« PreviousContinue »
communicate scriptural information on the great doctrine of redemption ; and most happy shall I be to assist the anxious enquiries of a friend whom I so sincerely regard, on this all-important article of the christian faith. Since, however,
I am well aware how useless it is to attempt the formation of a superstructure without laying a foundation, I shall take the liberty, in the first place, of stating two or three propositions, which will be found necessary to the validity of my future observations, but upon which it is far from my design to enter into any detailed argument.
Let it be observed, in the first place, that christianity is to be received, not as a moral science of human invention, but as a religion revealed to mankind by the Creator himself, and promulgated upon his authority. In reference to this primary position, there are a few particulars of evidence to which it may be desirable for us shortly to advert.
I. That the principal writings of which the New Testament consists are genuine—that they were written in the apostolic age, and by the individuals with whose names they are inscribed-is a point evinced to be true by a greater variety and quantity of evidence, than has probably ever been brought to bear on a similar
subject. We may adduce, in the first place, a multitude, of christian writers, from the first century downwards, who have made innumerable quotations from the various parts of that sacred volume: secondly, many canons or lists of the books of the New Testament,' and commentaries on its several parts, composed at various times during the second, third, and fourth centuries, of the christian era: thirdly, versions of the New Testament into a variety of foreign dialects; some of which versions, (for example,
10ne of these canons or lists is given by Eusebius, the learned Bishop of Cæsarea, who flourished in the early part of the fourth century. Speaking of the books of the New Testament, he informs us that the four Gospels, the Acts, the Epistles of Paul, and the first Epistles of John and Peter, (i. e. about seven-eighths of the whole volume,) were confesseil by all to be genuine; but that the Epistles of James and Jude, the second Epistle of Peter, the second and third Epistles of John, and the Revelations, were spoken against by some persons. Hist. Eccl. lib. iii. cap. xxv. Although the evidences stated above bear with the greatest force on that major part of the New Testament which Eusebius has included in the former of these classes, they are, to a great extent, applicable also to the remaining books which he describes as spo. ken against, and especially so to the Revelations. See Lardner's Credibility.
The Epistle to the Hebrews, is reckoned by Eusebius in this passage among the Epistles of Paul. The apostolic date of that treatise is demonstrated by a variety of satisfactory evidence; but since it is anonymous, the question, whether Paul was its author or not, still continues unsettled. It has long appeared to me that the arguments for the affirmative of that question, are on the whole too powerful to be resisted,
the Syriac, the old Latin, and the Sahidic,) were probably written in the course of the second century: fourthly, the heathen enemies of christianity, (especially Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian,) who, in their attacks on the divine authority of our religion, were so far from denying the genuineness of the New Testament, that they frequently referred to it, as written by the apostles and evangelists. And, lastly, these external evidences are abundantly confirmed by numerous internal indications of a genuine origin: for example, the Hebraistic Greek, in which the whole volume is composed
a dialect which distinguishes it from all the works of the fathers, and plainly indicates both its real date and the country of its authors; the absence of anachronisms; the uniformity of style subsisting in those several parts of it which are attributed to the same authors; and, above all, the exactness with which, (on a coni. parison with other allowed sources of information,) it is found to unfold, in an incidental manner, the customs and circumstances of the Jews, Romans, and Greeks, during the age of Christ and his apostles.
Nor can we with any reason question the general correctness of the text of the New Testament; for although the early multiplication of
copies naturally gave rise to many unimportant various readings, it obviously afforded an ample check upon any wilful alteration of the common record. In the numerous manuscripts of the Greek Testament now existing, some of which are of very considerable antiquity, in the early versions, and in the quotations made by the ancient fathers, modern critics have found sufficient criteria for the settlement of the sacred text; and the result of their indefatigable enquiries is this—that the New Testament, as christians for several centuries past have been accustomed to read it, continues unimpairedthat it has not been deprived of a single article of faith, a single historical narration, or a single moral precept.
II. It being a well established point, that the writings, of which the New Testament consists, are the genuine work of the evangelists and apostles, we may, in the next place, observe that the history, related in those writings, is credible and true. In support of this proposition, it might be almost sufficient to remark, that the gospels were composed by four honest, simple, and independent writers; two of whom were apostles, and eye-witnesses of the facts which they relate, and the other two companions of apostles, and in full possession of the
sources of exact information. With regard to the book of Acts, the truth of the history contained in it is evinced in a highly satisfactory manner, (as Paley has ingeniously shown in his • Horæ Paulinæ',) by a variety of incidental accordances between that book and the epistles of Paul.
It is true that the history of Jesus is a miraculous history, and therefore requires for its confirmation a greater quantity and higher degree of evidence, than could reasonably be demanded to secure the belief of history in general. But the evidences, of which we are in possession, are amply sufficient to meet the peculiarities of the case. That these miraculous events really occurred, rests on the especial testimony of all the original promulgators of the gospel. Not only have Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John recorded them in their writings, but it is plain that the apostles in general grounded their preaching of the gospel on the authority of these facts; Acts ii. 22. X. 38. That principal miracle, more particularly, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, was an event to which, in an especial manner, they uniformly bore witness; Acts i. 22, iv. 33. Now, that the testimony of the first preachers of the gospel, on the subject of these miracles, was