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stood his character and office best, and who wrote without any views or desire to become public men.
There is but one objection that I can here take notice of, which is, that it does not appear from the prophecies themselves that these particulars were foretold of one and the same person. I allow that it does not appear from the prophecies themselves; but if they were all in fact fulfilled by, we presume it is an evidence that they were all intended for, one person; for, supposing that these particulars might, for any thing that appears in the prophecy, belong to one or to different persons, their uniting in one person is not less extraordinary or more likely to happen by accident; and therefore such a union in the event is good proof of the design and completion of the prophecy.
I conclude the whole subject with the observation I set out with ; namely, that there is but one point at issue, but one question to be tried, whether this circumstantial completion of the prophecies, and in so many particulars, could or could not merely happen by accident. If you think it might, why then the argument must be given up. If you think it could not, or that it is not probable it could, then you have one reason at least for the faith that is in you, a solid and satisfactory proof of the truth of our religion.
But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of
God, and that, believing, ye might have life through his name.
The direct historical evidence of Christianity is contained in three propositions, which, if they can each be made out satisfactorily, amount together to a demonstration of the truth of our religion. However, when I call them the direct historical evidence, you are not to suppose that it is the only evidence. There are abundance of circumstances, both external and internal, which corroborate this evidence, which, however, I cannot enter upon now, because, in a subject so various and comprehensive, we must be content to consider one part at one time.
The three points are these =
First; that the books of the New Testament were actually written by the persons whose names they bear. . Secondly; that those persons could not be themselves de ceived in what they give an account of.
Thirdly; that they could have no reason, nor can it be conceived that they should attempt, to deceive or impose upon others.
The first of these propositions will be enough for one discourse; namely; The books of the New Testament were actually written by the authors whose names they bear; the Gospels by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles, by Luke; the Epistles by Paul, Peter, John, &c.
Now, as to this point, there is, first, the general evidence, and there is, secondly, the particular testimony.
By the general evidence, I mean that by which we believe and are assured, on reading any book, that it was written by the author to whom it is ascribed, and which is no other than its being ascribed to such an author so far back as we are able to trace; which circumstance is sufficient, when no opposite evidence appears, nor any thing in the writing itself contradicts it, to convince any man. Upon this ground we believe, and no one, that I know of, doubts it or contradicts it, that the last great poem which bears his name was Milton's; the History Lord Clarendon's; and many years ago, that the Commentaries were Cæsar's, the Orations Cicero's, the Æneid Virgil's. Now, to say the least, there is the same reason for believing that the Gospel was Matthew's or John's, the Epistle Paul's or Peter's; and the reason upon which the belief of mankind proceeds in these cases is very satisfactory, and will seldom deceive them; which reason is this, that a book could hardly hare gotten the reputation of belonging to any author, unless it was acknowledged as such, namely, as the work of this author, by his contemporaries in the age in which he lived; and that the same contemporaries in the age in which the author lired could hardly be deceived in ascribing it to him.
But this matter is best supported by instances. We of this age and country know that such a particular history of England was written by Hume; we know it, because it bears his name, or because he mentions himself as the author in the ending of the work; or without these, it is universally imputed to
him, and he sits quiet under the imputation of it. Now the generation which comes next, after we and he are all dead and gone, will believe and know that it is Hume's History ; for they will know that we, the predecessors, who were contemporaries of the author, believed it to be written by him, and that this belief of ours, for the reasons abovementioned, could hardly be mistaken. Their opinion is founded upon what they know to have been ours, and the next generation upon theirs; and this point, who is the author of the books ? when it is once public, and notorious, and agreed upon, is not much altered or diminished in its evidence by length of time. So far as I can see, it will be as certain, or nearly so, three hundred years hence, that Milton was the author of the poem, as it is now; that Cicero was the author of the Orations will be just as evident to the next generation as to this, and to a thousand generations after the next. And this is the general evidence, supposing there was nothing but credit and general reputation to go upon, which tradition and reputation, as to the authors of books, do not often deceive us; and we desire no other credit upon this point to the books of scripture than to any other.
But besides the general evidence, founded upon the general tradition, there is also a vast quantity of particular testimony, that is, the certainty of other very ancient books existing, especially asserting the books of scripture to be authenticated and of undoubted authority, and quoting passages from them as such.
We have a great many books written, some fourteen or fifteen, some sixteen hundred years ago ; some by disciples of the apostles, others by their disciples, which speak of four Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles, not only as credible and excellent, but as never disputed, and such as never had been disputed, as equal to the oracles of the Old Testament, as divinely inspired, as the words of the Spirit, the law and the oracles of God, the rule of faith, which cannot be contradicted without great guilt, with many other expressions of the like kind. This is direct testimony. But there is a species of testimony which is not direct, but quite as satisfactory, if not more so. It is this; when ancient writers quote texts and passages of the scripture, either noting the author or the book without the author or neither, but borrowing the expression as being that of authors applicable to the argument. Now such quotations prove to an absolute certainty, both thạt the books so used and so borrowed existed at the time, and were attributed to the author at the time, whenever the author is mentioned,
and were received as books of authority, at least in the opinion of the person who makes the quotation. If Hume, in his History, quotes a passage from scripture, or Lord Clarendon's History, it is as full a demonstration a thousand years bence, if both histories live so long, that Clarendon's History was written at the time, and was acknowledged to be Clarendon's History, and was as such acknowledged, and believed, and received as a history of authority ; and this is the very sort of demonstration in which we abound; for there are more quotations of the single gospel of St Matthew, in old books written within one hundred and fifty years after the resurrection of Christ, than there are of all the works of Cicero, from the time they were written to this time; and the books in which these quotations are found were written, one in Palestine, one in Italy, one in Africa, and in different parts of Asia, which shows that those books were known and acknowledged, not only in one particular place, amongst one particular sect of men, but that they were spread, comparatively speaking, over the world, and received by people in all countries, who knew nothing of each other. Now, as I said before, these quotations are, on one account, the most satisfactory kind of proof. When a writer tells us expressly that such a book was written by such an author, or that such a work was of great credit and authority, he may tell us so with a design to deceive us; but in this sort of quotation there is no design at all. Tbis proves the existence and capital authenticity of the books from which they are extracted, without the authors who made the extracts even suspecting that they would be applied to for that purpose. This argument in support of the authenticity of the scriptures is common to the scriptures with any or almost all other ancient books. There are, besides this, several considerations peculiar to the scriptures, which greatly corroborate the general argument, being more easily comprehended and retained.
First; if the books of the New Testament were the rule of life and faith to the primitive Christians, and received by them as such, it was exceedingly their concern, and it is but reasonable to suppose that they would take care, to inform themselves of the origin and authority of these books, and avoid being imposed upon by fraud or artifice, in matters in which they were so highly interested. No one ever attempted to forge an act of parliament, and the attempt is manifestly impossible ; and why? Because those who were to obey and be bound by it would take care to have satisfaction of its authority before they submitted to it. The same reason applies to the books of
hat bheir authority, anboth a strong anhristians
scripture, which are as so many laws to the professors of Christianity.
Secondly; these books from the first were read, as they are now, in the churches and assemblies of the primitive Christians, and these books only; which was both a strong and public acknowledgment of their authority, and even of their exclusive authority, and that by a great number of differing and distant churches. A Russian traveller in Asia, made it bis object to inquire, and found the same books used in all churches; and this was withal a complete security from any corruption or alteration which could be introduced into them. I defy any man living to make nowadays any alteration in our bible; because its being constantly read in public, and being by that means both so dispersed and so well known, the alteration must immediately be detected.
Thirdly; from very early, nay, perhaps from the first ages of Christianity, there were disputes, sects, and divisions amongst Christians. Now all sects appealed to these books for the confirmation of their opinions. Those who found any thing in the books to confirm their opinion produced it to gainsay the adversary; those who found any thing seemingly contrary to their opinions reconciled and explained it as well as they could ; but they all agreed in referring themselves and one another to the books. This is the strongest evidence in the world; for all those who agreed in nothing else agreed in reading these same books; when they were disputing with the utmost vehemence with one another, all sides left the disputes to be decided by these books. It shows, I think, incontrovertibly, the high esteem in which these books were, and that they could not be controverted, whatever else they might be. If one party attempted to forge a work in the name of an apostle, in order to support a favorite opinion, the opposite party, we may depend upon it, would search out the forgery and expose it; or if one party attempted to insert a text or passage, they would never prevail upon the adversary to allow it, so as to obtain uncontested credit. The vigilance of contending parties is the best security in the world against fraud and contradiction on either side.
Fourthly; the primitive Christians did not receive the books of the New Testament in the lump, without distinction or inquiry; but appear to have exercised due caution and circumspection. The four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of Paul, one of Peter, and one of John, were received, so far as appears, universally and without dispute. The Epistle