenes of the most material actions are not the deserts of Arabia, or some other obscure and unfrequented places; the time fixed is not some distant age, nor is the account given obe scure and general.
The facts are related as lately done, some of them as transacted at Jerusalem, then undersubjection to the Roman government, and garrisoned by a band of Roman soldiers, others at Cesarea, others in cities of great resort in Syria, and other parts : so far is the account from being general and obscure, that here are notes of time, circumstances of place, names of persons, occasion of action, and many other particulars that might facilitate inquiries, and render a detection no difficult matter, if the relation had not been true. Thus," these things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing,” John i. 28.
The chief seat of our Saviour's preaching and miracles was Galilee, and the towns and villages bordering upon the sea of that name, called likewise, the sea of Tiberias: his frequent crossing of that sea from one side to the other ; what things happened on one side, what on the