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THE CERTAINTY OF THOSE FACTS UPON WHICH
THE EVIDENCE OF CHRISTIANITY DEPENDS.
You mistake, in supposing that “my last letter has set the evidence of our Saviour's divine mission, from the Old Testament prophecies, in the strongest light.” There might be much stronger light brought from the prophetic writings, in confirmation of this blessed truth; and you must allow me the freedorn you, that
my letter justly demands of you a firmer assent than you are pleased to express to that fundamental article of our faith and hope. It represents to you more than “ a strong probability, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world.” Consider, I beseech you, whether it is possible, for any or for all created intelligences, to foresee and foretel such future events, as depend wholly upon the mere good pleasure of God; such events as are altogether out of the way of God's ordinary dispensations of providence; and such events as had not the least probability, from the laws of nature, to have ever come to pass; and then to over-rule the various revolutions of nature and providence in such a way as is utterly inconsistent with, and in many instances altogether contrary to, the known stated methods of God's governing the world, in order that those predictions (even in every particular circumstance) should be
exactly accomplished. I entreat you, Sir, to consider the affair in this view, (for in this view it ought to be considered,) and then tell me, whether the evidence does not amount to more than a strong probability. And consider what evidence of this kind you yourself can possibly imagine, that would bring your mind into a full acquiescence in this truth, as certain and undoubted.
If there can be any reasonable doubt remaining, it must be for one of these following causes. Either,
1. It must be supposed, that the Jewish prophets had no such events in their eye; that the quoted predictions had a reference to something else; or perhaps no reference to any thing at all, but were the casual sallies of the several authors' fruitful fancies or imaginations.
But then, if this be supposed, how comes it to pass that they are all so exactly verified ? Certain it is, that the Jews supposed all these predictions to be divine inspirations, kept up stated memorials of them, and longed for their accomplishment. And it is equally certain, that, at the very time when they ought to be expected, they were all fulfilled, in every circumstance. This is an affair that demands your attention.
Here are predictions of most wonderful amazing events; such as no appearances, that ever had been in the world, could any way lead the minds of the prophets to think of, or imagine. These events were foretold as to time, place, and many other particular circumstances, that you see a history of our Saviour's birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and future kingdom, could be made up out of these prophecies; and, to crown the
whole, they have all been exactly fulfilled. Now, then, I have a right to demand, were these from heaven, or of men ? Can the most licentious ima. gination apprehend these very numerous and various predictions to be the effects of capricious fancies, and their fulfilment a matter of mere chance or casualty ? Then may the Epicurean philosophy take place again; and the world, in all its glory, order, and symmetry, be reasonably believed to be the effect of a fortuitous concourse and jumble of atoms. I hope this doubt is cleared out of your way, and I know of but one more that can remain, which is,
2. That there never were any such predictions of these things in the Jewish prophets, but that all of them were written since the events.
But then, you must suppose that this was done by the Christians, without the privity of the Jews and others who had these books in their hands; or that it was done by a joint confederacy of Christians and Jews.
If the former, you must imagine, that the whole nation of the Jews, and all the other nations who had the Greek translation of the Jewish Bible in their hands, must be persuaded to believe that they always had, and always read, those things in their Bible which were never there; or else all of them, to a man, must be prevailed upon, out of complaisance to their greatest adversaries, to interpolate their Bibles, by inserting these predictions ; and not leave to posterity a single copy unadulterated, to discover and correct the fraud. But if you choose the latter of those supposals, that these prophecies were added to the Jewish Bible by a
joint confederacy of Christians and Jews, you must imagine, that the whole Jewish nation, in all their most distant dispersions, united a confederacy to furnish the world with armour against their own infidelity, and to represent themselves as the most unressonable and wicked of all mankind. These absurdities are, I am sure, too gross
you tertain; and yet I may venture to challenge you to think of any other way in which it is possible this could be done.
But you tell me," it yet appears the greatest difficulty to you, to come at any certainty of the truth of those facts upon which the evidence of Christianity depends.” And I readily acknowledge, that if these facts are not true, all our reasonings from prophecy, and miracles too, will come to nothing It is therefore proper to consider this case more particularly. And in order that this may be brought into the closest view, and all the conclusion necessarily force itself upon our minds, let us consider what consequences must follow upon
supposal that these facts are not true. You can have no rational doubt of these things, but upon one of these suppositions : either,
1. That the apostles, and other reporters of these facts, did themselves certainly know that their narratives of these miracles were all of them mere fictions and falsehoods, and that they never did, in fact, see any such miraculous works performed by Jesus Christ; they never did see and converse with him after his resurrection; and that they never had those miraculous gifts and powers themselves, nor ever instrumentally. conveyed them to others. Or,
2. That the reporters of these facts, and many thousands of others, had their senses and imaginations imposed upon; and were made to believe that they did see, hear, and feel such miraculous operations, as were never performed. Or else,
3. That this whole history was an after-game, and a mere piece of forgery obtruded upon the world after the facts were pretended to be done.
These are all the suppositions that can possibly be made in this case. And I have already, in my second letter, offered you some proof, that they are all of them unreasonable and absurd. However, for your satisfaction, I will endeavour to show you, under each of these suppositions, some of those absurdities that will necessarily follow from them.
In the first place, if it be supposed that the reporters of these facts did themselves certainly know that they were false, then it will follow, that thousands of others, before whom those miracles were said to be done, did also certainly know that they were mere fictions and fables.
For they were as capable of certainty, whether they had seen those multitudes of plain, open, visible facts, which are reported, as the apostles were themselves. Upon this supposal, all Judea and Jerusalem must certainly know, that they never saw any such descent of the Holy Ghost in cloven tongues upon the apostles ayd company; and that they knew nothing of those gifts of languages which were pretended. The several churches throughout the world, among whom the apostles went, did certainly know that they saw no miracles wrought by them, in confirmation of their mission; that they never had, nor knew any