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The thirteen epistles of Paul, though not properly historical, contain incidents, in connexion with the transactions of his life, of the miracles he saw or wrought, or references and allusions to those, which is the same thing; and in various places he refers to his miraculous conversion, particularly in the first chapter of Galatians, where he says he received his doctrine,
not of man, nor was he taught of men, but immediately by the revelation of Jesus Christ;' and then, by way of proof of it, reminds them of our Saviour being revealed to him at the very time he was persecuting the church of Christ. The same in the twelfth chapter of his second epistle to the Corinthians; • I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, whether in the body I cannot tell, or whether out of the body I cannot tell, God knoweth ; such an one caught up to the third heaven. And at the fifteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians, speaking of the different appearances of Christ after his resurrection, he adds, in reference to a vision he had of Christ at his conversion, · Last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. Upon other occasions, St Paul speaks in his epistles of the miracles himself had wrought. 2 Cor. xii. 12. • Truly,' says he, how the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs and wonders, and mighty deeds. To the Galatians, third chapter and fifth verse ; . He therefore that ministereth to you the spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?' To the Corinthians, in the first epistle, ' I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than you all.' Now here could be no mistake. St Paul certainly knew whether he did or did not see Christ at his conversion ; whether he did or did not show signs, or wonders, or mighty deeds at Corinth ; whether he did or did not work miracles in Galatia ; whether he did or did not speak with tongues. I lay the greatest stress upon the evidence of St Paul's epistles, because the very matter and manner of composition of them carry with them the force of demonstration, that the author of them was in earnest ; not to mention that his appeal to the miracles he wrought, in the texts I have quoted, was with no desire of publicity and authority, or handing down the memory of these miracles to posterity, but merely for the sake of the argument in hand. The very mention of them, one may say, was accidental; so far was he from any design to impose the narrative of false miracles upon the world.
Next to St Paul's the epistle of St Peter may be produced in testimony of this authenticity. St Peter, you all know, was an
apostle from the first to the last ; a companion of our Saviour; admitted, together with James and John, to more privacy and intimacy with their master than the rest; and held a long and remarkable conversation with Christ after his resurrection. I any one had an opportunity of knowing the truth of the transactions of Christ's life, it was he. Besides speaking in general in his epistles of Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection, of all which he must have known the truth or falsehood, he bears witness in his second epistle to one memorable circumstance in Christ's history, which he himself, he tells us, saw and heard; and this was the transfiguration of Christ, at which, you read in the gospel, he and James and John alone were present; • For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty; for he received from God the Father honor and glory when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, “ This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased ;” and this voice, which came from heaven, we heard when we were with him in the holy mount.' No testimony can be more explicitly authenticated and better founded than this.
James and Jude were both apostles; and, by their epistles, bear testimony to the general truth of the christian religion, and, consequently, to the certainty of the resurrection of Christ; for I suppose it will not be disputed, but that any one who believed Christianity believed the resurrection of Christ. Of the facts of the resurrection these two, together with the other apostles, were eyewitnesses.
The miracles, therefore, recorded in the New Testament, come down to us attested by Matthew and John ; in the Acts of the Apostles, by Paul, Peter, James, and Jude, as eyewitnesses; by St Mark, to say the least of him, a companion and friend of those who had been eyewitnesses of these miracles, and being upon the spot when the greater part of them was performed ; by St Luke in his gospel, an attendant upon Paul, who sifted every thing to the bottom, and gave these accounts as they were delivered by those who, from the beginning, were eyewitnesses; and their being so circumstanced, there is no possibility of mistake in any, or at least in the whole. It is quite a different case from a set of rumors and reports handed from one to another, and repeated after one another, of which each reporter, if he knew from whom he had it, pretends to know nothing more. It is different from accounts published in one country of what has been done or is doing in another, where the publisher of the accounts, from the very distance at which he is situated, can know nothing for himself. It is still more different from histories of travels, which appeared many ages before the history we have, and of which the historian could know very little of what he relates, and with little more authority than ourselves. The gospel historians are sufficiently acquainted with the truth or falsehood of any or most of the facts they relate; if the facts be not so, it is wilful and designed deceit.
Again, and which is a second consideration; the facts themselves were of such a nature that they were capable of being known with absolute certainty ; they were of such a nature as, if the accounts be allowed, were unquestionably miraculous. A diseased person, upon the application of a supposed remedy, either natural or supernatural, may recover from his disease; and it may remain in doubt how far the remedy was successful in the cure, because it cannot be known whether the disease would not have abated of itself, or whether imagination might not contribute to it; but when a man, blind or lame froin his birth, is made to see and walk by a word in an instant, there is no room for any supposition of other interference. Nor was the power of working miracles confined to such cures. There are many acts wrought by miracles besides cures, as turning the water into wine, feeding the five thousand with a few loaves and fishes, blighting the fig tree, walking on the sea, and, above all, raising the dead.
Lastly, which is a very material consideration, the miracles of Christ were of a permanent kind, such as would be very capable of being examined and inquired into afterwards. It was not like a spectre, appearing and disappearing on a sudden, and where, consequently, the whole proof must rest only upon the credit of those who saw it at that moment. The thing in that case was gone and vanished, and admitted no search or investigation. When the blind man was restored to sight, as related in the eighth chapter of John, he continued upon the spot and to enjoy the use of his sight. We hear that he was produced and examined after the miracle, as he had all along lived and was known there before it. When the lame man, at the gate of the temple, was cured by Peter and John, the cure continued; every one that pleased was at liberty to inquire into and examine it, if they disputed the reality of it. It did not depend upon what the apostles or any one said ; his condition before the miracle was notorious, and he was there for them to examine as to his condition after it. When Lazarus was raised from the dead, he did not die again immediately, merely speak or move, then sink into his former state; but he lived, and ate, and conversed like other people. The Jews and all had the opportunity, and many of them, we read, did go down to Bethany to see him, sat at table with him, and at length the rulers formed a design of ruining and putting him to death for it.
Upon the whole, the facts are of such a nature, the persons who related them so prepared with knowledge and information, that I think we may rest satisfied in holding that they could not be imposed upon or deceived in what they tell us ; that we have all the assurance of the truth of these reports which the number, credit, character of any witnesses or allegations can give us.
EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY.
John XX. 31.
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 only remaining supposition is, that the evangelists, the apostles, and many writers and preachers of the gospel, have all entered into a confederacy of imposing their story upon the world; for if the facts they relate, and their relation with respect to them, were of such a nature that they could not by any possibility be mistaken, that no enthusiasm or even madness will account for their being deceived in them, there is nothing left but either to admit these facts to be true, or to say that the disciples purposely joined and went about to cheat and deceive men. Now before we proceed any further, I would observe that this may always be said. In any cause or trial, let the fact be proved ever so clearly by witnesses ever so positive or many, or of ever so good character, it is easy to say that they have combined to impose upon the court; it is easy to say so, but nobody believes it, nobody attends to it, or is affected by it. The cause is decided upon the testimony of these witnesses, and every one can rest satisfied with the decision, and can have no doubt about the matter; whereas those who were interested on the other side, when they had nothing else left to say, would have insinuated that the witnesses were all forsworn, and that it was all a story not to be believed.
But to return; let us now inquire into the probability, or even the possibility, of the supposition, that it was a conspiracy in the friends of Christianity to carry on a cheat.
Now the first impression which this supposition includes, and which alone, I conceive, would stagger the belief of any reasonable man, is, that a handful of fishermen in a small town, near the lake of Galilee, should take into their heads a scheme of covertly setting up a new religion, and converting the whole world to it, and should leave their homes, families, and business, upon this errand, and should expect success in it by means of a tale made up of lies and forgeries. Is this credible ? Is it con- i ceivable? Is it consistent with any principle in human nature or in the nature of things? Is there any instance of such an attempt in the history of the world ? That Mahomet at the head of a victorious army should set up pretensions to a divine commission, and endeavour to establish a religion which redounded so much to the interest and glory of himself and his family, is nothing unnatural. With these advantages Mahomet appealed, as did the apostles, to public miracles. Had the apostles been statesmen or philosophers, there would have been more likelihood of such contrivances amongst them, as such men may some of them entertain ambitious views, and from their influence and celebrity might imagine themselves qualified for such an undertaking; but that a set of low and illiterate mechanics, for from such it is allowed both by friends and enemies that Christianity originated, should conceive a plan of this kind, knowing all the while the falsehood of what they were delivering, is too wild and extravagant a supposition to account for any of these stories; for, always active in finding out what may supply their wants, in carving and contriving at all times, the lower, laborious part of mankind have enough to do to support themselves and their families; their wants, their occupation, their domestic duties and affections are sufficient to engage the whole of their attention and employment. Is a scheme of setting up a religion in the world very likely to interest or engage such as these? or is it probable that such as these should plot and contrive together to do nothing less than to overturn the established religion in all countries of the world,