« AnteriorContinuar »
whole New Testament were, throughout Christendom, univers sally confessed to be genuine-that the same character was soon afterwards attributed, in the church, to the remaining part of the volume that, during the course of two hundred years before that period, innumerable quotations were made from the New Testament by the fathers, whose works in the Greek and Latin languages are still extant- that to these quotations were added, by certain ecclesiastical writers, catalogues of the books of the New Testament, harmonies of the four Gospels, and extensive commentaries--that, during the second, third, and fourth centuries, several versions were made of the whole volume, into foreign languages, some of which versions are in our hands that the genuineness of the Gospels and Epistles was allowed by the bitterest enemies of early Christianity-lastly, that these evidences are amply confirmed by others of an internal nature--viz., first, the Hebraistic Greek in which the whole book is written; secondly, the correct allusions which it contains to the customs prevalent, at the Christian era, among both the Jews and Romans, as well as to a variety of historical events (whether more or less obscure) which are, from other sources, known to have then taken place; and thirdly, the reciprocal incidental accordances, and general congruity, of its several independent parts.
On the ground of these various and accumulated evidences, our inquirer is at length well satisfied, that the genuineness of the professed works of the apostles and evangelists, (or of nearly all of them) is far more largely attested, and, on the whole, more satisfactorily ascertained, than that which nobody ever dreams of disputing—the genuineness of the Olympics of Pindar, of the Georgics of Virgil, of the Offices of Cicero, or of the Annals of Tacitus.
Next in order comes the important question—Is the history contained in the volume thus proved to be genuine, a true his. tory? On this subject the inquirer would have felt no temptation to entertain doubts, had not many of the events, recorded in the New Testament, been of a miraculous nature; but such being the fact, he does himself the justice of investigating, before he decides. Now, in the course of his investigation, he makes the following observations-viz., that two of the evangelists were eye-witnesses of the works of Jesus, and the other two companions of eye-witnesses—that in the four Gospels are to be observed, at once a variety so natural as plainly to indicate independence, and a harmony so extensive as to afford a moral demonstration of truth-that the fidelity of the historian of the Acts of the Apostles is equally evinced by the incidental correspondence of that book with the Epistles of Paul-that, independently of all such reciprocal coincidence, the history of the New Testament affords in its several parts, considered singly, ample internal evidences of the simplicity, honesty, caution, and absolute veracity, of its authors—that all the twelve apostles, and many others, were engaged in bearing testimony to the miracles and resurrection of Christ--that they sealed that testimony (a testimony not to notions but to facts) by a willing submission to almost unexampled suffering, and even to death itself—that the history of the New Testament is, in various important particulars, confirmed by the corresponding declarations of Jewish and profane authors—that the miraculous parts of it were noticed and confessed by the enemies of our religion-finally, that early Christianity was diffused among mankind, to an extent, and with a rapidity, for which (under all the circumstances of the case) nothing can account, but the reality of our Lord's miracles, and those of the apostles.
Fully convinced, on these and other corresponding evidences, of the authenticity of the evangelical history, the man who is in search after truth now experiences a fresh delight in the perusal of it, and in the contemplation of that divine person, whose life and character it principally delineates. More especially he is led to reflect on the miracles of Jesus and his apostles. Their clearness, their publicity, their greatness, their variety, and the merciful and holy purposes to which they are directed, rise up in order before his view; and the result is a clear decision of his judgmenta firm, unalterable, persuasion of mind--that they can be justly attributed neither to the ingenuity of man, nor to the more powerful devices of evil spirits, but were effected by “ the finger” of that Being who is alone all-wise and almighty. And, since they were wrought in attestation of Christianity, he is at length, on the most satisfactory principles, brought to the conclusion, that Christianity is of divine authority--that it is the religion of God himself.
But, the proof of Christianity is cumulative ; nor is our inquirer satisfied without endeavouring to embrace at least the principal features of the whole subject. Accordingly, in pursuing his delightful research, he soon discovers that Christianity is attested not only by the supernatural works of Jesus and his followers, but by that standing and most comprehensive miracle-prophecy connected with its fulfilment. Having satisfied himself of the genuineness of the Hebrew Scriptures (which rests on grounds very similar to those already urged in
reference to the New Testament) he is greatly interested in observing that both divisions of the Sacred Volume are distinguished by an admirable line of prophecy, continued from age to age in the church, relating to a vast variety of circumstances, and already, to a very great extent, fulfilled by events on record. His attention, however, is particularly directed to those predictions by which Christianity itself is immediately attested-namely, those which were uttered by Jesus Christ, and those of which Jesus Christ was the subject. The former in connection with their fulfilment (as far as it has already taken place) afford a proof that Jesus was a true prophet; the latter, proceeding as they did from a vast number of independent persons, living in various successive ages, correspond with the history and character of Christ, just as a lock, of the most complicated structure, corresponds with its key. Since, then, an actual foreknowledge of events is the attribute of Jehovah alone, the investigating mind, whose course we are tracing, is furnished with a fresh proof-a proof no less satisfactory than its precursor--that Christianity is the religion of God.
Powerful as are the evidences of the divine origin of Christianity, derived from miracles and prophecy, our inquirer is nevertheless led to reflect that, had the professed revelation which they attest been destitute of any moral and practical importance had it appeared to compass no other end than the gratification of human curiosity-his confidence in these evidences would have been inevitably shaken, because his mind, in that case, could never have been dispossessed of an impression, that (contrary to the analogy of all the works of Providence) there was nothing in the end to justify the means, or to account for the apparatus. Still more would that confidence have been shaken-still more would he have found himself placed in the centre of inextricable difficulty—had these signs, so obviously indicative of omnipotence and omniscience, accompanied the introduction of a system subversive of true piety, morality, and happiness. With these reflections in his view, there is no point to which he more closely directs his attention, than to the actual moral effects of Christianity ; and, in tracing its operation on mankind, he has the candour to distinguish, first, between the mere profession, and the hearty reception of it; and, secondly, between pure Christianity, as it is described in the New Testament, and Christianity curtailed or augmented, perverted or abused. The result of his observation on this subject is as follows:—that mankind are naturally prone to irreligion and immorality, and are, therefore, naturally liable to distraction and misery; and, that
the religion of Christ has an uniform tendency to counteract these natural evils—to make men pious, virtuous, and happy. On further reflection, he moreover observes, that our religion, considered as a moral science, was revealed to us by Jesus Christ and his apostles in a condition of perfection--that many of its parts are such as man in his own wisdom was unlikely to conceive, and incapable of inventing--that, nevertheless, (and although obstructions to its course may arise from extraneous causes) it is of universal applicability to our species-and, further, that as this is true of Christianity, so, on a deliberate comparison with other systems of religion now received in the world, it is found to be true of Christianity alone.
Since, then, the religion of Jesus--attested as it was by the display of the miraculous power, and actual foreknowledge, of the Supreme Beingis ascertained to be a system of the greatest practical efficacy; since the investigator finds it to be so far from producing vice and misery, that its constant result is the glory of God, and the virtue and welfare of man; since close observation has convinced him, that it is perfectly adapted to the condition of the creature, and as perfectly wor. thy of the character of the Creator ; his mind is brought to a state of repose-his doubts are all discarded-and, although there are parts of revealed truth which are above his comprehension, nothing can henceforth materially weaken his conviction, that Christianity, and Christianity only, is indeed the RELIGION OF GOD.
One question however remains, respecting which he is necessarily desirous of obtaining satisfaction. Christianity is recorded in the Holy Scriptures. Are those Scriptures to be regarded as the work of man, or do they possess the same divine authority as the religion which they record ? On this point he examines, first, how the matter stands as it relates to the Old Testament; and, in the indirect, yet multiplied and conclusive, testimony of Jesus Christ himself, as well as in the still more positive assertions of the apostles, he finds (as a believer in Christianity) ample evidence, that the sacred books of the Hebrews were given by inspiration of God. That the same character attaches to the New Testament, he concludes, first, from analogy; and secondly, from the history of Christ and his apostles, (a history already proved to be authentic) from which he learns, that most of the writers of that volume, and probably all of them, were men actually inspired; and that, by working miracles in attestation of their doctrine, they evinced the plenary nature of their inspiration. These external evidences are confirmed by others of an internal nature. In the
fulfilment of the written prophecy; in the wisdom of the written doctrine; in the purity of the written law-in the harmony of the contents of the Bible amidst almost endless variety and in its efficacy, as the principal means employed by Divine Providence for the illumination, conversion, and spiritual edification, of men-the inquirer cannot fail to perceive unquestionable indications of the divine origin of Holy Writ. And, although he is aware that inspiration must vary, in manner and degree, according as it is applied to the enunciation respectively of different subjects--that it may probably be one thing in history, and another thing in doctrine and prophecy; yet, the general result of his deliberations on the subject is plainly this—that, of the Scriptures, considered as a whole, God is the primary author-that the account which they contain of religious truth rests on the authority of the Supreme Being-and, therefore, that the person who searches for that which is revealed may safely direct his unhesitating attention to that which is written.
Struck with the importance of eternal things--convinced of the truth of Christianity--and satisfied of the divine authority of that astonishing book in which all its particulars are recorded, our inquirer, who is already possessed of some little knowledge of the Sacred Volume, now turns over its pages with a new feeling of confidence and delight. To him it appears plain beyond contradiction, that it is the bounden duty of every man, who has the Bible in his hands, and who has received an adequate education--to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, its contents; in other words, to make a diligent and profitable use of one of the most remarkable and precious of the gifts of God to man. And in pursuing this object, he endeavours to arrange his inquiries in such a manner as to obtain, if possible, a connected and comprehensive view of the whole scheme or system of revealed truth.
Now, of all the knowledge of which man is capable, the most important and truly honourable is the knowledge of God. The very first point, therefore, of scriptural inquiry, is this~ What information do we receive from the Volume of Inspiration respecting the Supreme Being himself? In answer to this inquiry, we have found occasion to observe, that the declarations of Scripture respecting Jehovah are such as confirm, enlarge, and complete, the light derived, on the subject, from merely natural religion. The investigator of divine truth, who commits himself to the guidance of the sacred writers, is presently taught, that there is no other God but Jehovah that