PART I. Of the direct Historical Evidence of Christianity, and wherein it is distinguished from the Evidence alledged for other Miracles.

PART II. Of the Auxiliary Evidences of Christianity.

PART III. A brief Consideration of some popular Objections.






    • CHAP. I. Prophecy p. 1
    • CHAP. II. The morality of the Gospel p. 24
    • CHAP. III. The candour of the Writers of the New Testament p. 85
    • CHAP. IV. Identity of Christ's character p. 105
    • CHAP. V. Originality of Christ's character p. 129
    • [Page vi]CHAP. VI. Conformity of the facts occasionally mentioned or referred to in scripture, with the state of things in those times, as represented by foreign and independent accounts p. 133
    • CHAP. VII. Undesigned Coincidences p. 195
    • CHAP. VIII. Of the History of the Resurrection p. 201
    • CHAP. IX. Of the Propagation of Christianity p. 209
      • SECT. II. Reflections upon the preceding Account p. 246
      • SECT. III. Of the Success of Mahometanisin p. 261
    • CHAP. I. The Discrepancies between the several Gospels p. 289
    • CHAP. II. Erroneous Opinions imputed to the Apostles p. 297
    • CHAP. III. The Connection of Christianity with the Jewish History p. 306
    • [Page vii]CHAP. IV. Rejection of Christianity p. 312
    • CHAP. V. That the Christian miracles are not recited, or appealed to, by early Christian writers themselves, so fully or frequently as might have been expected p. 342
    • CHAP. VI. Want of universality in the knowledge and reception of Christianity, and of greater clearness in the evidence p. 360
    • CHAP. VII. The supposed Effects of Christianity p. 375
    • CHAP. VIII. Conclusion p. 390


CHAP. I. Prophecy.

Is. lii. 13. liii. "BEHOLD, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted, and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonished at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: so shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him; for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consi­der. Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? [Page 2] For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and re­jected of men, a man of sorrows, and ac­quainted with grief: and we hid, as it were, our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our ini­quities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgement; and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut [Page 3] off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief. When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their ini­quities. Therefore will I divide him a por­tion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."

These words are extant in a book, pur­porting to contain the predictions of a writer, [Page 4] who lived seven centuries before the Chris­tian aera.

That material part of every argument from prophecy, namely, that the words alledged were actually spoken or written be­fore the fact, to which they are applied, took place, or could by any natural means be fore­seen, is, in the present instance, incontestable. The record comes out of the custody of ad­versaries. The Jews, as an ancient father well observed, are our librarians. The pas­sage is in their copies as well as in ours. With many attempts to explain it away, none has ever been made by them to dis­credit its authenticity.

And, what adds to the force of the quo­tation is, that it is taken from a writing declaredly prophetic; a writing, professing to describe such future transactions and changes in the world, as were connected with the fate and interests of the Jewish nation. It is not a passage in an historical or devotional composition, which, because it [Page 5] turns out to be applicable to some future events, or to some future situation of affairs, is presumed to have been oracular. The words of Isaiah were delivered by him in a prophetic character, with the solemnity be­longing to that character; and what he so delivered, was all along understood by the Jewish reader to refer to something that was to take place after the time of the author. The public sentiments of the Jews, con­cerning the design of Isaiah's writings, are set forth in the book of Ecclesiasticus: "He saw, by an excellent spirit, what should come to pass at the last, and he comforted them that mourned in Sion. He shewed what should come to pass for ever, and secret things or ever they came." (ch. xlviii. v. 24.)

It is also an advantage which this pro­phecy possesses, that it is intermixed with no other subject. It is entire, separate, and uninterruptedly directed to one scene of things.

[Page 6] The application of the prophecy to the evangelic history is plain and appropriate. Here is no double sense: no figurative lan­guage, but what is sufficiently intelligible to every reader of every country. The obscu­rities, by which I mean the expressions that require a knowledge of local diction, and of local allusion, are few, and not of great im­portance. Nor have I found that varieties of reading, or a different construing of the original, produce any material alteration in the sense of the prophecy. Compare the common translation with that of Bishop Lowth, and the difference is not consider­able. So far as they do differ, Bishop Lowth's corrections, which are the faithful result of an accurate examination, bring the description nearer to the New Testament history than it was before. In the fourth verse of the fifty-third chapter, what our Bible renders "stricken," he translates "ju­dicially stricken:" and in the eighth verse, the clause "he was taken from prison and from judgement," the Bishop gives "by an oppressive judgement he was taken off." [Page 7] The next words to these, "who shall de­clare his generation?" are much cleared up in their meaning by the Bishop's version, "his manner of life who would declare," i. e. who would stand forth in his defence? The former part of the ninth verse, "and he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death," which inverts the circumstances of Christ's passion, the Bishop brings out in an order perfectly agreeable to the event; "and his grave was appointed with the wicked, but with the rich man was his tomb." The words in the eleventh verse, "by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many," are in the Bishop's version "by the knowledge of him shall my righteous servant justify many."

It is natural to enquire what turn the Jews themselves give to this prophecy*. There is [Page 8] good proof that the ancient Rabbins explain­ed it of their expected Messiah*; but their modern expositors concur, I think, in re­presenting it, as a description of the cala­mitous state and intended restoration of the Jewish people, who are here, as they say, exhibited under the character of a single person. I have not discovered that their ex­position rests upon any critical arguments, or upon these in any other than a very minute degree. The clause in the ninth verse, which we render "for the transgression of my people was he stricken," and in the margin "was the stroke upon him," the Jews read, "for the transgression of my peo­ple was the stroke upon them." And what they alledge in support of the alteration amounts only to this, that the Hebrew pro­noun is capable of a plural, as well as of a singular signification, that is to say, is capa­ble of their construction as well as ours. [Page 9] And this is all the variation contended for: the rest of the prophecy they read as we do. [Page 10] The probability, therefore, of their expo­sition is a subject of which we are as capable of judging as themselves. This judgement is open indeed to the good sense of every attentive reader. The application which the Jews contend for, appears to me to la­bour under insuperable difficulties; in parti­cular, it may be demanded of them to explain, in whose name or person, if the Jewish people be the sufferer, does the pro­phet speak, when he says, "he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows, yet we. [Page 11] did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted; but he was wounded for our trans­gressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed." Again, the description in the seventh verse, "he was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth," quadrates with no part of the Jew­ish history with which we are acquainted. The mention of the "grave," and the "tomb," in the ninth verse, is not very applicable to the fortunes of a nation; and still less so is the conclusion of the prophecy in the twelfth verse, which expressly repre­sents the sufferings as voluntary, and the sufferer as interceding for the offenders, "because he hath poured out his soul unto death, and he was numbered with the trans­gressors, and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."

There are other prophecies of the Old [Page 12] Testament, interpreted by Christians to re­late to the gospel history, which are deserv­ing both of great regard, and of a very attentive consideration: but I content my­self with stating the above, as well because I think it the clearest and the strongest of all, as because most of the rest, in order that their value be represented with any to­lerable degree of sidelity, require a discussion unsuitable to the limits and nature of this work. The reader will find them disposed in order, and distinctly explained in Bishop Chandler's treatise upon the subject: and he will bear in mind, what has been often, and, I think, truly, urged by the advocates of Christianity, that there is no other eminent person, to the history of whose life so many circumstances can be made to apply. They who object, that much has been done by the power of chance, the ingenuity of ac­commodation, and the industry of research, ought to try whether the same, or any thing like it, could be done, if Mahomet, or any other person, were proposed as the subject of Jewish prophecy.

[Page 13] II. A second head of argument from pro­phecy, is founded upon our Lord's predic­tions concerning the destruction of Jerusa­lem, recorded by three out of the four evangelists.

Luke xxi. 5—25. "And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said, As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And they asked him, saying, Mas­ter, but when shall these things be? and what sign shall there be when these things shall come to pass? And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived, for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near. Go ye not there­fore after them. But, when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified; for these things must first come to pass, but the end is not by and by. Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and great [Page 14] earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines and pestilences: and fearful sights, and great signs shall there be from heaven. But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake. And it shall turn to you for a testimony. Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist. And ye shall be betrayed both by parents and brethren, and kinsfolk and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake. But there shall not an hair of your head perish. In your patience possess ye your souls. And when ye shall see Jerusa­lem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the moun­tains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are [Page 15] in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days; for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations; and Jeru­salem shall be trodden down of the Gen­tiles, until the time of the Gentiles be ful­filled."

In terms nearly similar, this discourse is related in the twenty-fourth chapter of Mat­thew, and the thirteenth of Mark. The prospect of the same evils drew from our Saviour, upon another occasion, the follow­ing affecting expressions of concern, which are preserved by St. Luke (xix. 41): "And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes, for [Page 16] the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee, and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another, because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation." These passages are direct and explicit predictions. References to the same event, some plain, some parabolical, or otherwise figurative, are found in divers other discourses of our Lord *.

The general agreement of the description with the event, viz. with the ruin of the Jewish nation, and the capture of Jerusalem under Vespasian, thirty-six years after Christ's death, is most evident: and the accordancy in various articles of detail and circumstance has been shewn by many learned writers. It is also an advantage to the enquiry, and to the argument built upon it, that we have [Page 17] received a copious account of the transaction from Josephus, a Jewish and contemporary historian. This part of the case is perfectly free from doubt. The only question which, in my opinion, can be raised upon the sub­ject, is whether the prophecy was really de­livered before the event. I shall apply, there­fore, my observations to this point solely.

1. The judgement of antiquity, though varying in the precise year of the publica­tion of the three gospels, concurs in assign­ing them a date prior to the destruction of Jerusalem *.

2. This judgement is confirmed by a strong probability arising from the course of human life. The destruction of Jerusalem took place in the seventieth year after the birth of Christ. The three evangelists, one of whom was his immediate companion, and the other two associated with his com­panions, were, it is probable, not much [Page 18] younger than he was. They must, conse­quently, have been far advanced in life when Jerusalem was taken; and no reason has been given why they should defer writ­ing their histories so long.

3. * If the evangelists, at the time of writing the gospels, had known of the de­struction of Jerusalem, by which catastrophe the prophecies were plainly fulfilled, it is most probable, that, in recording the pre­dictions, they would have dropped some word or other about the completion; in like manner as Luke, after relating the denun­ciation of a dearth by Agabus, adds, "which came to pass in the days of Claudius Cae­sar :" whereas the prophecies are given distinctly in one chapter of each of the three first gospels, and referred to in several dif­ferent passages of each, and, in none of all these places, does there appear the smallest intimation that the things spoken of were [Page 19] come to pass. I do admit that it would have been the part of an impostor, who wished his readers to believe that his book was written before the event, when in truth it was written after it, to have suppressed any such intimation carefully. But this was not the character of the authors of the gospel. Cunning was no quality of theirs. Of all writers in the world, they thought the least of providing against objections. Moreover, there is no clause in any one of them, that makes a profession of having written prior to the Jewish wars, which a fraudulent pur­pose would have led them to pretend. They have done neither one thing nor the other. They have neither inserted any words, which might signify to the reader that their accounts were written before the destruction of Jerusalem, which a sophist would have done; nor have they dropped a hint of the completion of the prophecies recorded by them, which an undesigning writer, writing after the event, could hardly, on some or other of the many occasions that presented themselves, have missed of doing.

[Page 20] 4. The admonitions * which Christ is re­presented to have given to his followers to save themselves by flight, are not easily ac­counted for upon the supposition of the prophecy being fabricated after the event. Either the Christians, when the siege ap­proached, did make their escape from Jeru­salem, or they did not: if they did, they must have had the prophecy amongst them: if they did not know of any such prediction at the time of the siege, if they did not take notice of any such warning, it was an im­probable fiction, in a writer publishing his [Page 21] work near to that time (which, upon any even the lowest and most disadvantageous supposition, was the case with the gospels now in our hands), and addressing his work to Jews and to Jewish converts (which Matthew certainly did), to state that the fol­lowers of Christ had received admonitions, of which they made no use when the occa­sion arrived, and of which, experience then recent proved, that those, who were most concerned to know and regard them, were ignorant or negligent. Even if the prophe­cies came to the hands of the evangelists through no better vehicle than tradition, it must have been by a tradition which sub­sisted prior to the event. And to suppose, that, without any authority whatever, with­out so much as even any tradition to guide them, they had forged these passages, is to impute to them a degree of fraud and im­posture, from every appearance of which their compositions are as far removed as possible.

5. I think that, if the prophecies had been [Page 22] composed after the event, there would have been more specification. The names or de­scriptions of the enemy, the general, the emperor, would have been found in them. The designation of the time would have been more determinate. And I am fortified in this opinion by observing, that the coun­terfeited prophecies of the Sybilline oracles, of the twelve patriarchs, and, I am inclined to believe, most others of the kind, are mere transcripts of the history moulded into a prophetic form.

It is objected that the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, is mixed, or con­nected with, expressions, which relate to the final judgement of the world; and so con­nected, as to lead an ordinary reader to expect, that these two events would not be far distant from each other. To which I answer, that the objection does not concern our present argument. If our Saviour ac­tually foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, it is sufficient; even although we should allow, that the narration of the prophecy [Page 23] had combined together what had been said by him upon kindred subjects, without ac­curately preserving the order, or always no­ticing the transition of the discourse.

CHAP. II. The morality of the gospel.

IN stating the morality of the gospel as an argument of its truth, I am willing to admit two points; first, that the teaching of mo­rality was not the primary design of the mission; secondly, that morality, neither in the gospel, nor in any other book, can be a subject, properly speaking, of discovery.

If I were to describe in a very few words the scope of Christianity, as a revelation *, I should say, that it was to influence the [Page 25] conduct of human life, by establishing the proof of a future state of reward and punish­ment—"to bring life and immortality to light." The direct object, therefore, of the design is, to supply motives, and not rules; sanctions, and not precepts. And these were what mankind stood most in need of. The members of civilized society can, in all ordi­nary cases, judge tolerably well how they ought to act; but without a future state, or, which is the same thing, without credit­ed evidence of that state, they want a motive to their duty; they want at least strength of motive, sufficient to bear up against the force of passion, and the temptation of pre­sent advantage. Their rules want authority. The most important service that can be ren­dered to human life, and that, consequently, which, one might expect beforehand, would be the great end and office of a revelation from God, is to convey to the world au­thorised assurances of the reality of a future existence. And although, in doing this, or by the ministry of the same person by which this is done, moral precepts, or examples, [Page 26] or illustrations of moral precepts, may be occasionally given, and be highly valuable, yet still they do not form the original pur­pose of the mission.

Secondly, morality, neither in the gospel, nor in any other book, can be a subject of discovery, properly so called. By which proposition, I mean that there cannot, in morality, be any thing similar to what are called discoveries in natural philosophy, in the arts of life, and in some sciences; as the system of the universe, the circulation of the blood, the polarity of the magnet, the laws of gravitation, alphabetical writing, decimal arithmetic, and some other things of the same sort; facts, or proofs, or con­trivances, before totally unknown and un­thought of. Whoever therefore expects, in reading the New Testament, to be struck with discoveries in morals, in the manner in which his mind was affected, when he first came to the knowledge of the disco­veries above mentioned; or rather in the manner in which the world was affected by [Page 27] them, when they were first published; ex­pects what, as I apprehend, the nature of the subject renders it impossible that he should meet with. And the foundation of my opinion is this, that the qualities of ac­tions depend entirely upon their effects, which effects must all along have been the subject of human experience.

When it is once settled, no matter upon what principle, that to do good is virtue, the rest is calculation. But since the calcu­lation cannot be instituted concerning each particular action, we establish intermediate rules: by which proceeding, the business of morality is much facilitated, for then, it is concerning our rules alone that we need en­quire, whether in their tendency they be beneficial; concerning our actions we have only to ask, whether they be agreeable to the rules. We refer actions to rules, and rules to public happiness. Now, in the formation of these rules, there is no place for discovery properly so called, but there is [Page 28] ample room for the exercise of wisdom, judgement, and prudence.

As I wish to deliver argument rather than panegyric, I shall treat of the morality of the gospel, in subjection to these observa­tions. And after all, I think it such a mo­rality, as, considering from whom it came, is most extraordinary; and such, as, with­out allowing some degree of reality to the character and pretensions of the religion, it is difficult to account for: or to place the argument a little lower in the scale, it is such a morality, as completely repels the supposition of its being the tradition of a barbarous age or of a barbarous people, of the religion being founded in folly, or of its being the production of craft; and it repels also, in a great degree, the supposition of its having been the effusion of an enthusiastic mind.

The division, under which the subject may be most conveniently treated of, is that [Page 29] of the things taught, and the manner of teaching.

Under the first head, I should willingly, if the limits and nature of my work ad­mitted of it, transcribe into this chapter the whole of what has been said upon the mo­rality of the gospel, by the author of the internal evidence of Christianity; because it perfectly agrees with my own opinion, and because it is impossible to say the same things so well. This acute observer of hu­man nature, and, as I believe, sincere con­vert to Christianity, appears to me to have made out satisfactorily the two following positions, viz.

I. That the gospel omits some qualities, which have usually engaged the praises and admiration of mankind, but which, in rea­lity, and in their general effects, have been prejudicial to human happiness.

II. That the gospel has brought forwards some virtues, which possess the highest intrinsic [Page 30] value, but which have commonly been overlooked and contemned.

The first of these propositions he exem­plifies, in the instances of friendship, patriot­ism, active courage; in the sense in which these qualities are usually understood, and in the conduct which they often produce.

The second, in the instances of passive courage or endurance of sufferings, patience under affronts and injuries, humility, irre­sistance, placability.

The truth is, there are two opposite de­scriptions of character, under which man­kind may generally be classed. The one possesses vigour, firmness, resolution; is daring and active, quick in its sensibilities, jealous of its fame, eager in its attachments, inflexible in its purpose, violent in its re­sentments.

The other, meek, yielding, complying, forgiving; not prompt to act but willing to [Page 31] suffer, silent and gentle under rudeness and insult, suing for reconciliation where others would demand satisfaction, giving way to the pushes of impudence, conceding and in­dulgent to the prejudices, the wrong-head­edness, the intractability of those with whom it has to deal.

The former of these characters is, and ever hath been, the favourite of the world. It is the character of great men. There is a dignity in it which universally commands respect.

The latter is poor-spirited, tame, and ab­ject. Yet so it hath happened, that, with the founder of Christianity, this latter is the subject of his commendation, his precepts, his example; and that the former is so, in no part of its composition. This, and no­thing else, is the character designed in the following remarkable passages: "Resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any man will sue thee at the law, and [Page 32] take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also; and whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain; love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you." This certainly is not common-place morality. It is very original. It shews at least (and it is for this purpose we produce it) that no two things can be more different than the Heroic and the Christian character.

Now the author, to whom I refer, has not only remarked this difference more strongly than any preceding writer, but has proved, in contradiction to first impressions, to popular opinion, to the encomiums of orators and poets, and even to the suffrages of historians and moralists, that the latter character possesses the most of true worth, both as being most difficult either to be ac­quired or sustained, and as contributing most to the happiness and tranquillity of social life. The state of his argument is as fol­lows:

[Page 33] I. If this disposition were universal, the case is clear: the world would be a society of friends. Whereas, if the other dispo­sition were universal, it would produce a scene of universal contention. The world could not hold a generation of such men.

II. If, what is the fact, the disposition be partial; if a few be actuated by it, amongst a multitude who are not; in whatever de­gree it does prevail, in the same proportion it prevents, allays, and terminates quarrels, the great disturbers of human happiness, and the great sources of human misery, so far as man's happiness and misery depend upon man. Without this disposition enmities must not only be frequent, but, once begun, must be eternal; for each retaliation being a fresh injury, and, consequently, requiring a fresh satisfaction, no period can be assigned to the reciprocation of affronts, and to the progress of hatred, but that which closes the lives, or at least the intercourse, of the parties.

I would only add to these observations, [Page 34] that, although the former of the two cha­racters above described may be occasionally useful; although, perhaps, a great general, or a great statesman, may be formed by it, and these may be instruments of important benefits to mankind, yet is this nothing more than what is true of many qualities, which are acknowledged to be vicious. Envy is a quality of this sort. I know not a stronger stimulus to exertion. Many a scholar, many an artist, many a soldier, has been produced by it. Nevertheless, since in its general effects it is noxious, it is pro­perly condemned, certainly is not praised, by sober moralists.

It was a portion of the same character as that we are defending, or rather of his love of the same character, which our Saviour displayed, in his repeated correction of the ambition of his disciples; his frequent ad­monitions, that greatness with them was to consist in humility; his censure of that love of distinction, and greediness of superiority, which the chief persons amongst his countrymen [Page 35] were wont, on all occasions, great and little, to betray. "They (the scribes and pharisees) love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi, for one is your master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren; and call no man your father upon the earth, for one is your father, which is in heaven; neither be ye called masters, for one is your master, even Christ; but he that is greatest among you shall be your servant, and who­soever shall exalt himself shall be abased, and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted *." I make no farther remark upon these passages, (because they are, in truth, only a repetition of the doctrine, different expressions of the principle, which we have already stated) except that some of the pas­sages, especially our Lord's advice to the guests at an entertainment, (Luke xiv. 7.) seem to extend the rule to what we call [Page 36] manners; which was, both regular in point of consistency, and not so much beneath the dignity of our Lord's mission as may at first fight be supposed, for bad manners are bad morals.

It is sufficiently apparent, that the pre­cepts we have recited, or rather the disposi­tion which these precepts inculcate, relate to personal conduct from personal motives; to cases in which men act from impulse, for themselves, and from themselves. When it comes to be considered, what is necessary to be done for the sake of the public, and out of a regard to the general welfare, (which consideration, for the most part, ought ex­clusively to govern the duties of men in public stations) it comes to a case to which the rules do not belong. This distinction is plain; and, if it were less so, the conse­quence would not be much felt, for it is very seldom that, in the intercourse of pri­vate life, men act with public views. The personal motives, from which they do act, the rule regulates.

[Page 37] The preference of the patient to the he­roic character, which we have here noticed, and which the reader will find explained at large in the work to which we have referred him, is a peculiarity in the Christian insti­tution, which I propose as an argument of wisdom, very much beyond the situation and natural character of the person who de­livered it.

II. A second argument, drawn from the morality of the New Testament, is the stress which is laid by our Saviour upon the re­gulation of the thoughts. And I place this consideration next to the other, because they are connected. The other related to the malicious passions; this to the voluptuous. Together they comprehend the whole cha­racter.

"Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, &c.—These are the things which defile a man." Mat. xv. 19.

[Page 38] "Wo unto you scribes and pharisees, hy­pocrites, for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.—Ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness; even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypo­crisy and iniquity." Mat. xxiii. 25. 27.

And more particularly that strong ex­pression, (Mat. v. 28.) "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath com­mitted adultery with her already in his heart."

There can be no doubt with any reflect­ing mind, but that the propensities of our nature must be subjected to regulation; but the question is, where the check ought to be placed, upon the thought, or only upon action. In this question, our Saviour, in the texts here quoted, has pronounced a decisive judgment. He makes the control [Page 39] of thought essential. Internal purity with him is every thing. Now I contend that this is the only discipline which can succeed; in other words, that a moral system, which prohibits actions, but leaves the thoughts at liberty, will be ineffectual, and is therefore unwise. I know not how to go about the proof of a point, which depends upon expe­rience, and upon a knowledge of the human constitution, better than by citing the judge­ment of persons, who appear to have given great attention to the subject, and to be well qualified to form a true opinion about it. Boerhaave, speaking of this very declaration of our Saviour, "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath already com­mitted adultery with her in his heart," and understanding it, as we do, to contain an injunction to lay the check upon the thoughts, was wont to say, that "our Sa­viour knew mankind better than Socrates." Haller, who has recorded this saying of Boerhaave's, adds to it the following remarks of his own *: "It did not escape the observation [Page 40] of our Saviour, that the rejection of any evil thoughts was the best defence against vice; for, when a debauched person sills his imagination with impure pictures, the licentious ideas which he recalls, fail not to stimulate his desires with a degree of vio­lence which he cannot resist. This will be followed by gratification, unless some exter­nal obstacle should prevent him from the commission of a sin, which he had internally resolved on." "Every moment of time (says our author) that is spent in meditations upon sin, increases the power of the dan­gerous object which has possessed our ima­gination." I suppose these reflections will be generally assented to.

III. Thirdly, had a teacher of morality been asked concerning a general principle of conduct, and for a short rule of life; and had he instructed the person who consulted him, "constantly to refer his actions to what he believed to be the will of his Cre­ator, and constantly to have in view, not his own interest and gratisication alone, but [Page 41] the happiness and comfort of those about him," he would have been thought, I doubt not, in any age of the world, and in any, even the most improved state of morals, to have delivered a judicious answer: because, by the first direction, he suggested the only motive which acts steadily and uniformly, in sight and out of sight, in familiar oc­currences and under pressing temptations; and in the second, he corrected, what, of all tendencies in the human character, stands most in need of correction, selfishness, or a contempt of other men's conveniency and satisfaction. In estimating the value of a moral rule, we are to have regard, not only to the particular duty, but the general spirit; not only to what it directs us to do, but to the character which a compliance with its direction is likely to form in us. So, in the present instance, the rule here recited will never fail to make him who obeys it, considerate, not only of the rights, but of the feelings of other men, bodily and men­tal, in great matters and in small; of the ease, the accommodation, the self-complacency [Page 42] of all with whom he has any concern, especially of all who are in his power, or dependent upon his will.

Now what, in the most applauded philo­sopher of the most enlightened age of the world, would have been deemed worthy of his wisdom, and of his character, to say, our Saviour hath said, and upon just such an occasion as that which we have feigned.

"Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great com­mandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind; this is the first and great com­mandment; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Mat. xxii. 35—40.

The second precept occurs in St. Mat­thew, on another occasion similar to this [Page 43] (xix. 16.), and both of them upon a third similar occasion in Luke (x. 27). In these two latter instances, the question proposed was, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

Upon all these occasions, I consider the words of our Saviour as expressing precisely the same thing as what I have put into the mouth of the moral philosopher. Nor do I think that it detracts much from the merit of the answer, that these precepts are extant in the Mosaic code: for his laying his fin­ger, if I may so say, upon these precepts; his drawing them out from the rest of that voluminous institution; his stating of them, not simply amongst the number, but as the greatest and the sum of all the others; in a word, his proposing of them to his hearers for their rule and principle, was our Savi­our's own.

And what our Saviour had said upon the subject, appears to me to have fixed the sen­timent amongst his followers.

[Page 44] St. Paul has it expressly, "If there be any other commandment, it is briefly com­prehended in this saying, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself *;" and again, "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thy­self ."

St. John, in like manner, "This com­mandment have we from him, that he who loveth God, love his brother also ."

St. Peter, not very differently, "Seeing that ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth, through the spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently §."

And it is so well known, as to require no citations to verify it, that this love, or charity, or, in other words, regard to the welfare of others, runs in various forms through all the preceptive parts of the apostolic [Page 45] writings. It is the theme of all their exhortations, that with which their morality begins and ends, from which all their de­tails and enumerations set out, and into which they return.

And that this temper, for some time at least, descended in its purity to succeeding Christians, is attested by one of the earliest and best of the remaining writings of the apostolical fathers, the epistle of the Roman Clement. The meekness of the Christian character reigns throughout the whole of that excellent piece. The occasion called for it. It was to compose the dissensions of the church of Corinth. And the venerable hearer of the apostles does not fall short, in the display of this principle, of the finest passages of their writings. He calls to the remembrance of the Corinthian church its former character, in which "ye were all of you (he tells them) humble minded, not boasting of any thing, desiring rather to be subject than to govern, to give than to re­ceive, being content with the portion God [Page 46] had dispensed to you, and hearkening dili­gently to his word; ye were enlarged in your bowels, having his sufferings always before your eyes. Ye contended day and night for the whole brotherhood, that with compassion and a good conscience the num­ber of his elect might be saved. Ye were sincere, and without offence, towards each other. Ye bewailed every one his neigh­bour's sins, esteeming their defects your own*." His prayer for them was for the "return of peace, long suffering, and pa­tience." And his advice to those, who might have been the occasion of difference in the society, is conceived in the true spirit, and with a perfect knowledge, of the Chris­tian character. "Who is there among you that is generous? Who that is compassionate? Who that has any charity? Let him say, if this sedition, this contention, and these schisms, be upon my account, I am ready to depart, to go away whithersoever ye please, and do whatsoever ye shall command [Page 47] me, only let the flock of Christ be in peace, with the elders who are set over it. He that shall do this, shall get to himself a very great honour in the Lord; and there is no place but what will-be ready to receive him, for the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof. These things they, who have their conversation towards God, not to be repent­ed of, both have done, and will always be ready to do*."

This sacred principle, this earnest recom­mendation of forbearance, lenity, and for­giveness, mixes with all the writings of that age. There are more quotations in the apostolical fathers of texts which relate to these points, than of any other. Christ's sayings had struck them. "Not rendering (faith Polycarp, the disciple of John) evil for evil, or railing for railing, or striking for striking, or cursing for cursing." Again, speaking of some whose behaviour had given great offence, "Be ye moderate (says he) upon this occasion, and look not upon such [Page 48] as enemies, but call them back as suffering and erring members, that ye save your whole body*."

‘"Be ye mild at their anger (saith Ignatius, the companion of Polycarp), humble at their boastings, to their blasphemies return your prayers, to their error your firmness in the faith; when they are cruel, be ye gentle; not endeavouring to imitate their ways, let us be their brethren in all kindness and mo­deration, but let us be followers of the Lord, for who was ever more unjustly used, more destitute, more despised?"’

IV. A fourth quality, by which the mo­rality of the gospel is distinguished, is the exclusion of regard to fame and reputation.

‘"Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them, otherwise ye have no reward of your father which is in heaven."’

[Page 49] ‘"When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy father which is in secret; and thy father, which seeth in secret, shall re­ward thee openly*."’

And the rule by parity of reason is ex­tended to all other virtues.

I do not think, that either in these, or in any other passage of the New Testament, the pursuit of fame is stated as a vice; it is only said that an action, to be virtuous, must be independent of it. I would also observe, that it is not publicity, but ostentation, which is prohibited; not the mode, but the motive of the action, which is regulated. A good man will prefer that mode, as well as those objects of his beneficence, by which he can produce the greatest effect; and the view of this purpose may dictate sometimes pub­lication, and sometimes concealment. Either the one or the other may be the mode of [Page 50] the action, according as the end to be pro­moted by it appears to require. But from the motive, the reputation of the deed, and the fruits and advantage of that reputation to ourselves, must be shut out, or, in what­ever proportion they are not so, the action in that proportion fails of being virtuous.

This exclusion of regard to human opi­nion, is a difference, not so much in the duties, to which the teachers of virtue would persuade mankind, as in the manner and topics of persuasion. And in this view the difference is great. When we set about to give advice, our lectures are full of the ad­vantages of character, of the regard that is due to appearances and to opinion; of what the world, especially of what the good or great, will think and say; of the value of public esteem, and of the qualities by which men acquire it. Widely different from this was our Saviour's instruction: and the dif­ference was founded upon the best reasons. For, however the care of reputation, the authority of public opinion, or even of the [Page 51] opinion of good men, the satisfaction of be­ing well received and well thought of, the benefit of being known and distinguished, are topics, to which we are fain to have re­course in our exhortations, the true virtue is that which discards these considerations absolutely; and which retires from them all to the single internal purpose of pleasing God. This at least was the virtue which our Saviour taught. And in teaching of this, he not only confined the views of his followers to the proper measure and prin­ciple of human duty, but acted in con­sistency with his office as a monitor from heaven.

Next to what our Saviour taught, may be considered the manner of his teaching; which was extremely peculiar, yet, I think, precisely adapted to the peculiarity of his character and situation. His lessons did not consist of disquisitions; of any thing like moral essays, or like sermons, or like set treatises upon the several points which he mentioned. When he delivered a precept, [Page 52] it was seldom that he added any proof or argument; still seldomer, that he accom­panied it with, what all precepts require, limitations and distinctions. His instruc­tions were conceived in short emphatic sen­tentious rules, in occasional reflections, or in round maxims. I do not think that this was a natural, or would have been a pro­per method, for a philosopher or a moralist; or that it is a method which can be success­fully imitated by us. But I contend that it was suitable to the character which Christ assumed, and to the situation in which, as a teacher, he was placed. He produced him­self as a messenger from God. He put the truth of what he taught upon authority *. In the choice, therefore, of his mode of teaching, the purpose by him to be con­sulted was impression; because conviction, which forms the principal end of our dis­courses, was to arise in the minds of his followers [Page 53] from a different source, from their respect to his person and authority. Now, for the purpose of impression singly and ex­clusively (I repeat again, that we are not here to consider the convincing of the un­derstanding) I know nothing which would have so great force, as strong ponderous maxims, frequently urged, and frequently brought back to the thoughts of the hearers. I know nothing that could in this view be said better, than "Do unto others, as ye would that others should do unto you; the first and great commandment is, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." It must also be remembered, that our Lord's ministry, upon the supposi­tion either of one year or of three, com­pared with his work, was of short duration; that, within this time, he had many places to visit, various audiences to address; that his person was generally besieged by crowds of followers; that he was, sometimes, driven away from the place where he was teaching, by persecution, and, at other times, thought [Page 54] fit to withdraw himself from the commo­tions of the populace. Under these circum­stances, nothing appears to have been so practicable, or likely to be so efficacious, as leaving, wherever he came, concise lessons of duty. These circumstances at least shew the necessity he was under of comprising what he delivered within a small compass. In particular, his sermon upon the mount ought always to be considered with a view to these observations. The question is not, whether a fuller, a more accurate, a more systematic, or a more argumentative dis­course upon morals might not have been pronounced, but whether more could have been said in the same room, better adapted to the exigencies of the hearers, or better calculated for the purpose of impression. Seen in this light, it hath always appeared to me to be admirable. Dr. Lardner thought that this discourse was made up of what Christ had said at different times, and upon different occasions, several of which occa­sions are noticed in St. Luke's narrative. I can perceive no reason for this opinion. I [Page 55] believe that our Lord delivered this discourse at one time and place, in the manner related by St. Matthew, and that he repeated the same rules and maxims at different times, as opportunity or occasion suggested; that they were often in his mouth, were repeated to different audiences, and in various con­versations.

It is incidental to this mode of moral in­struction, which proceeds not by proof but upon authority, not by disquisition but by precept, that the rules will be conceived in absolute terms, leaving the application, and the distinctions that attend it, to the reason of the hearer. It is likewise to be expected, that they will be delivered in terms, by so much the more forcible and energetic, as they have to encounter natural or general propensities. It is further also to be re­marked, that many of those strong instances, which appear in our Lord's sermon, such as "If any man will smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also: If any man will sue thee at the law, and take away [Page 56] thy coat, let him have thy cloke also: Who­soever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain;" though they appear in the form of specific precepts, are intended as descriptive of disposition and character. A specific compliance with the precepts would be of little value, but the disposition which they inculcate is of the highest. He who should content himself with waiting for the occasion, and with literally observ­ing the rule when the occasion offered, would do nothing, or worse than nothing; but he who considers the character and dis­position which is hereby inculcated, and places that disposition before him as the model to which he should bring his own, takes, perhaps, the best possible method of improving the benevolence, and of calming and rectifying the vices of his temper.

If it be said that this disposition is unat­tainable, I answer, so is all perfection; ought therefore a moralist to recommend imperfections? One excellency, however, of our Saviour's rules is, that they are [Page 57] either never mistaken, or never so mistaken as to do harm. I could feign a hundred cases, in which the literal application of the rule, "of doing to others as we would that others should do unto us," might mislead us: but I never yet met with the man who was actually misled by it. Notwithstand­ing that our Lord bid his followers "not to resist evil," and "to forgive the enemy, who should trespass against them, not till seven times but till seventy times seven," the Christian world has hitherto suffered lit­tle by too much placability or forbearance. I would repeat once more, what has already been twice remarked, that these rules were designed to regulate personal conduct from personal motives, and for this purpose alone.

I think that these observations will assist us greatly in placing our Saviour's conduct, as a moral teacher, in a proper point of view; especially when it is considered, that to deliver moral disquisitions was no part of his design, to teach morality at all was only [Page 58] a subordinate part of it, his great business being to supply, what was much more wanting than lessons of morality, stronger moral sanctions, and clearer assurances of a future judgement *.

The parables of the New Testament are, many of them, such as would have done honour to any book in the world, I do not [Page 59] mean in style and diction, but in the choice of the subjects, in the structure of the nar­ratives, in the aptness, propriety, and force of the circumstances woven into them; and in some, as that of the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the pharisee and the publi­can, in an union of pathos and simplicity, which, in the best productions of human genius, is the fruit only of a much exer­cised and well-cultivated judgement.

The Lord's prayer, for a succession of so­lemn thoughts, for fixing the attention upon a few great points, for suitableness to every condition, for sufficiency, for conciseness without obscurity, for the weight and real importance of its petitions, is without an equal or a rival.

From whence did these come? Whence had this man this wisdom? Was our Savi­our, in fact, a well-instructed philosopher, whilst he is represented to us as an illiterate peasant? Or shall we say that some early Christians of taste and education composed [Page 60] these pieces, and ascribed them to Christ? Beside all other incredibilities in this ac­count, I answer, with Dr. Jortin, that they could not do it. No specimens of composi­tion, which the Christians of the first cen­tury have left us, authorize us to believe that they were equal to the task. And how little qualified the Jews, the countrymen and companions of Christ, were to assist him in the undertaking, may be judged of from the traditions and writings of theirs which were the nearest to that age. The whole collection of the Talmud is one continued proof, into what follies they fell whenever they left their Bible; and how little capable they were of furnishing out such lessons as Christ delivered.

But there is still another view, in which our Lord's discourses deserve to be consi­dered; and that is, in their negative charac­ter, not in what they did, but in what they did not contain. Under this head, the fol­lowing reflections appear to me to possess some weight.

[Page 61] I. They exhibit no particular description of the invisible world. The future happi­ness of the good, and the misery of the bad, which is all we want to be assured of, is directly and positively affirmed, and is re­presented by metaphors and comparisons, which were plainly intended as metaphors and comparisons, and as nothing more. As to the rest, a solemn reserve is maintained. The question concerning the woman who had been married to seven brothers, "Whose shall she be on the resurrection?" was of a nature calculated to have drawn from Christ a more circumstantial account of the state of the human species in their future exist­ence. He cut short, however, the enquiry by an answer, which at once rebuked in­truding curiosity, and was agreeable to the best apprehensions we are able to form upon the subject, viz. "That they who are accounted worthy of that resurrection, shall be as the angels of God in heaven." I lay a stress upon this reserve, because it repels the suspicion of enthusiasm; for enthusiasm is wont to expatiate upon the condition of [Page 62] the departed, above all other subjects; and with a wild particularity. It is moreover a topic which is always listened to with greediness. The teacher, therefore, whose principal purpose is to draw upon himself attention, is sure to be full of it. The Koran of Mahomet is half made up of it.

II. Our Lord enjoined no austerities. He not only enjoined none as absolute duties, but he recommended none as carrying men to a higher degree of divine favour. Place Christianity, in this respect, by the side of all institutions which have been founded in the fanaticism, either of their author, or of his first followers: or rather compare, in this respect, Christianity as it came from Christ, with the same religion after it fell into other hands; with the extravagant me­rit very soon ascribed to celibacy, solitude, voluntary poverty; with the rigours of an ascetic, and the vows of a monastic life; the hair shirt, the watchings, the midnight prayers, the obmutescence, the gloom and [Page 63] mortification, of religious orders, and of those who aspired to religious perfection.

III. Our Saviour uttered no impassioned devotion. There was no heat in his piety, or in the language in which he expressed it; no vehement or rapturous ejaculations, no violent urgency in his prayers. The Lord's prayer is a model of calm devotion. His words in the garden are unaffected ex­pressions, of a deep indeed, but sober piety. He never appears to have been worked up into any thing like that elation, or that emotion of spirits, which is occasionally ob­served in most of those, to whom the name of enthusiast can in any degree be applied. I feel a respect for methodists, because I believe that there is to be found amongst them, much sincere piety, and availing, though not always well-informed, Christia­nity: yet I never attended a meeting of theirs, but I came away with the reflection, how different what I heard was from what I read; I do not mean in doctrine, with [Page 64] which, at present, I have no concern, but in manner; how different from the calm­ness, the sobriety, the good sense, and, I may add, the strength and authority, of our Lord's discourses.

IV. It is very usual with the human mind, to substitute forwardness and fervency in a particular cause, for the merit of general and regular morality; and it is natural, and politic also, in the leader of a sect or party, to encourage such a disposition in his fol­lowers. Christ did not overlook this turn of thought: yet, though avowedly placing himself at the head of a new institution, he notices it only to condemn it. "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven: many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? and then will I profess [Page 65] unto you, I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity *." So far was the author of Christianity from courting the at­tachment of his followers by any sacrifice of principle, or by a condescension to the er­rors which even zeal in his service might have inspired! This was a proof both of sincerity and judgement.

V. Nor, fifthly, did he fall in with any of the depraved fashions of his country, or with the natural biass of his own education. Bred up a Jew, under a religion extremely technical, in an age, and amongst a people, more tenacious of the ceremonies, than of any other part of that religion, he delivered an institution, containing less of ritual, and that more simple, than is to be found in any religion, which ever prevailed amongst mankind. We have known, I do allow, examples of an enthusiasm, which has swept away all external ordinances before it. But this spirit certainly did not dictate our Sa­viour's conduct, either in his treatment of [Page 66] the religion of his country, or in the for­mation of his own institution. In both he displayed the soundness and moderation of his judgement. He censured an overstrained scrupulousness, or perhaps an affectation of scrupulousness, about the sabbath; but how did he censure it? not by contemning or decrying the institution itself, but by de­claring that "the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath;" that is to say, that the sabbath was to be subordinate to its purpose, and that that purpose was the real good of those who were the sub­jects of the law. The same concerning the nicety of some of the pharisees, in paying tithes of the most trifling articles, accom­panied with a neglect of justice, fidelity, and mercy. He finds fault with them for misplacing their anxiety. He does not speak disrespectfully of the law of tithes, or of their observance of it, but he assigns to each class of duties its proper station in the scale of moral importance. All this might be expected perhaps from a well-instructed, cool, and judicious philosopher, but was [Page 67] not to be looked for from an illiterate Jew, certainly not from an impetuous enthusiast.

VI. Nothing could be more quibbling, than were the comments and expositions of the Jewish doctors, at that time; nothing so puerile as their distinctions. Their eva­sion of the fifth commandment, their expo­sition of the law of oaths, are specimens of the bad taste in morals which then prevail­ed. Whereas in a numerous collection of our Saviour's apothegms, many of them re­ferring to sundry precepts of the Jewish law, there is not to be found one example of sophistry, or of false subtlety, or of any thing approaching thereunto.

VII. The national temper of the Jews was intolerant, narrow-minded, and ex­cluding. In Jesus, on the contrary, whether we regard his lessons or his example, we see not only benevolence, but benevolence the most enlarged and comprehensive. In the parable of the good Samaritan, the very point of the story is, that the person re­lieved [Page 68] by him, was the national and reli­gious enemy of his benefactor. Our Lord declared the equity of the divine admini­stration, when he told the Jews (what, pro­bably, they were surprised to hear) "That many should come from the east and west, and should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven, but that the children of the kingdom shoud be cast into outer darkness *." His reproof of the hasty zeal of his disciples, who would needs call down fire from heaven to re­venge an affront put upon their Master, shews the lenity of his character, and of his religion; and his opinion of the manner in which the most unreasonable opponents ought to be treated, or at least of the man­ner in which they ought not to be treated. The terms, in which his rebuke was con­veyed, deserve to be noticed:—"Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of ."

VIII. Lastly, amongst the negative qualities [Page 69] of our religion, as it came out of the hands of its founder and his apostles, we may reckon its complete abstraction from all views either of ecclesiastical or civil po­licy; or, to meet a language much in fashion with some men, from the politics either of priests or statesmen. Christ's declaration, that "his kingdom was not of this world," recorded by John; his evasion of the ques­tion, whether it was lawful or not to give tribute unto Cesar, mentioned by the three other evangelists; his reply to an application that was made to him, to interpose his au­thority in a question of property, "Man, who made me a ruler or a judge over you?" ascribed to him by St. Luke; his declining to exercise the office of a criminal judge in the case of the woman taken in adultery, as related by John, are all intelligible significa­tions of our Saviour's sentiments upon this head. And with respect to politics, in the usual sense of that word, or discussions con­cerning different forms of government, Christianity declines every question upon the subject. Whilst politicians are disputing [Page 70] about monarchies, aristocracies, and repub­lics, the gospel is alike applicable, useful, and friendly to them all; inasmuch as, 1st, it tends to make men virtuous, and as it is easier to govern good men than bad men under any constitution: as, 2dly, it states obedience to government in ordinary cases, to be not merely a submission to force, but a duty of conscience: as, 3dly, it induces dispositions favourable to public tranquillity, a Christian's chief care being to pass quietly through this world to a better: as, 4thly, it prays for communities, and for the go­vernors of communities, of whatever de­scription or denomination they be, with a solicitude and fervency proportioned to the influence which they possess upon human happiness. All which, in my opinion, is just as it should be. Had there been more to be found in scripture of a political nature, or convertible to political purposes, the worst use would have been made of it, on which­ever side it seemed to lie.

When, therefore, we consider Christ as a [Page 71] moral teacher (remembring that this was only a secondary part of his office; and that morality, by the nature of the subject, does not admit of discovery, properly so called); when we consider, either what he taught, or what he did not teach, either the sub­stance or the manner of his instruction; his preference of solid to popular virtues, of a character which is commonly despised, to a character which is universally extolled; his placing, in our licentious vices, the check in the right place, viz. upon the thoughts; his collecting of human duty into two well devised rules, his repetition of these rules, the stress he laid upon them, especially in comparison with positive duties, and his fixing thereby the sentiments of his fol­lowers; his exclusion of all regard to repu­tation in our devotion and alms, and, by parity of reason, in our other virtues: when we consider that his instructions were de­livered in a form calculated for impression, the precise purpose in his situation to be consulted; and that they were illustrated by parables, the choice and structure of which [Page 72] would have been admired in any composi­tion whatever: when we observe him free from the usual symptoms of enthusiasm, heat and vehemence in devotion, austerity in institutions, and a wild particularity in the descriptions of a future state; free also from the depravities of his age and country; without superstition amongst the most su­perstitious of men, yet not decrying po­sitive distinctions or external observances, but soberly recalling them to the principle of their establishment, and to their place in the scale of human duties; without sophis­try or trifling, amidst teachers remarkable for nothing so much, as frivolous subtleties and quibbling expositions; candid and li­beral in his judgement of the rest of man­kind, although belonging to a people, who affected a separate claim to divine favour, and, in consequence of that opinion, prone to uncharitableness, partiality, and restric­tion: when we find, in his religion, no scheme of building up a hierarchy, or of ministring to the views of human govern­ments: in a word, when we compare Christianity, [Page 73] as it came from its author, either with other religions, or with itself in other hands, the most reluctant understanding will be induced to acknowledge the probity, I think also, the good sense of those, to whom it owes its origin; and that some regard is due to the testimony of such men, when they declare their knowledge that the reli­gion proceeded from God; and when they appeal, for the truth of their assertion, to miracles which they wrought, or which they saw.

Perhaps the qualities which we observe in the religion, may be thought to prove something more. They would have been extraordinary, had the religion come from any person; from the person, from whom it did come, they are exceedingly so. What was Jesus in external appearance? a Jewish peasant, the son of a carpenter, living with his father and mother in a remote province of Palestine, until the time that he pro­duced himself in his public character. He had no master to instruct or prompt him. [Page 74] He had read no books, but the works of Moses and the prophets. He had visited no polished cities. He had received no lessons from Socrates or Plato; nothing to form in him a taste or judgement, different from that of the rest of his countrymen, and of persons of the same rank of life with him­self. Supposing it to be true, which it is not, that all his points of morality might be picked out of Greek and Roman writings, they were writings which he had never seen. Supposing them to be no more, than what some or other had taught in various times and places, he could not collect them to­gether.

Who were his coadjutors in the under­taking, the persons into whose hands the religion came after his death? a few fisher­men upon the lake of Tiberias, persons just as uneducated, and for the purpose of fram­ing rules of morality, as unpromising as himself. Suppose the mission to be real, all this is accounted for; the unsuitableness of the authors to the production, of the characters [Page 75] to the undertaking, no longer sur­prises us; but, without reality, it is very difficult to explain, how such a system should proceed from such persons. Christ was not like any other carpenter; the apo­stles were not like any other fishermen.

But the subject is not exhausted by these observations. That portion of it, which is most reducible to points of argument, has been stated, and, I trust, truly. There are, however, some topics, of a more diffuse na­ture, which yet deserve to be proposed to the reader's attention.

The character of Christ is a part of the morality of the gospel: one strong obser­vation upon which is, that, neither as repre­sented by his followers, nor as attacked by his enemies, is he charged with any personal vice. This remark is as old as Origen:—"Though innumerable lies and calumnies had been forged against the venerable Jesus, none had dared to charge him with an intemperance*." [Page 76] Not a reflection upon his moral character, not an imputation or sus­picion of any offence against purity and chastity, appears for five hundred years after his birth. This faultlessness is more pecu­liar than we are apt to imagine. Some stain pollutes the morals or the morality of almost every other teacher, and of every other law­giver. Zeno the stoic, and Diogenes the cynic, fell into the foulest impurities; of which also Socrates himself was more than suspected. Solon forbad unnatural crimes to slaves. Lycurgus tolerated theft as a part of education. Plato recommended a com­munity of women. Aristotle maintained the general right of making war upon Bar­barians. The elder Cato was remarkable for the ill usage of his slaves. The younger gave up the person of his wife. One loose principle is found in almost all the Pagan moralists; is distinctly, however, perceived in the writings of Plato, Xenophon, Cicero, [Page 77] Seneca, Epictetus, and that is, the allowing, and even the recommending to their disci­ples, a compliance with the religion, and with the religious rites, of every country into which they came. In speaking of the founders of new institutions, we cannot forget Mahomet. His licentious transgres­sions of his own licentious rules; his abuse of the character which he assumed, and of the power which he had acquired, for the purposes of personal and privileged indul­gence; his avowed claim of a special per­mission from heaven of unlimited sensuality, is known to every reader, as it is confessed by every writer, of the Moslem story.

Secondly, in the histories which are left us of Jesus Christ, although very short, and although dealing in narrative, and not in observation or panegyric, we perceive, be­side the absence of every appearance of vice, traces of devotion, humility, benignity, mild­ness, patience, prudence. I speak of traces of these qualities, because the qualities them­selves are to be collected from incidents; [Page 78] inasmuch as the terms are never used of Christ in the gospels, nor is any formal cha­racter of him drawn in any part of the New Testament.

Thus we see the devoutness of his mind, in his frequent retirement to solitary prayer*; in his habitual giving of thanks ; in his re­ference of the beauties and operations of nature to the bounty of providence ; in his earnest addresses to his Father, more parti­cularly that short but solemn one before the raising of Lazarus from the dead §; and in the deep piety of his behaviour in the gar­den, on the last evening of his life 𝄁: his humility, in his constant reproof of conten­tions for superiority: the benignity and affectionateness of his temper, in his kind­ness to children **, in the tears which he shed [Page 79] over his falling country *, and upon the death of his friend ; in his noticing of the widow's mite ; in his parables of the good Samaritan, of the ungrateful servant, and of the pharisee and publican, of which parables no one but a man of humanity could have been the author: the mildness and lenity of his character is discovered, in his rebuke of the forward zeal of his disciples at the Sama­ritan village §; in his expostulation with Pilate 𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁; in his prayer for his enemies at the moment of his suffering , which, though it has been since very properly and frequently imitated, was then, I apprehend, new. His prudence is discerned, where pru­dence is most wanted, in his conduct upon trying occasions, and in answers to artful questions. Of these the following are ex­amples:—His withdrawing, in various in­stances, from the first symptoms of tumult**, and with the express care, as appears from [Page 80] St. Matthew *, of carrying on his ministry in quietness; his declining of every species of interference with the civil affairs of the country, which disposition is manifested by his behaviour in the case of the woman caught in adultery , and in his repulse of the application which was made to him, to interpose his decision about a disputed inhe­ritance : his judicious, yet, as it should seem, unprepared answers, will be confessed in the case of the Roman tribute §; in the difficulty concerning the interfering relations of a future state, as proposed to him in the instance of a woman who had married seven brethren 𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁; and, more especially, in his reply to those who demanded from him an explanation of the authority by which he acted, which reply consisted, in propounding a question to them, situated between the very difficulties, into which they were insi­diously endeavouring to draw him .

Our Saviour's lessons, beside what has already [Page 81] been remarked in them, touch, and that oftentimes by very affecting represen­tations, upon some of the most interesting topics of human duty, and of human medi­tation; upon the principles, by which the decisions of the last day will be regulated *; upon the superior, or rather the supreme, importance of religion ; upon penitence, by the most pressing calls, and the most encouraging invitations ; upon self-denial §, watchfulness 𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁, placability , confidence in God **, the value of spiritual, that is, of mental worship ††, the necessity of moral obedience, and the directing of that obe­dience to the spirit and principle of the law, instead of seeking for evasions in a technical construction of its terms ‡‡.

[Page 82] If we extend our argument to other parts of the New Testament, we may offer, as amongst the best and shortest rules of life, or, which is the same thing, descriptions of virtue, that have ever been delivered, the following passages:

‘"Pure religion, and undefiled, before God and the Father, is this; to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world *."’

‘"Now the end of the commandment is, charity, out of a pure heart, and a good con­science, and faith unfeigned ."’

‘"For the grace of God that bringeth sal­vation, hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world ."’

Enumerations of virtues and vices, and [Page 83] those sufficiently accurate, and unquestion­ably just, are given by St. Paul to his con­verts in three several epistles *.

The relative duties of husbands and wives, of parents and children, of masters and ser­vants, of Christian teachers and their flocks, of governors and their subjects, are set forth by the same writer , not indeed with the copiousness, the detail, or the distinctness, of a moralist, who should, in these days, sit down to write chapters upon the subject, but with the leading rules and principles in each; and, above all, with truth, and with authority.

Lastly, the whole volume of the New Testament is replete with piety; with, what were almost unknown to heathen moralists, devotional virtues, the most profound vene­ration of the Deity, an habitual sense of his bounty and protection, a firm confidence in [Page 84] the final result of his councils and dispensa­tions, a disposition to resort, upon all occa­sions, to his mercy, for the supply of human wants, for assistance in danger, for relief from pain, for the pardon of sin.

CHAP. III. The candour of the writers of the New Testament.

I MAKE this candour to consist, in their putting down many passages, and noticing many circumstances, which no writer what­ever was likely to have forged; and which no writer would have chosen to appear in his book, who had been careful to present the story in the most unexceptionable form, or who had thought himself at liberty to carve and mould the particulars of that story, according to his choice, or according to his judgement of the effect.

A strong and well-known example of the fairness of the evangelists, offers itself in their account of Christ's resurrection, name­ly, in their unanimously stating, that, after he was risen, he appeared to his disciples alone. I do not mean, that they have used [Page 86] the exclusive word alone; but that all the instances which they have recorded of his appearance, are instances of appearance to his disciples; that their reasonings upon it, and allusions to it, are consined to this sup­position; and that, by one of them, Peter is made to say, "Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead *." The commonest understanding must have perceived, that the history of the resurrec­tion would have come with more advantage, if they had related that Jesus appeared, after he was risen, to his soes as well as his friends, to the scribes and pharisees, the Jewish coun­cil, and the Roman governor; or even if they had asserted the public appearance of Christ in general unqualified terms, with­out noticing, as they have done, the presence of his disciples upon each occasion, and noticing it in such a manner as to lead their [Page 87] readers to suppose that none but disciples were present. They could have represented it one way as well as the other. And if their point had been, to have the religion believed, whether true or false; if they had fabricated the story ab initio, or if they had been dis­posed, either to have delivered their testimony as witnesses, or to have worked up their mate­rials and information as historians, in such a manner as to render their narrative as spe­cious and unobjectionable as they could; in a word, if they had thought of any thing but of the truth of the case, as they under­stood and believed it; they would, in their account of Christ's several appearances after his resurrection, at least have omitted this restriction. At this distance of time, the account as we have it, is perhaps more cre­dible than it would have been the other way; because this manifestation of the historian's candour, is of more advantage to their tes­timony, than the difference in the circum­stances of the account would have been to the nature of the evidence. But this is an effect which the evangelists would not foresee; [Page 88] and I think that it was by no means the case at the time when the books were composed.

Mr. Gibbon has argued for the genuine­ness of the Koran, from the confessions which it contains, to the apparent disad­vantage of the Mahometan cause *. The same defence vindicates the genuineness of our gospels, and without prejudice to the cause at all.

There are some other instances in which the evangelists honestly relate what, they must have perceived, would make against them.

Of this kind is John the Baptist's message, preserved by St. Matthew and St. Luke, (xi. 2. vii. 18.) "Now when John had heard, in the prison, the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or look we [Page 89] for another? To confess, still more to state, that John the Baptist had his doubts con­cerning the character of Jesus, could not but afford a handle to cavil and objection. But truth, like honesty, neglects appear­ances. The same observation, perhaps, holds concerning the apostacy of Judas *.

[Page 90] John vi. 66. "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." Was it the part of a writer, who dealt in suppression and disguise, to put down this anecdote?

Or this, which Matthew has preserved, (xiii. 58.) "He did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief."

Again, in the same evangelist (v. 17, 18.) "Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to de­stroy, but to fulfil; for, verily, I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle, shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." At the time the gospels were written, the apparent tendency of Christ's mission was to diminish the au­thority of the Mosaic code, and it was so considered by the Jews themselves. It is very improbable, therefore, that, without the constraint of truth, Matthew should have ascribed a saying to Christ, which primo intuitu, militated with the judgement [Page 91] of the age in which his gospel was written. Marcion thought this text so objectionable, that he altered the words, so as to invert the sense *.

Once more, Acts xxv. 19. "They brought none accusation against him, of such things, as I supposed, but had certain questions against him of their own supersti­tion, and of one Jesus which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive." Nothing could be more in the character of a Roman governor than these words. But that is not precisely the point I am concerned with. A mere panegyrist, or a dishonest narrator, would not have represented his cause, or have made a great magistrate represent it, in this manner, i. e. in terms not a little disparaging, and bespeaking on his part, much unconcern and indifference about the matter. The same observation may be re­peated of the speech which is ascribed to Gallio (Acts viii. 14.) "If it be a question [Page 92] of words, and names, and of your law, look ye to it, for I will be no judge of such matters."

Lastly, where do we discern a stronger mark of candour, or less disposition to extol and magnify, than in the conclusion of the same history? in which the evangelist, after relating that Paul, upon his first arrival at Rome, preached to the Jews from morning until evening, adds, "And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not."

The following, I think, are passages, which were very unlikely to have presented themselves to the mind of a forger or a fabulist.

Matt. xxi. 21. "Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, if ye have faith and doubt not, ye shall not only do this, which is done unto the fig-tree, but also, if ye shall say unto this mountain, be thou removed, and be thou cast into the [Page 93] sea, it shall be done; all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, it shall be done *." It appears to me very improbable, that these words should have been put into Christ's mouth, if he had not actually spoken them. The term "faith," as here used, is perhaps rightly interpreted of con­sidence in that internal notice, by which the apostles were admonished of their power to perform any particular miracle. And this exposition renders the sense of the text more easy. But the words, undoubtedly, in their obvious construction, carry with them a difficulty, which no writer would have brought upon himself officiously.

Luke ix. 59. "And he said unto an­other, follow me; but he said, Lord, suffer me, first, to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, let the dead bury their dead, but go thou and preach the kingdom of God ." This answer, though very expressive [Page 94] of the transcendent importance of religious concerns, was apparently harsh and repulsive; and such as would not have been made for Christ, if he had not really used it. At least, some other instance would have been chosen.

The following passage, I, for the same reason, think impossible to have been the production of artifice, or of a cold forgery:—"But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgement; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but who­soever shall say, thou fool, shall be in dan­ger of hell-sire (Gehennae)." Mat. v. 22. It is emphatic, cogent, and well calculated for the purpose of impression; but is in­consistent with the supposition of art or wariness on the part of the relator.

The short reply of our Lord to Mary Magdalen after his resurrection (John xx. 16, 17.) "Touch me not, for I am not [Page 95] yet ascended unto my Father," in my opi­nion, must have been founded in a refer­ence or allusion to some prior conversation, for the want of knowing which, his mean­ing is hidden from us. This very obscurity, however, is a proof of genuineness. No one would have forged such an answer.

John vi. The whole of the conversation, recorded in this chapter, is, in the highest degree, unlikely to be fabricated, especially the part of our Saviour's reply between the fiftieth and the fifty-eighth verse. I need only put down the first sentence, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven, if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give him is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." Without calling in question the expositions that have been given of this passage, we may be permit­ted to say, that it labours under an obscu­rity, in which it is impossible to believe that any one, who made speeches for the persons of his narrative, would have voluntarily involved [Page 96] them. That this discourse was ob­scure even at the time, is confessed by the writer who has preserved it, when he tells us at the conclusion, that many of our Lord's disciples, when they had heard this, said, "This is a hard saying, who can bear it?"

Christ's taking of a young child, and placing it in the midst of his contentious disciples (Mat. xviii. 2.), though as deci­sive a proof, as any could be, of the benig­nity of his temper, and very expressive of the character of the religion which he wish­ed to inculcate, was not by any means an obvious thought. Nor am I acquainted with any thing in any ancient writing which resembles it.

The account of the institution of the Eucharist bears strong internal marks of genuineness. If it had been feigned, it would have been more full. It would have come nearer to the actual mode of cele­brating the rite, as that mode obtained very [Page 97] early in Christian churches; and it would have been more formal than it is. In the forged piece, called the apostolic constitu­tions, the apostles are made to enjoin many parts of the ritual, which was in use in the second and third centuries, with as much particularity, as a modern rubric could have done. Whereas, in the history of the Lord's supper, as we read it in St. Matthew's gos­pel, there is not so much as the command to repeat it. This, surely, looks like unde­signedness. I think also that the difficulty, arising from the conciseness of Christ's ex­pression, "This is my body," would have been avoided in a made-up story. I allow that the explication of these words, given by Protestants, is satisfactory; but it is de­duced from a diligent comparison of the words in question, with forms of expression used in scripture, and especially by Christ, upon other occasions. No writer would, arbitrarily and unnecessarily, have thus cast in his reader's way a difficulty, which, to say the least, it required research and erudi­tion to clear up.

[Page 98] Now it ought to be observed, that the argument which is built upon these ex­amples, extends both to the authenticity of the books, and to the truth of the narrative: for it is improbable, that the forger of a his­tory in the name of another should have in­serted such passages into it: and it is im­probable also, that the persons whose names the books bear, should have fabricated such passages; or even have allowed them a place in their work, if they had not be­lieved them to express the truth.

The following observation, therefore, of Dr. Lardner, the most candid of all advo­cates, and the most cautious of all enquirers, seems to be well founded:—"Christians are induced to believe the writers of the gospel, by observing the evidences of piety and probity that appear in their writings, in which there is no deceit or artifice, or cun­ning, or design." "No remarks," as Dr. Beattie hath properly said, "are thrown in to anticipate objections; nothing of that caution, which never fails to distinguish the [Page 99] testimony of those, who are conscious of imposture; no endeavour to reconcile the reader's mind to what may be extraordi­nary in the narrative."

I beg leave to cite also another author *, who has well expressed the reflection, which the examples now brought forward were intended to suggest. "It doth not appear that ever it came into the mind of these writers, to consider how this or the other action would appear to mankind, or what objections might be raised upon them. But, without at all attending to this, they lay the facts before you, at no pains to think whe­ther they would appear credible or not. If the reader will not believe their testimony, there is no help for it: they tell the truth, and attend to nothing else. Surely this looks like sincerity, and that they published nothing to the world but what they believed themselves."

[Page 100] As no improper supplement to this chap­ter, I crave a place here for observing the extreme naturalness of some of the things related in the New Testament.

Mark ix. 24. Jesus said unto him, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe, help thou mine un­belief." The struggle in the father's heart, between solicitude for the preservation of his child, and a kind of involuntary dis­trust of Christ's power to heal him, is here expressed with an air of reality, which could hardly be counterseited.

Again, (Mat. xxi. 9.) the eagerness of the people to introduce Christ into Jerusa­lem, and their demand, a short time after­wards, of his crucifixion, when he did not turn out what they expected him to be, so far from affording matter of objection, re­presents popular favour, in exact agreement [Page 101] with nature and with experience, as the flux and reflux of a wave.

The rulers and Pharisees rejecting Christ, whilst many of the common people received him, was the effect, which, in the then state of Jewish prejudices, I should have expected. And the reason with which they, who rejected Christ's mission, kept them­selves in countenance, and with which also they answered the arguments of those who favoured it, is precisely the reason, which such men usually give:—"Have any of the Scribes or Pharisees believed on him?" John vii. 48.

In our Lord's conversation at the well, (John iv. 29.) Christ had surprised the Sa­maritan woman, with an allusion to a single particular in her domestic situation, "Thou hast had five husbands, and he, whom thou now hast, is not thy husband." The wo­man, soon after this, ran back to the city, and called out to her neighbours, "Come, see a man which told me all things that ever [Page 102] I did." This exaggeration appears to me very natural; especially in the hurried state of spirits into which the woman may be supposed to have been thrown.

The lawyer's subtlsty in running a dis­tinction upon the word neighbour, in the precept "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyseis," was no less natural than our Sa­viour's answer was decisive and satisfactory. (Luke x. 29.) The lawyer of the New Testament, it must be observed, was a Jewish divine.

The behaviour of Gallio, Acts xviii. 12—17, and of Festus, xxv. 18, 19, have been observed upon already.

The consistency of St. Paul's character throughout the whole of his history (viz. the warmth and activity of his zeal, first against, and then for Christianity) carries with it very much of the appearance of truth.

[Page 103] There are also some proprieties, as they may be called, observable in the gospels, that is, circumstances separately suiting with the situation, character, and intention of their respective authors.

St. Matthew, who was an inhabitant of Galilee, and did not join Christ's society until some time after Christ had come into Galilee to preach, has given us very little of his history prior to that period. St. John, who had been converted before, and who wrote to supply omissions in the other gos­pels, relates some remarkable particulars, which had taken place before Christ left Judea to go into Galilee *.

St. Matthew (xv. 1.) has recorded the cavil of the Pharisees against the disciples of Jesus, for eating "with unclean hands." St. Mark has also (vii. 1.) recorded the same transaction (taken probably from St. Matthew), but with this addition, "For the [Page 104] Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands often, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market, except they wash they eat not; and many other things there be which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables." Now St. Matthew was not only a Jew himself, but it is evident, from the whole structure of his gospel, especially from his numerous references to the Old Testament, that he wrote for Jewish readers. The above explanation therefore in him would have been unnatural, as not being wanted by the readers whom he addressed. But in Mark, who, whatever use he might make of Matthew's gospel, intended his own narrative for a general circulation, and who himself travelled to distant countries in the service of the religion, it was properly added.

CHAP. IV. Identity of Christ's character.

THE argument expressed by this title I apply principally to the comparison of the three first gospels with that of St. John. It is known to every reader of scripture, that the passages of Christ's history preserved by St. John, are, except his passion and resur­rection, for the most part different from those which are delivered by the other evangelists. And I think the ancient account of this dif­ference to be the true one, viz. that St. John wrote after the rest, and to supply what he thought omissions in their narratives, of which the principal were our Saviour's con­ferences with the Jews of Jerusalem, and his discourses to his apostles at his last supper. But what I observe in the comparison of these several accounts is, that, although ac­tions and discourses are ascribed to Christ by [Page 106] St. John, in general different from what are given to him by the other evangelists, yet, under this diversity, there is a similitude of manner, which indicates that the actions and discourses proceeded from the same person. I should have laid little stress upon a repeti­tion of actions substantially alike, or of dis­courses containing many of the same expres­sions, because that is a species of resemblance, which would either belong to a true history, or might easily be imitated in a false one. Nor do I deny, that a dramatic writer is able to sustain propriety and distinction of character, through a great variety of separate incidents and situations. But the evan­gelists were not dramatic writers; nor pos­sessed the talents of dramatic writers; nor will it, I believe, be suspected, that they stu­died uniformity of character, or ever thought of any such thing, in the person who was the subject of their histories. Such uni­formity, if it exist, is on their part casual; and if there be, as I contend there is, a per­ceptible resemblance of manner, in passages, and between discourses, which are in themselves [Page 107] extremely distinct, and are delivered by historians writing without any imitation of, or reference to one another, it affords a just presumption, that these are, what they profess to be, the actions and the discourses of the same real person; that the evangelists wrote from fact, and not from imagination.

The article in which I find this agreement most strong, is in our Saviour's mode of teaching, and in that particular property of it, which consists in his drawing of his doc­trine from the occasion; or, which is nearly the same thing, raising reflections from the objects and incidents before him, or turning a particular discourse then passing into an opportunity of general instruction.

It will be my business to point out this manner in the three first evangelists; and then to enquire, whether it do not appear also, in several examples of Christ's discourses, preserved by St. John.

The reader will observe in the following [Page 108] quotation, that the italic letter contains the reflection, the common letter the incident or occasion from which it springs.

Mat. xii. 49, 50. "Then they said unto him, Behold thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered, and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hands towards his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren; for whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

Mat. xvi. 5. "And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had for­gotten to take bread; then Jesus said unto them, Take heed, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the Sadducees. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is be­cause we have taken no bread.—How is it that ye do not understand, that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should be­ware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of [Page 109] the Sadducees? Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the DOCTRINE of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees."

Mat. xv. 1, 2. 10, 11. 17—20. "Then came to Jesus Scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy dis­ciples transgress the traditions of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.—And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear and understand, not that which goeth into the mouth desileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this desileth a man.—Then answered Peter, and said unto him, Declare unto us this pa­rable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet with­out understanding? Do ye not yet under­stand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth, goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? but those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and they defile the man; for out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, [Page 110] blasphemies; these are the things which desile a man, BUT TO EAT WITH UNWASHEN HANDS DEFILETH NOT A MAN." Our Saviour, upon this occasion, expatiates rather more at large than usual, and his discourse also is more divided, but the concluding sen­tence brings back the whole train of thought to the incident in the sirst verse, viz. the ob­jurgatory question of the Pharisees, and renders it evident that the whole sprung from that circumstance.

Mark x. 13, 14, 15. "And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them, and his disciples rebuked those that brought them; but when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little chiidren to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the king­dom of God: verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein."

Mark i. 16, 17. "Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and [Page 111] Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea, for they were fishers; and Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men."

Luke xi. 27. "And it came to pass as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lift up her voice and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked; but he said, Yea, rather blessed are they, that hear the word of God, and keep it."

Luke xiii. 1—5. "There were present at that season some that told him of the Ga­lileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrisices; and Jesus answering, said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you nay, but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."

Luke xiv. 15. "And when one of them, that sat at meat with him, heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat [Page 112] bread in the kingdom of God. Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many," &c. The parable is rather too long for insertion, but affords a striking instance of Christ's manner of raising a discourse from the occasion. Observe also in the same chapter, two other examples of advice, drawn from the circumstances of the entertainment, and the behaviour of the guests.

We will now see, how this manner disco­vers itself in St. John's history of Christ.

John vi. 26. "And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? Jesus answered them, and said, Verily I say unto you, ye seek me not be­cause ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you."

[Page 113] John iv. 12. "Art thou greater than our father Abraham, who gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? Jesus answered and said unto her (the woman of Samaria), Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again, but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him, shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life."

John iv. 31. "In the mean while, his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat; but he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of. Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him aught to eat? Jesus faith unto them, My meat is, to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work."

John ix. 1—5. "And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth: and his disciples asked him, saying, Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither [Page 114] hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made ma­nifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day; the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

John ix. 35—40. "Jesus heard that they had cast him (the blind man above men­tioned) out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? And he answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe; and he worshipped him. And Jesus said, For judge­ment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see, and that they which see might be made blind."

All that the reader has now to do, is to compare the series of examples taken from St. John, with the series of examples taken from the other evangelists, and to judge [Page 115] whether there be not a visible agreement of manner between them. In the above quoted passages, the occasion is stated, as well as the reflection. They seem therefore the most proper for the purpose of our argument. A large, however, and curious collection has been made by different writers *, of instances, in which it is extremely probable, that Christ spoke in allusion to some object, or some occasion then before him, though the mention of the occasion, or of the object, be omitted in the history. I only observe that these instances are common to St. John's gospel with the other three.

I conclude this article by remarking, that nothing of this manner is perceptible in the speeches recorded in the Acts, or in any other but those which are attributed to Christ, and that, in truth, it was a very un­likely manner for a forger or fabulist to at­tempt; and a manner very difficult for any [Page 116] writer to execute, if he had to supply all the materials, both the incidents, and the observations upon them, out of his own head. A forger or a fabulist would have made for Christ, discourses exhorting to virtue and dissuading from vice in general terms. It would never have entered into the thoughts of either, to have crowded to­gether such a number of allusions, to time, place, and other little circumstances, as oc­cur, for instance, in the sermon on the mount, and which nothing but the actual presence of the objects could have sug­gested *.

II. There appears to me to exist an affi­nity between the history of Christ's placing a little child in the midst of his disciples, as related by the three first evangelists , and the history of Christ's washing his disciples' feet, as given by St. John . In the stories [Page 117] themselves there is no resemblance. But the affinity, which I would point out, consists in these two articles: first, that both stories denote the emulation which prevailed a­mongst Christ's disciples, and his own care and desire to correct it. The moral of both is the same. Secondly, that both stories are specimens of the same manner of teaching, viz. by action; a mode of emblematic in­struction extremely peculiar, and, in these passages, ascribed, we see, to our Saviour, by the three first evangelists and by St. John, in instances totally unlike, and with­out the smallest suspicion of their borrowing from each other.

III. A singularity in Christ's language, which runs through all the evangelists, and which is found in those discourses of St. John, that have nothing similar to them in the other gospels, is the appellation of "the son of man;" and it is in all the evange­lists found under the peculiar circumstance of being applied by Christ to himself, but [Page 118] of never being used of him, or towards him, by any other person. It occurs seventeen times in Matthew's gospel, twelve times in Mark's, twenty-one times in Luke's, and eleven times in John's, and always with this restriction.

IV. A point of agreement in the conduct of Christ, as represented by his different historians, is that of his withdrawing him­self out of the way, whenever the beha­viour of the multitude indicated a disposition to tumult.

Mat. xiv. 22. "And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitude away. And when he had sent the multitude away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray."

Luke v. 15, 16. "But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him, and great multitudes came together to hear, and [Page 119] to be healed by him of their infirmities: and he withdrew himself into the wilder­ness and prayed."

With these quotations compare the fol­lowing from St. John.

Chap. v. 13. "And he that was healed wist not who it was, for Jesus had con­veyed himself away, a multitude being in that place."

Chap. vi. 15. "When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force to make him a king, he de­parted again into a mountain by himself alone."

In this last instance St. John gives the motive of Christ's conduct, which is left un­unexplained by the other evangelists, who have related the conduct itself.

V. Another, and a more singular circum­stance in Christ's ministry, was the reserve, [Page 120] which, for some time, and upon some occa­sions at least, he used in declaring his own character, and his leaving it to be collected from his works rather than his professions. Just reasons for this reserve have been as­signed *. But it is not what one would have expected. We meet with it in Mat­thew's gospel (xvi. 20), "Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ." Again, and upon a different occasion, in Mark's (iii. 4), "And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God; and he straitly charged them that they should not make him known." Another instance similar to this last is recorded by St. Luke (iv. 41). What we thus find in the three evangelists, appears also in a passage of St. John (x. 24. 35). "Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly." The occasion here was different [Page 121] from any of the rest; and it was in­direct. We only discover Christ's conduct through the upbraidings of his adversaries. But all this strengthens the argument. I had rather at any time surprise a coincidence in some oblique allusion, than read it in broad assertions.

VI. In our Lord's commerce with his disciples, one very observable particular is the difficulty which they found in under­standing him, when he spoke to them of the future part of his history, especially of what related to his passion or resurrection. This difficulty produced, as was natural, a wish in them to ask for further explanation; from which, however, they appear to have been sometimes kept back, by the fear of giving offence. All these circumstances are distinctly noticed by Mark and Luke, upon the occasion of his informing them (pro­bably for the first time) that the son of man should be delivered into the hands of men. "They understood not," the evangelists tell us, "this saying, and it was hid from them, [Page 122] that they perceived it not; and they feared to ask him of that saying" (Luke ix. 45. Mark ix. 32). In St. John's gospel we have, upon a different occasion, and in a different instance, the same difficulty of ap­prehension, the same curiosity, and the same restraint:—"A little while, and ye shall not see me, and again a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father. Then said some of his disciples among them­selves, What is this that he saith unto us? A little while and ye shall not see me, and again a little while and ye shall see me, and because I go to the Father? They said, therefore, What is this that he saith, a little while? We cannot tell what he saith. Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them," &c. John xvi. 16 et seq.

VII. The meekness of Christ during his last sufferings, which is conspicuous in the narratives of the three first evangelists, is preserved in that of St. John under separate examples. The answer given by him, in [Page 123] St. John *, when the high priest asked him of his disciples and his doctrine, "I spake openly to the world, I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort, and in secret have I said nothing; why askest thou me? Ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them;" is very much of a piece with his reply to the armed party which seized him, as we read it in St. Mark's gospel, and in St. Luke's : "Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and with staves to take me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took me not." In both answers we discern the same tranquillity, the same reference to his public teaching. His mild expostulation with Pilate upon two several occasions, as related by St. John , is delivered with the same unruffled temper, as that which conducted him through the last scene of his life, as de­scribed by his other evangelists. His answer, [Page 124] in St. John's gospel, to the officer who struck him with the palm of his hand, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil, but if well, why smitest thou me *?" was such an answer, as might have been looked for from the person, who, as he pro­ceeded to the place of execution, bid his companions (as we are told by St. Luke ) weep not for him, but for themselves, their posterity, and their country; and who, whilst he was suspended upon the cross, prayed for his murderers, "for they know not (said he) what they do." The urgency also of his judges and his prosecutors to ex­tort from him a defence to the accusation, and his unwillingness to make any (which was a peculiar circumstance) appears in St. John's account, as well as in that of the other evangelists .

There are moreover two other correspon­dencies between St. John's history of the [Page 125] transaction and theirs, of a kind somewhat different from those which we have been now mentioning.

The three first evangelists record what is called our Saviour's agony, i. e. his devo­tion in the garden, immediately before he was apprehended; in which narrative they all make him pray, "that the cup might pass from him." This is the particular me­taphor which they all ascribe to him. St. Matthew adds, "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done *." Now St. John does not give the scene in the garden; but when Jesus was seized, and some resistance was attempted to be made by Peter, Jesus, according to his account, checked the at­tempt with this reply: "Put up thy sword into the sheath; the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it ?" This is something more than consistency: it is coincidence: because it is extremely [Page 126] natural, that Jesus, who, before he was ap­prehended, had been praying his Father, that "that cup might pass from him," yet with such a pious retractation of his request, as to have added, "If this cup may not pass from me, thy will be done;" it was natural, I say, for the same person, when he actually was apprehended, to express the re­signation to which he had already made up his thoughts, and to express it in the form of speech which he had before used, "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" This is a coincidence be­tween writers, in whose narratives there is no imitation, but great diversity.

A second similar correspondency is the following: Matthew and Mark make the charge, upon which our Lord was con­demned, to be a threat of destroying the temple; "We heard him say, I will destroy this temple, made with hands, and, within three days, I will build another made with­out hands *;" but they neither of them inform [Page 127] us, upon what circumstance this ca­lumny was founded. St. John, in the early part of his history *, supplies us with this information; for he relates, that, upon our Lord's first journey to Jerusalem, when the Jews asked him, "What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? He answered, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." This agree­ment could hardly arise from any thing but the truth of the case. From any care or design in St. John, to make his narrative tally with the narratives of the other evan­gelists, it certainly did not arise, for no such design appears, but the absence of it.

A strong, and more general instance of agreement, is the following. The three first evangelists have related the appointment of the twelve apostles ; and have given a ca­talogue of their names in form. John, without ever mentioning the appointment, or giving the catalogue, supposes, throughout [Page 128] his whole narrative, Christ to be accom­panied by a select party of disciples; the number of these to be twelve *; and when­ever he happens to notice any one as of that number , it is one included in the ca­talogue of the other evangelists; and the names principally occurring in the course of his history of Christ, are the names ex­tant in their list. This last agreement, which is of considerable moment, runs through every gospel, and through every chapter of each.

All this bespeaks reality.

CHAP. V. Originality of our Saviour's character.

THE Jews, whether right or wrong, had understood their prophecies to foretell the advent of a person, who, by some superna­tural assistance, should advance their nation to independence, and to a supreme degree of splendour and prosperity. This was the reigning opinion and expectation of the times.

Now, had Jesus been an enthusiast, it is probable that his enthusiasm would have fallen in with the popular delusion, and that, whilst he gave himself out to be the person intended by these predictions, he would have assumed the character, to which they were universally supposed to relate.

[Page 130] Had he been an impostor, it was his bu­siness to have flattered the prevailing hopes, because these hopes were to be the instru­ments of his attraction and success.

But, what is better than conjectures, is the fact, that all the pretended Messiahs actually did so. We learn from Josephus that there were many of these. Some of them, it is probable, might be impostors, who thought that an advantage was to be taken of the state of public opinion. Others, perhaps, were enthusiasts, whose imagina­tion had been drawn to this particular ob­ject, by the language and sentiments which prevailed around them. But, whether im­postors or enthusiasts, they concurred in producing themselves in the character which their countrymen looked for, that is to say, as the restorers and deliverers of the nation, in that sense in which restora­tion and deliverance were expected by the Jews.

[Page 131] Why therefore Jesus, if he was, like them, either an enthusiast or impostor, did not pursue the same conduct as they did, in framing his character and pretensions, it will be found difficult to explain. A mis­sion, the operation and benefit of which was to take place in another life, was a thing unthought of as the subject of these prophecies. That Jesus, coming to them as their Messiah, should come under a cha­racter totally different from that in which they expected him; should deviate from the general persuasion, and deviate into pretensions absolutely singular and original; appears to be inconsistent with the impu­tation of enthusiasm or imposture, both which, by their nature, I should expect, would, and both which, throughout the ex­perience which this very subject furnishes, in fact have, followed the opinions that ob­tained at the time.

If it be said, that Jesus, having tried the other plan, turned at length to this; I answer, [Page 132] that the thing is said without evi­dence; against evidence; that it was com­petent to the rest to have done the same, yet that nothing of this sort was thought of by any.


ONE argument, which has been much re­lied upon (but not more than its just weight deserves), is the conformity of the facts, oc­casionally mentioned or referred to in scrip­ture, with the state of things in those times, as represented by foreign and independent accounts. Which conformity proves, that the writers of the New Testament possessed a species of local knowledge, which could only belong to an inhabitant of that coun­try, and to one living in that age. This argument, if well made out by examples, is very little short of proving the absolute genuineness of the writings. It carries them up to the age of the reputed authors, to an age, in which it must have been difficult to impose upon the Christian public, forgeries in the names of those authors, and in which there is no evidence that any forgeries were attempted. It proves at least, that the books, [Page 134] whoever were the authors of them, were composed by persons living in the time and country in which these things were trans­acted; and consequently capable, by their situation, of being well informed of the facts which they relate. And the argument is stronger, when applied to the New Testa­ment, than it is in the case of almost any other writings, by reason of the mixed na­ture of the allusions which this book con­tains. The scene of action is not confined to a single country, but displayed in the greatest cities of the Roman empire. Allu­sions are made to the manners and prin­ciples of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Jews. This variety renders a forgery pro­portionably more difficult, especially to wri­ters of a posterior age. A Greek or Roman Christian, who lived in the second or third century, would have been wanting in Jewish literature; a Jewish convert in those ages would have been equally deficient in the knowledge of Greece and Rome *.

[Page 135] This, however, is an argument which de­pends entirely upon an induction of parti­culars; and as, consequently, it carries with it little force, without a view of the in­stances upon which it is built, I have to re­quest the reader's attention to a detail of ex­amples, distinctly and articulately proposed. In collecting these examples, I have done no more than epitomize the first volume of the first part of Dr. Lardner's credibility of the gospel history. And I have brought the argument within its present compass, first, by passing over some of his sections in which the accordancy appeared to me less certain, or upon subjects not sufficiently ap­propriate or circumstantial; secondly, by contracting every section into the fewest words possible, contenting myself for the most part with a mere apposition of passages; and, thirdly, by omitting many disquisitions, which, though learned and accurate, are not absolutely necessary to the understanding or verification of the argument.

The writer, principally made use of in [Page 136] the enquiry, is Josephus. Josephus was born at Jerusalem four years after Christ's ascension. He wrote his history of the Jewish war some time after the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in the year of our Lord seventy, that is thirty-seven years after the ascension; and his history of the Jews he finished in the year ninety­three, that is, sixty years after the ascension.

At the head of each article, I have re­ferred, by figures included in brackets, to the page of Dr. Lardner's volume, where the section, from which the abridgement is made, begins. The edition used is that of 1741.

I. (p. 14.) Mat. xi. 22. "When he (Joseph) heard, that Archelaus did reign in Judea, in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither; notwithstand­ing, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee."

In this passage it is asserted, that Archelaus [Page 137] succeeded Herod in Judea; and it is implied, that his power did not extend to Galilee. Now we learn from Josephus, that Herod the Great, whose dominion included all the land of Israel, appointed Archelaus his successor in Judea, and assigned the rest of his dominions to other sons; and that this disposition was ratified, as to the main parts of it, by the Roman emperor *.

St. Matthew says, that Archelaus reigned, was king in Judea. Agreeably to this, we are informed by Josephus, not only that Herod appointed Archelaus his successor in Judea, but that he also appointed him with the title of king; and the Greek verb [...], which the evangelist uses to de­note the government and rank of Arche­laus, is used likewise by Josephus .

The cruelty of Archelaus's character, which is not obscurely intimated by the [Page 138] evangelist, agrees with divers particulars in his history, preserved by Josephus. "In the tenth year of his government, the chief of the Jews and Samaritans, not being able to endure his cruelty and tyranny, presented complaints against him to Cesar *."

II. (p. 19.) Luke iii. 1. "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cesar—Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and of the region of Trachonitis—the word of God came unto John."

By the will of Herod the Great, and the decree of Augustus thereupon, his two sons were appointed, one (Herod Antipas) te­trarch of Galilee and Peraea, and the other (Philip) tetrarch of Trachonitis and the neighbouring countries . We have there­fore these two persons in the situations in which St. Luke places them; and also, that they were in these situations in the fifteenth [Page 139] year of Tiberius, in other words, that they continued in possession of their territories and titles until that time, and afterwards, appears from a passage of Josephus, which relates of Herod, "that he was removed by Caligula, the successor of Tiberius *; and of Philip, that he died in the twentieth year of Tiberius, when he had governed Trachonitis and Batanea and Gaulanitis thirty-seven years .

III. (p. 20.) Mark v. 17 . "Herod had sent forth, and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison, for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife; for he had mar­ried her."

With this compare Jos. Ant. l. 18. c. 6. sec. 1. "He (Herod the tetrarch) made a visit to Herod his brother—Here, falling in love with Herodias, the wife of the said [Page 140] Herod, he ventured to make her proposals of marriage *."

Again, Mark vi. 22. "And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in and danced—"

With this also compare Jos. Ant. l. 18. c. 6. sec. 4. "Herodias was married to Herod, son of Herod the Great. They had a daughter, whose name was Salome; after [Page 141] whose birth, Herodias, in utter violation of the laws of her country, left her husband then living, and married Herod the tetrarch of Galilee, her husband's brother by the fa­ther's side."

IV. (p. 29.) Acts xii. 1. "Now, about that time, Herod the king stretched forth his hands, to vex certain of the church." In the conclusion of the same chapter, Herod's death is represented to have taken place, soon after this persecution. The accuracy of our historian, or, rather, the unmeditated coin­cidence, which truth of it's own accord pro­duces, is in this instance remarkable. There was no portion of time, for thirty years be­fore, nor ever afterwards, in which there was a king at Jerusalem, a person exercising that authority in Judea, or to whom that title could be applied, except the three last years of this Herod's life, within which pe­riod, the transaction recorded in the Acts is stated to have taken place. This prince was the grandson of Herod the Great. In the Acts he appears under his family name [Page 142] of Herod; by Josephus he is called Agrippa. For proof that he was a king, properly so called, we have the testimony of Josephus in full and direct terms:—"Sending for him to his palace, Caligula put a crown upon his head, and appointed him king of the te­trarchie of Philip, intending also to give him the tetrarchie of Lysanias *." And that Judea was at last, but not until the last, included in his dominions, appears by a subsequent passage of the same Josephus, wherein he tells us, that Claudius, by a decree, con­firmed to Agrippa the dominion which Caligula had given him, adding also Judea and Samaria, in the utmost extent, as possessed by his grandfather Herod .

V. (P. 32.) Acts xii. 19, 23. "And he (Herod) went down from Judea to Cesarea, and there abode.—And upon a set day, Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them; and the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man; and immediately [Page 143] the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory, and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost."

Jos. Ant. lib. xix. c. 8. sec. 2. "He went to the city Cesarea. Here he celebrated showes in honour of Cesar. On the second day of the showes, early in the morning, he came into the theatre, dressed in a robe of silver, of most curious workmanship. The rays of the rising sun, reflected from so splendid garb, gave him a majestic and awful appearance. They called him a god, and intreated him to be propitious to them, say­ing, Hitherto we have respected you as a man, but now we acknowledge you to be more than mortal. The king neither re­proved these persons, nor rejected the im­pious flattery.—Immediately after this he was seized with pains in his bowels, ex­tremely violent at the very first.—He was carried therefore with all haste to his palace. These pains continually tormenting him, he expired in five days time."

[Page 144] The reader will perceive the accordancy of these accounts in various particulars. The place (Cesarea), the set day, the gorgeous dress, the acclamations of the assembly, the peculiar turn of the flattery, the reception of it, the sudden and critical incursion of the disease, are circumstances noticed in both narratives. The worms mentioned by St. Luke are not remarked by Josephus, but the appearance of these is a symptom, not unusually, I believe, attending the disease, which Josephus describes, viz. violent affec­tions of the bowels.

VI. (p. 41.) Acts xxiv. 24. "And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul."

Jos. Ant. lib. xx. c. 6. sec. 1, 2. "Agrippa gave his sister Drusilla in marriage to Azizus, king of the Emesenes, when he had con­sented to be circumcised—But this marriage of Drusilla with Azizus was dissolved in a short time after, in this manner:—When Felix was procurator of Judea, having had a sight [Page 145] of her, he was mightily taken with her—She was induced to transgress the laws of her country, and marry Felix."

Here the public station of Felix, the name of his wife, and the singular circumstance of her religion, all appear in perfect conformity with the evangelist.

VII. (p. 46.) "And after certain days, King Agrippa and Bernice came to Cesarea to salute Festus." By this passage we are in effect told, that Agrippa was a king, but not of Judea; for he came to salute Festus, who at this time administered the govern­ment of that country at Cesarea.

Now how does the history of the age cor­respond with this account? The Agrippa here spoken of, was the son of Herod Agrippa mentioned in the last article; but that he did not succeed to his father's king­dom, nor ever recovered Judea, which had been a part of it, we learn by the information of Josephus, who relates of him, that, when [Page 146] his father was dead, Claudius intended, at first, to have put him immediately in pos­session of his father's dominions; but that, Agrippa being then but seventeen years of age, the emperor was persuaded to alter his mind, and appointed Cuspius Fadus prefect of Judea and the whole kingdom *; which Fadus was succeeded by Tiberius Alexander, Cumanus, Felix, Festus . But that, though disappointed of his father's kingdom, in which was included Judea, he was never­theless rightly styled King Agrippa; and that he was in possession of considerable territories bordering upon Judea, we gather from the same authority; for after several successive donations of country, "Claudius, at the same time that he sent Felix to be procura­tor of Judea, promoted Agrippa from Chal­cis to a greater kingdom, giving to him the tetrarchie which had been Philip's; and he added moreover the kingdom of Lysanias, and the province that had belonged to Varus ."

[Page 147] St. Paul addresses this person as a Jew: "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest." As the son of Herod Agrippa, who is described by Jose­phus to have been a zealous Jew, it is rea­sonable to suppose that he maintained the same profession. But what is more material to remark, because it is more close and cir­cumstantial, is, that St. Luke, speaking of the father, (xii. 1. 3.) calls him Herod the king, and gives an example of the exercise of his authority at Jerusalem; speaking of the son, (xxv. 13.) he calls him king, but not of Judea; which distinction agrees cor­rectly with the history.

VIII. (p. 51.) Acts xiii. 7. "And when they had gone through the isle (Cyprus) to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus, which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man."

The word, which is here translated de­puty, signifies Proconsul, and upon this word [Page 148] our observation is founded. The provinces of the Roman empire were of two kinds; those belonging to the emperor, in which the governor was called Propretor; and those belonging to the senate, in which the go­vernor was called Proconsul. And this was a regular distinction. Now it appears from Dio Cassius *, that the province of Cyprus, which in the original distribution was assign­ed to the emperor, had been transferred to the senate, in exchange for some others; and that, after this exchange, the appropriate title of the Roman governor was Proconsul.

Ib. xviii. 12. (p. 55.) "And when Gal­lio was deputy (Proconsul) of Achaia."

The propriety of the title "Proconsul" is in this passage still more critical. For the province of Achaia, after passing from the senate to the emperor, had been restored again by the emperor Claudius to the senate (and consequently its government had become [Page 149] proconsular) only six or seven years before the time in which this transaction is laid to have taken place *. And what con­fines with strictness the appellation to the time is, that Achaia under the following reign ceased to be a Roman province at all.

IX. (p. 152.) It appears, as well from the general constitution of a Roman pro­vince, as from what Josephus delivers con­cerning the state of Judea in particular , that the power of life and death resided ex­clusively in the Roman governor; but that the Jews, nevertheless, had magistrates and a council, invested with a subordinate and municipal authority. This oeconomy is dis­cerned in every part of the gospel narrative of our Saviour's crucifixion.

X. (p. 203.) Acts ix. 31. "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria."

[Page 150] This rest synchronises with the attempt of Caligula to place his statue in the Tem­ple of Jerusalem; the threat of which out­rage produced amongst the Jews a conster­nation, that, for a season, diverted their attention from every other object *.

XI. (p. 218.) Acts xxi. 31. "And they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple; and forthwith the doors were shut. And as they went about to kill him, tidings came to the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uprore. Then the chief captain came near, and took him, and com­manded him to be bound with two chains, and demanded who he was, and what he had done; and some cried one thing, and some another, among the multitude: and, when he could not know the certainty for the tumult, he commanded him to be car­ried into the castle. And when he came upon the stairs, so it was, that he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the people."

[Page 151] In this quotation, we have the band of Roman soldiers at Jerusalem, their office (to suppress tumults), the castle, the stairs, both, as it should seem, adjoining to the temple. Let us enquire whether we can find these particulars in any other record of that age and place.

Jos. de Bell. lib. v. c. 5. sec. 8. "Anto­nia was situated at the angle of the western and northern porticoes of the outer temple. It was built upon a rock fifty cubits high, steep on all sides.—On that side, where it joined to the porticoes of the temple, there were stairs reaching to each portico, by which the guard descended; for there was always lodged here a Roman legion, and posting themselves in their armour in seve­ral places in the porticoes, they kept a watch on the people on the feast days to prevent all disorders; for, as the temple was a guard to the city, so was Antonia to the temple."

XII. (p. 224.) Acts iv. 1. "And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and [Page 152] the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them." Here we have a public officer, under the title of captain of the tem­ple, and he probably a Jew, as he accom­panied the priests and Sadducees in appre­hending the apostles.

Jos. de Bell. lib. ii. c. 17. sec. 2. "And at the temple Eleazar, the son of Ananias the high priest, a young man of a bold and re­solute disposition, then captain, persuaded those who performed the sacred ministra­tions, not to receive the gift or sacrifice of any stranger."

XIII. (p. 225.) Acts xxv. 12. "Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Cesar? unto Cesar shalt thou go." That it was usual for the Roman presidents to have a council, consisting of their friends, and other chief Romans in the province, appears expressly in the following passage of Cicero's oration against Verres:—"Illud negare posses, aut nunc negabis, te, concilio tuo dimisso, [Page 153] viris primariis, qui in consilio C. Sa­cerdotis fuerant, tibique esse volebant, re­motis, de re judicatâ judicâsse?"

XIV. (p. 235.) Acts xvi. 13. "And (at Philippi) on the sabbath, we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made," or where a proseucha, oratory, or place of prayer, was allowed. The particularity to be remarked, is the situation of the place where prayer was wont to be made, viz. by a river side.

Philo, describing the conduct of the Jews of Alexandria upon a certain public occa­sion, relates of them, that, "early in the morning, flocking out of the gates of the city, they go to the neighbouring shores (for the proseuchoe were destroyed), and, stand­ing in a most pure place, they lift up their voices with one accord *."

Josephus gives us a decree of the city of [Page 154] Halicarnassus, permitting the Jews to build oratories, a part of which decree runs thus.—"We ordain that the Jews, who are wil­ling, men and women, do observe the sab­baths, and perform sacred rites according to the Jewish laws, and build oratories by the sea-side *."

Tertullian, among other Jewish rites and customs, such as feasts, sabbaths, fasts, and unleavened bread, mentions orationes lito­rales, that is, prayers by the river side .

XV. (p. 255.) Acts xxvi. 5. "After the most straitest sect of our religion, I lived a Pharisee."

Jos. de Bell. l. i. c. 5. sec. 2. "The Pharisees were reckoned the most religious of any of the Jews, and to be the most exact and skilful in explaining the laws."

In the original there is an agreement, [Page 155] not only in the sense but in the expression, it being the same Greek adjective, which is rendered "strait" in the Acts, and "exact" in Josephus.

XVI. (p. 255.) Mark viii. 3, 4. "The Pharisees and all the Jews, except they wash, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders; and many other things there be which they have received to hold."

Jos. Ant. lib. xiii. c. 10. sec. 6. "The Pharisees have delivered to the people many institutions, as received from the fathers, which are not written in the law of Moses."

XVII. (p. 259.) Acts xxiii. 8. "For the Sadducees say, that there is no resurrec­tion, neither angel, nor spirit, but the Pha­risees confess both."

Jos. de Bell. lib. ii. c. 8. sec. 14. "They (the Pharisees) believe every soul to be im­mortal, but that the soul of the good only passes into another body, and the soul of [Page 156] the wicked is punished with eternal punish­ment." On the other hand, Ant. lib. xviii. c. 1. sec. 4. "It is the opinion of the Sad­ducees that souls perish with the bodies."

XVIII. (p. 268.) Acts v. 17. "Then the High Priest rose up, and all they that were with him, which is the sect of the Sadducees, and were filled with indigna­tion." St. Luke here intimates that the High Priest was a Sadducee, which is a character one would not have expected to meet with in that station. This circum­stance, remarkable as it is, was not however without examples.

Jos. Ant. lib. xiii. c. 10. sec. 6, 7. "John Hyrcanus, High Priest of the Jews, forsook the Pharisees upon a disgust, and joined himself to the party of the Sadducees." This High Priest died one hundred and seven years before the Christian aera.

Again, (Ant. lib. xx. c. 8. sec. 1.) "This Ananus the younger, who, as we have said [Page 157] just now, had received the high priesthood, was fierce and haughty in his behaviour, and above all men bold and daring; and, moreover, was of the sect of the Sadducees." This High Priest lived little more than twenty years after the transaction in the Acts.

XIX. (p. 282.) Luke ix. 51. "And it came to pass, when the time was come, that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, and sent mes­sengers before his face. And they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him, and they did not re­ceive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem."

Jos. Ant. lib. xx. c. 5. sec. 1. "It was the custom of the Galileans, who went up to the holy city at the feasts, to travel through the country of Samaria. As they were in their journey, some inhabitants of the village called Ginaea, which lies on the borders of Samaria and the great plain, [Page 158] falling upon them, killed a great many of them."

XX. (p. 278.) John iv. 20. "Our fa­thers," said the Samaritan woman, "wor­shipped in this mountain, and ye say, that Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship."

Jos. Ant. lib. xviii. c. 5. sec. 1. "Com­manding them to meet him at Mount Ge­rizim, which is by them (the Samaritans) esteemed the most sacred of all mountains."

XXI. (p. 312.) Mat. xxvi. 3. "Then assembled together the chief priests, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the High Priest, who was called Caiaphas." That Caiaphas was High Priest, and High Priest throughout the presidentship of Pon­tius Pilate, and consequently at this time, appears from the following account:—He was made High Priest by Valerius Gratus, predecessor of Pontius Pilate, and was re­moved from his office by Vitellius, president [Page 159] of Syria, after Pilate was sent away out of the province of Judea. Josephus re­lates the advancement of Caiaphas to the High Priesthood in this manner: "Gratus gave the High Priesthood to Simon, the son of Camithus. He having enjoyed this honour not above a year, was succeeded by Joseph, who is also called Caiaphas *. After this Gratus went away for Rome, having been eleven years in Judea; and Pontius Pi­late came thither as his successor." Of the removal of Caiaphas from his office, Jose­phus likewise afterward informs us; and connects it with a circumstance, which fixes the time to a date, subsequent to the deter­mination of Pilate's government. "Vitel­lius (he tells us) ordered Pilate to repair to Rome; and after that went up himself to Jerusalem, and then gave directions con­cerning several matters. And, having done these things, he took away the priesthood from the High Priest Joseph, who is called Caiaphas ."

[Page 160] XXII. (Michaelis, c. xi. sec. 11.) Acts xxiii. 4. "And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's High Priest? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the High Priest." Now, upon enquiry into the history of the age, it turns out, that Ananias, of whom this is spoken, was, in truth, not the High Priest, though he was sitting in judgement in that assumed capa­city. The case was, that he had formerly held the office, and had been deposed; that the person who succeeded him had been murdered; that another was not yet ap­pointed to the station; and that, during the vacancy, he had, of his own authority, taken upon himself the discharge of the of­fice *. This singular situation of the high priesthood took place during the interval between the death of Jonathan, who was murdered by order of Felix, and the acces­sion of Ismael, who was invested with the high priesthood by Agrippa; and precisely in this interval it happened, that St. Paul [Page 161] was apprehended, and brought before the Jewish council.

XXIII. (p. 323.) Mat. xxvi. 59. "Now the chief priests and elders, and all the coun­cil, sought false witness against him."

Jos. Ant. lib. xviii. c. 15. sec. 3, 4. "Then might be seen the high priests themselves with ashes on their heads, and their breasts naked."

The agreement here consists in speaking of the high priests, or chief priests (for the name in the original is the same), in the plural number, when in strictness there was only one High Priest: which may be con­sidered as a proof, that the evangelists were habituated to the manner of speaking then in use, because they retain it, when it is neither accurate nor just. For the sake of brevity I have put down from Josephus, only a single example of the application of this title in the plural number; but it is his usual style.

[Page 162] Ib. (p. 871.) Luke iii. 1. "Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, Annas and Caiaphas being the High Priests, the word of God came unto John." There is a passage in Josephus very nearly parallel to this, and which may at least serve to vindicate the evangelist from objection, with respect to his giving the title of High Priest specifically to two persons at the same time: "Qua­dratus sent two others of the most powerful men of the Jews, as also the High Priests Jonathan and Ananias *." That Annas was a person in an eminent station, and pos­sessed an authority co-ordinate with, or next to that of the High Priest properly so called, may be inferred from St. John's gospel, which, in the history of Christ's crucifixion, relates that "the soldiers led him away to Annas first ." And this might be noticed [Page 163] as an example of undesigned coincidence in the two evangelists.

Again, (p. 870.) Acts iv. 6. Annas is called the High Priest, though Caiaphas was in the office of the High Priesthood. In like manner in Josephus *, "Joseph the son of Gorion, and the High Priest Ana­nus, were chosen to be supreme governors of all things in the city." Yet Ananus, though here called the High Priest Ananus, was not then in the office of the High Priesthood. The truth is, there is an inde­terminateness in the use of this title in the gospel; sometimes it is applied exclusively to the person, who held the office at the time; sometimes to one or two more, who probably shared with him some of the powers or functions of the office; and, sometimes, to such of the priests as were eminent by their station or character : and there is the very same indeterminateness in Josephus.

[Page 164] XXIV. (p. 347.) John xix. 19, 20. "And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross." That such was the custom of the Romans upon these occasions, appears from passages of Suetonius and Dio Cassius: "Patrem familias—canibus objecit, cum hoc titulo, impie locutus parmularius." Suet. Do­mit. cap. x. And in Dio Cassius we have the following: "Having led him through the midst of the court or assembly, with a writing signifying the cause of his death, and afterwards crucifying him." Book liv.

Ib. "And it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin." That it was also usual, about this time, in Jerusalem, to set up ad­vertisements in different languages, is gather­ed from the account which Josephus gives, of an expostulatory message from Titus to the Jews, when the city was almost in his hands; in which he says, Did ye not erect pillars with inscriptions on them, in the Greek and in our language, "Let no one pass beyond these bounds?"

[Page 165] XXV. (p. 352.) Mat. xxvii. 26. "When he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified."

The following passages occur in Jose­phus: ‘"Being beaten, they were crucisied oppo­site to the citadel *."’ ‘"Whom, having first scourged with whips, he crucified ."’ ‘"He was burnt alive, having been first beaten ."’

To which may be added one from Livy, Lib. xi. c. 5. "Productique omnes, vir­gisque caesi, ac securi percussi."

A modern example may illustrate the use we make of this instance. The preceding [Page 166] of a capital execution by the corporal punish­ment of the sufferer, is a practice unknown in England, but retained, in some instances at least, as appears by the late execution of a regicide, in Sweden. This circumstance, therefore, in the account of an English ex­ecution purporting to come from an English writer, would not only bring a suspicion upon the truth of the account, but would, in a considerable degree, impeach its preten­sions, of having been written by the author whose name it bore. Whereas the same circumstance, in the account of a Swedish execution, would verify the account, and support the authenticity of the book in which it was found; or, at least, would prove that the author, whoever he was, possessed the information and the knowledge which he ought to possess.

XXVI. (p. 353.) John xix. 16. "And they took Jesus, and led him away, and he, bearing his cross, went forth."

Plutarch. De iis qui sero puniuntur, p. 554. [Page 167] A. Paris, 1624. "Every kind of wicked­ness produces its own particular torment, just as every malefactor, when he is brought forth to execution, carries his own cross."

XXVII. John xix. 32. "Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other, which was crucified with him."

Constantine abolished the punishment of the cross; in commending which edict, a heathen writer notices this very circum­stance of breaking the legs: "Eo pius, ut etiam vetus veterrimumque supplicium, pa­tibulum, et cruribus suffringendis, primus removerit." Aur. Vict. Ces. cap. xli.

XXVIII. (p. 457.) Acts iii. 1. "Now Peter and John went up together into the temple, at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour."

Jos. Ant. Iib. xv. c. 7. sec. 8. "Twice every day, in the morning, and at the ninth [Page 168] hour, the priests perform their duty at the altar."

XXIX. (p. 462.) Acts xv. 21. "For Moses, of old time, hath, in every city, them that preach him, being read in the sy­nagogues every sabbath day."

Jos. contra Ap. l. ii. "He (Moses) gave us the law, the most excellent of all institu­tions; nor did he appoint that it should be heard, once only, or twice, or often, but that, laying aside all other works, we should meet together every week to hear it read, and gain a perfect understanding of it."

XXX. (p. 465.) Acts xxi. 23. "We have four men, which have a vow on them; them take, and purify thyself with them, that they may shave their heads."

Jos. de Bell. l. xi. c. 15. "It is customary for those who have been afflicted with some distemper, or have laboured under any other difficulties, to make a vow thirty days [Page 169] before they offer sacrifices, to abstain from wine, and shave the hair of their heads."

Ib. v. 24. "Them take, and purify thy­self with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads."

Jos. Ant. l. xix. c. 6. "He (Herod Agrippa) coming to Jerusalem, offered up sacrifices of thanksgiving, and omitted no­thing that was prescribed by the law. For which reason he also ordered a good number of Nazarites to be shaved." We here find that it was an act of piety amongst the Jews, to defray, for those who were under the Naza­ritic vow, the expences which attended its completion; and that the phrase was, "that they might be shaved." The custom and the expression are both remarkable, and both in close conformity with the scripture ac­count.

XXXI. (p. 474.) 2 Cor. xi. 24. "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes, save one."

[Page 170] Jos. Ant. iv. c. 8. sec. 21. "He that acts contrary hereto, let him receive forty stripes, wanting one, from the public officer."

The coincidence here is singular, because the law allowed forty stripes:—"Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed." Deut. xxv. 3. It proves that the author of the epistle to the Corinthians was guided not by books, but by facts; because his state­ment agrees with the actual custom, even when that custom deviated from the written law, and from what he must have learnt by consulting the Jewish code, as set forth in the Old Testament.

XXXII. (p. 490.) Luke iii. 12. "Then came also publicans to be baptized." From this quotation, as well as from the history of Levi or Matthew (Luke v. 29.), and of Zaccheus (Luke xix. 2.), it appears, that the publicans or tax-gatherers were, frequently at least, if not always, Jews: which, as the country was then under a Roman govern­ment, and the taxes were paid to the [Page 171] Romans, was a circumstance not to be ex­pected. That it was the truth however of the case, appears from a short passage of Josephus.

De Bell. lib. ii. c. 14. sec. 45. "But Florus not restraining these practices by his authority, the chief men of the Jews, among whom was John the publican, not knowing well what course to take, wait upon Florus, and give him eight talents of silver to stop the building."

XXXIII. (p. 496.) Acts xxii. 25. "And, as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?"

"Facinus est vinciri civem Romanum: feelus verberari." Cic. in Verr.
"Caedebatur virgis, in medio foro Mes­sanae, civis Romanus, Judices, cum interea, nullus gemitus, nulla vox alia, istius miseri, [Page 172] inter dolorem crepitumque plagarum, audie­batur, nisi haec, Civis Romanus sum."

XXXIV. (p. 513.) Acts xxii. 27. "Then the chief captain came, and said unto him (Paul), Tell me, Art thou a Roman? He said, Yea." The circumstance here to be noticed is, that a Jew was a Roman citizen.

Jos. Ant. lib. xiv. c. 10. sec. 13. "Lucius Lentulus, the consul, declared, I have dis­missed from the service, the Jewish Roman citizens, who observe the rites of the Jewish religion at Ephesus."

Ib. v. 27. "And the chief captain an­swered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom."

Dio Cassius, lib. lx. "This privilege, which had been bought formerly at a great price, became so cheap, that it was com­monly said, a man might be made a Roman citizen for a few pieces of broken glass."

[Page 173] XXXV. (p. 521.) Acts xxviii. 16. "And when we came to Rome, the centurion de­livered the prisoners to the captain of the guard, but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself, with a soldier that kept him."

With which join v. 20. "For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain."

"Quemadmodum eadem catena, et custo­diam et militem copulat, sic ista, quae tam dissimilia sunt, pariter incedunt." Seneca, ep. v.

"Proconsul aestimare solet, utrum in car­cerem recipienda sit persona, an militi tra­denda." Ulpian. l. i. sec. De custod. et ex­hib. reor.

In the confinement of Agrippa by the order of Tiberius, Antonia managed, that the centurion who presided over the guards, and the soldier to whom Agrippa was to be bound, might be men of mild character. Jos. Ant. lib. xviii. c. 7. sec. 5. After the accession [Page 174] of Caligula, Agrippa also, like Paul, was suffered to dwell, yet as a prisoner, in his own house.

XXXVI. (p. 531.) Acts xxvii. 1. "And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul, and certain other prisoners, unto one named Julius." Since not only Paul, but certain other pri­soners, were sent by the same ship into Italy, the text must be considered, as carrying with it an intimation, that the sending of persons from Judea to be tried at Rome, was an ordinary practice. That in truth it was so, is made out by a variety of examples which the writings of Josephus furnish; and amongst others by the following, which comes near both to the time and the subject of the instance in the Acts. "Felix, for some slight offence, bound and sent to Rome several priests of his acquaintance, and very good and honest men, to answer for them­selves to Cesar." Jos. in Vit. sec. 3.

XXXVII. (p. 539.) Acts xi. 27. "And, [Page 175] in these days, came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch; and there stood up one of them, named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be a great dearth throughout all the world (or all the country), which came to pass in the days of Claudius Cesar."

Jos. Ant. l. xx. c. 4. sec. 2. "In their time (i. e. about the fifth or sixth year of Claudius) a great dearth happened in Judea."

XXXVIII. (p. 555.) Acts xviii. 1, 2. "Because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome."

Suet. Claud. c. xxv. "Judaeos, impulsore Chresto assiduè tumultuantes, Româ expulit."

XXXIX. (p. 664.) Acts v. 37. "After this man rose up Judas of Galilee, in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him."

Jos. de Bell. l. vii. "He (viz. the person, [Page 176] who, in another place, is called by Josephus, Judas the Galilean, or Judas of Galilee) persuaded not a few not to enroll themselves, when Cyrenius the censor was sent into Judea."

XL. (p. 942.) Acts xxi. 38. "Art not thou that Egyptian, which, before these days, madest an uprore, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men, that were murderers?"

Jos. de Bell. l. ii. c. 13. sec. 5. "But the Egyptian false prophet brought a yet heavier disaster upon the Jews; for this im­postor, coming into the country, and gaining the reputation of a prophet, gathered toge­ther thirty thousand men, who were deceived by him. Having brought them round out of the wilderness, up to the mount of olives, he intended from thence to make his attack upon Jerusalem; but Felix coming suddenly upon him with the Roman soldiers, pre­vented the attack.—A great number, or (as it should rather be rendered) the greatest [Page 177] part of those that were with him, were either slain, or taken prisoners."

In these two passages, the designation of the impostor, an "Egyptian," without his proper name; "the wilderness;" his escape, though his followers were destroyed; the time of the transaction, in the presidentship of Felix, which could not be any long time before the words in Luke are supposed to have been spoken; are circumstances of close correspondency. There is one, and only one, point of disagreement, and that is, in the number of his followers, which in the Acts are called four thousand, and by Josephus thirty thousand: but, beside that the names of numbers, more than any other words, are [...]able to the errors of transcribers, we are, in the present instance, under the less concern to reconcile the evangelist with Josephus, as Josephus is not, in this point, consistent with himself. For whereas, in the passage here quoted, he calls the number thirty thousand, and tells us that the great­est part, or a great number (according as [Page 178] his words are rendered) of those that were with him, were destroyed; in his Antiquities, he represents four hundred to have been killed upon this occasion, and two hundred taken prisoners*: which certainly was not the "greatest part," nor "a great part," nor "a great number," out of thirty thou­sand. It is probable also, that Lysias and Josephus spoke of the expedition in its dif­ferent stages: Lysias, of those who followed the Egyptian out of Jerusalem; Josephus, of all who were collected about him afterwards, from different quarters.

XLI. (Lardner's Jewish and Heathen Testimonies, vol. iii. p. 21.) Acts xvii. 22. "Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars-hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious, for, as I passed by and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you."

[Page 179] Diogenes Laertius, who wrote about the year 210, in his history of Epimenides, who is supposed to have flourished nearly six hundred years before Christ, relates of him the following story: that, being invited to Athens for the purpose, he delivered the city from a pestilence in this manner—"Taking several sheep, some black, others white, he had them up to the Areopagus, and then let them go where they would, and gave orders to those who followed them, wherever any of them should lie down, to sacrifice it to the god to whom it belonged; and so the plague ceased. Hence," says the historian, "it has come to pass, that, to this present time, may be found in the boroughs of the Athenians ANONYMOUS altars; a me­morial of the expiation then made *." These altars, it may be presumed, were called anonymous, because there was not the name of any particular deity inscribed upon them.

Pausanias, who wrote before the end of [Page 180] the second century, in his description of Athens, having mentioned an altar of Jupiter Olympius, adds, "And nigh unto it is an altar of unknown gods *." And, in another place, speaks "of altars of gods called un­known ."

Philostratus, who wrote in the beginning of the third century, records it as an observa­tion of Apollonius Tyanaeus, "That it was wise to speak well of all the gods, especially at Athens, where altars of unknown demons were erected ."

The author of the dialogue Philopatris, by many supposed to have been Lucian, who wrote about the year 170, by others some ano­nymous heathen writer of the fourth century, makes Critias swear by the unknown god of Athens; and, near the end of the dialogue, has these words, "But let us find out the unknown god at Athens, and, stretching our [Page 181] hands to heaven, offer to him our praises and thanksgivings *."

This is a very curious, and a very im­portant coincidence. It appears beyond controversy, that altars with this inscription were existing at Athens, at the time when St. Paul is alledged to have been there. It seems also, which is very worthy of obser­vation, that this inscription was peculiar to the Athenians. There is no evidence that there were altars inscribed "to the unknown God" in any other country. Supposing the history of St. Paul to have been a fable, how is it possible, that such a writer as the author of the Acts of the Apostles was, should hit upon a circumstance so extraor­dinary, and introduce it by an allusion so suitable to St. Paul's office and character?

The examples here collected, will be suf­ficient, I hope, to satisfy us, that the writers [Page 182] of the Christian history knew something of what they were writing about. The argu­ment is also strengthened by the following considerations:

I. That these agreements appear, not only in articles of public history, but, sometimes, in minute, recondite, and very peculiar cir­cumstances, in which, of all others, a forger is most likely to have been found tripping.

II. That the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place forty years after the com­mencement of the Christian institution, pro­duced such a change in the state of the country, and the condition of the Jews, that a writer who was unacquainted with the circumstances of the nation before that event, would find it difficult to avoid mistakes, in endeavouring to give detailed accounts of transactions connected with those circum­stances, forasmuch as he could no longer have a living exemplar to copy from.

III. That there appears, in the writers of [Page 183] the New Testament, a knowledge of the affairs of those times, which we do not find in authors of later ages. In particular, many of the Christian writers of the second and third centuries, and of the following ages, had false notions concerning the state of Judea, between the nativity of Jesus and the destruction of Jerusalem *. Therefore they could not have composed our histories.

Amidst so many conformities, we are not to wonder that we meet with some difficul­ties. The principal of these I will put down, together with the solutions which they have received. But in doing this I must be contented with a brevity, better suited to the limits of my volume, than to the nature of a controversial argument. For the historical proofs of my assertions, and for the Greek criticisms upon which some of them are founded, I refer the reader to the second volume of the first part of Dr. Lardner's large work.

[Page 184] I. The taxing, during which Jesus was born, was "first made," as we read, accord­ing to our translation, in St. Luke, "whilst Cyrenius was governor of Syria *." Now it turns out, that Cyrenius was not governor of Syria until twelve, or, at the soonest, ten years after the birth of Christ; and that a taxing, census, or assessment, was made in Judea in the beginning of his government. The charge, therefore, brought against the evangelist is, that, intending to refer to this taxing, he has misplaced the date of it, by an error of ten or twelve years.

The answer to the accusation is found in his using the word "first"—"And this taxing was first made;" for, according to the mistake imputed to the evangelist, this word could have no signification whatever: it could have had no place in his narrative; because, let it relate to what it will, taxing, census, enrollment, or assessment, it imports that the writer had more than one of these [Page 185] in contemplation. It acquits him therefore of the charge, it is inconsistent with the supposition, of his knowing only of the taxing in the beginning of Cyrenius's go­vernment. And if the evangelist knew, which this word proves that he did, of some other taxing beside that, it is too much, for the sake of convicting him of a mistake, to lay it down as certain, that he intended to refer to that.

The sentence in St. Luke may be con­strued thus: "This was the first assessment (or enrollment) of Cyrenius, governor of Syria *;" the words "governor of Syria" being used after the name of Cyrenius as his [Page 186] addition or title. And this title, belonging to him at the time of writing the account, was naturally enough subjoined to his name, though acquired after the transaction which the account describes. A modern writer, who was not very exact in the choice of his expressions, in relating the affairs of the East-Indies, might easily say, that such a thing was done by Governor Hastings, though, in truth, the thing had been done by him before his advancement to the sta­tion from which he received the name of governor. And this, as we contend, is pre­cisely the inaccuracy which has produced the difficulty in St. Luke.

At any rate, it appears from the form of the expression, that he had two taxings or enrollments in contemplation. And if Cy­renius had been sent upon this business into Judea, before he became governor of Syria (against which supposition there is no proof, but rather external evidence of an enroll­ment going on about this time under some [Page 187] person or other *), then the census on all hands acknowledged to have been made by him in the beginning of his government, would form a second, so as to occasion the other to be called the first.

II. Another chronological objection arises upon a date assigned in the beginning of the third chapter of St. Luke . "Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—Jesus began to be about thirty years of age;" for supposing Jesus to have been born, as St. Matthew, and St. Luke also himself, relates, in the time of Herod, he must, according to the dates given in Jo­sephus, and by the Roman historians, have [Page 188] been at least thirty-one years of age in the fifteenth year of Tiberius. If he was born, as St. Matthew's narrative intimates, one or two years before Herod's death, he would have been thirty-two, or thirty-three years old, at that time.

This is the difficulty: the solution turns upon an alteration in the construction of the Greek. St. Luke's words in the original are allowed, by the general opinion of learned men, to signify, not "that Jesus began to be about thirty years of age," but "that he was about thirty years of age when he be­gan his ministry." This construction being admitted, the adverb "about" gives us all the latitude we want, and more; especially when applied, as it is in the present instance, to a decimal number, for such numbers, even without this qualifying addition, are often used in a laxer sense than is here con­tended for *.

[Page 189] III. Acts v. 36. "For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obey­ed him, were scattered and brought to nought."

Josephus has preserved the account of an impostor, of the name of Theudas, who created some disturbances, and was slain; but, according to the date assigned to this man's appearance (in which, however, it is very possible that Josephus may have been mistaken *), it must have been, at the least, seven years, after Gamaliel's speech, [Page 190] of which this text is a part, was delivered. It has been replied to the objection *, that there might be two impostors of this name: and it has been observed, in order to give a general probability to the solution, that the same thing appears to have happened in other instances of the same kind. It is proved from Josephus, that there were not fewer than four persons, of the name of Simon, within forty years, and not fewer than three, of the name of Judas, within ten years, who were all leaders of insurrec­tions: and it is likewise recorded by this historian, that, upon the death of Herod the Great, (which agrees very well with the time of the commotion referred to by Ga­maliel, and with his manner of stating that time "before these days") there were innu­merable disturbances in Judea . Archbi­shop Usher was of opinion, that one of the three Judas's above mentioned was Gama­liel's Theudas ; and that, with a less variation [Page 191] of the name than we actually find in the gospels, where one of the twelve apo­stles is called by Luke, Judas; and by Mark, Thaddeus *. Origen, however he came at his information, appears to have believed, that there was an impostor of the name of Theudas before the nativity of Christ .

IV. Matt. xxiii. 34. "Wherefore, be­hold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar."

There is a Zacharias, whose death is re­lated in the second book of Chronicles, in [Page 192] a manner which perfectly supports our Sa­viour's allusion *. But this Zacharias was the son of Jehoiada.

There is also Zacharias the prophet; who was the son of Barachiah, and is so de­scribed in the superscription of his pro­phecy, but of whose death we have no ac­count.

I have little doubt, but that the first Za­charias was the person spoken of by our Saviour; and that the name of the father has been since added, or changed, by some one, who took it from the title of the pro­phecy, which happened to be better known to him than the history in the Chronicles.

[Page 193] There is likewise a Zacharias, the son of Baruch, related by Josephus to have been slain in the temple a few years before the destruction of Jerusalem. It has been in­sinuated, that the words put into our Savi­our's mouth, contain a reference to this transaction, and were composed by some writer, who either confounded the time of the transaction with our Saviour's age, or inadvertently overlooked the anachronism.

Now suppose it to have been so; suppose these words to have been suggested by the transaction related in Josephus, and to have been falsely ascribed to Christ; and observe what extraordinary coincidences (acciden­tally, as it must in that case have been) at­tend the forger's mistake.

First, That we have a Zacharias in the book of Chronicles, whose death, and the manner of it, corresponds with the allusion.

Secondly, that although the name of this person's father be erroneously put down in [Page 194] the gospel, yet we have a way of account­ing for the error, by shewing another Za­charias in the Jewish scriptures, much better known than the former, whose patronymic was actually that which appears in the text.

Every one, who thinks upon the subject, will find these to be circumstances, which could not have met together in a mistake, which did not proceed from the circum­stances themselves.

I have noticed, I think, all the difficulties of this kind. They are few; some of them admit of a clear, others of a probable solu­tion. The reader will compare them with the number, the variety, the closeness, and the satisfactoriness, of the instances which are to be set against them; and he will re­member the scantiness, in many cases, of our intelligence, and that difficulties always attend imperfect information.

CHAP. VII. Undesigned Coincidences.

BETWEEN the letters which bear the name of St. Paul in our collection, and his history in the Acts of the Apostles, there exist many notes of correspondency. The simple perusal of the writings is sufficient to prove, that neither the history was taken from the letters, nor the letters from the history. And the undesignedness of the agree­ments (which undesignedness is gathered from their latency, their minuteness, their obliquity, the suitableness of the circum­stances in which they consist, to the places in which those circumstances occur, and the circuitous references by which they are traced out) demonstrates that they have not been produced by meditation, or by any fraudulent contrivance. But coincidences, from which these causes are excluded, and [Page 196] which are too close and numerous to be ac­counted for by accidental concurrences of fiction, must necessarily have truth for their foundation.

This argument appeared to my mind of so much value (especially for its assuming nothing beside the existence of the books), that I have pursued it through St. Paul's thirteen epistles, in a work published by me four years ago under the title of Horae Pau­linae. I am sensible how feebly any argu­ment, which depends upon an induction of particulars, is represented without examples. On which account, I wished to have abridg­ed my own volume, in the manner in which I have treated Dr. Lardner's in the preced­ing chapter. But, upon making the at­tempt, I did not find it in my power to render the articles intelligible by fewer words than I have there used. I must be content, therefore, to refer the reader to the work itself. And I would particularly in­vite his attention to the observations which are made in it upon the three first epistles. [Page 197] I persuade myself that he will find the proofs, both of agreement and undesigned­ness, supplied by these epistles, sufficient to support the conclusion which is there main­tained, in favour both of the genuineness of the writings, and the truth of the narrative.

It remains only, in this place, to point out how the argument bears upon the ge­neral question of the Christian history.

First, St. Paul in these letters affirms, in unequivocal terms, his own performance of miracles, and, what ought particularly to be remembered, "That miracles were the signs of an apostle *." If this testimony come from St. Paul's own hand, it is invaluable. And that it does so, the argument before us fixes in my mind a firm assurance.

Secondly, it shows that the series of ac­tion, represented in the epistles of St. Paul, was real; which alone lays a foundation [Page 198] for the proposition, which forms the subject of the first part of our present work, viz. that the original witnesses of the Christian history devoted themselves to lives of toil, suffering, and danger, in consequence of their belief of the truth of that history, and for the sake of communicating the know­ledge of it to others.

Thirdly, it proves that Luke, or whoever was the author of the Acts of the Apostles (for the argument does not depend upon the name of the author, though I know no reason for questioning it) was well acquaint­ed with St. Paul's history; and that he pro­bably was, what he professes himself to be, a companion of St. Paul's travels: which, if true, establishes, in a considerable degree, the credit even of his gospel, because it shews, that the writer, from his time, situa­tion, and connections, possessed opportuni­ties of informing himself truly concerning the transactions which he relates. I have little difficulty in applying to the Gospel of St. Luke what is proved concerning the [Page 199] Acts of the Apostles, considering them as two parts of the same history; for, though there are instances of second parts being for­geries, I know none where the second part is genuine, and the first not so.

I will only observe, as a sequel of the argument, though not noticed in my work, the remarkable similitude between the style of St. John's gospel, and of St. John's first epistle. The style of St. John's is not at all the style of St. Paul's epistles, though both are very singular; nor is it the style of St. James's or of St. Peter's epistle: but it bears a resemblance to the style of the gospel in­scribed with St. John's name, so far as that resemblance can be expected to appear, which is not in simple narrative, so much as in reflections, and in the representation of discourses. Writings, so circumstanced, prove themselves, and one another, to be genuine. This correspondency is the more valuable, as the epistle itself asserts, in St. John's manner indeed, but in terms suffi­ciently explicit, the writer's personal knowledge [Page 200] of Christ's history: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life, that which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you *." Who would not desire, who perceives not the value of an account, de­livered by a writer so well informed as this?

CHAP. VIII. Of the History of the Resurrection.

THE history of the resurrection of Christ is a part of the evidence of Christianity; but I do not know, whether the proper strength of this passage of the Christian history, or wherein its peculiar value, as a head of evi­dence, consists, be generally understood. It is not that, as a miracle, the resurrection ought to be accounted a more decisive proof of supernatural agency than other miracles are; it is not that, as it stands in the Go­spels, it is better attested than some others; it is not, for either of these reasons, that more weight belongs to it than to other miracles, but for the following, viz. That it is completely certain, that the apostles of Christ, and the first teachers of Christianity, asserted the fact. And this would have been certain, if the four gospels had been lost, or never written. Every piece of scripture recognizes [Page 202] the resurrection. Every epistle of every apostle, every author contemporary with the apostles, of the age immediately succeeding the apostles, every writing from that age to the present, genuine or spurious, on the side of Christianity or against it, con­cur in representing the resurrection of Christ as an article of his history, received without doubt or disagreement by all who called themselves Christians, as alledged from the beginning by the propagators of the institu­tion, and alledged as the center of their tes­timony. Nothing, I apprehend, which a man does not himself see or hear, can be more certain to him than this point. I do not mean that nothing can be more certain than that Christ rose from the dead; but that nothing can be more certain, than that his apostles, and the first teachers of Chris­tianity, gave out that he did so. In the other parts of the gospel narrative, a question may be made, whether the things, related of Christ, be the very things which the apostles and first teachers of the religion delivered concerning him? And this question depends [Page 203] a good deal upon the evidence we possess of the genuineness, or rather perhaps, of the antiquity, credit, and reception of the books. Upon the subject of the resurrection, no such discussion is necessary, because no such doubt can be entertained. The only points, which can enter into our consideration, are, whether the apostles knowingly published a falsehood, or whether they were themselves deceived; whether either of these supposi­tions be possible. The first, I think, is pretty generally given up. The nature of the un­dertaking, and of the men; the extreme unlikelihood that such men should engage in such a measure as a scheme; their personal toils and dangers and sufferings in the cause; their appropriation of their whole time to the object; the warm and seemingly unaf­fected zeal and earnestness with which they profess their sincerity, exempt their memory from the suspicion of imposture. The so­lution more deserving of notice, is that which would resolve the conduct of the apostles into enthusiasm; which would class the evidence of Christ's resurrection with [Page 204] the numerous stories that are extant of the apparitions of dead men. There are cir­cumstances in the narrative, as it is preserv­ed in our histories, which destroy this com­parison entirely. It was not one person, but many, who saw him; they saw him not only separately, but together, not only by night but by day, not at a distance but near, not once but several times; they not only saw him, but touched him, conversed with him, eat with him, examined his per­son to satisfy their doubts. These particu­lars are decisive; but they stand, I do ad­mit, upon the credit of our records. I would answer, therefore, the insinuation of enthu­siasm, by a circumstance which arises out of the nature of the thing; and the reality of which must be confessed by all, who al­low, what I believe is not denied, that the resurrection of Christ, whether true or false, was asserted by his disciples from the be­ginning: and that circumstance is, the non­production of the dead body. It is related in the history, what indeed the story of the resurrection necessarily implies, that the [Page 205] corpse was missing out of the sepulchre: it is related also in the history, that the Jews reported that the followers of Christ had stolen it away *. And this account, though loaded with great improbabilities, such as the situation of the disciples, their fears for their own safety at the time, the unlikeli­hood of their expecting to succeed, the dif­ficulty of actual success , and the inevitable [Page 206] consequence of detection and failure, was, nevertheless, the most credible account that could be given of the matter. But it pro­ceeds entirely upon the supposition of fraud, as all the old objections did. What account can be given of the body, upon the supposi­tion of enthusiasm? It is impossible our Lord's followers could believe that he was risen from the dead, if his corpse was lying before them. No enthusiasm ever reached to such a pitch of extravagancy as that: a spirit may be an illusion, a body is a real thing; an object of sense, in which there can be no mistake. All accounts of spectres leave the body in the grave. And, although the body of Christ might be removed by fraud, and for the purposes of fraud, yet, without any such intention, and by sincere but deluded men, which is the representa­tion of the apostolic character we are now examining, no such attempt could be made. The presence and the absence of the dead body are alike inconsistent with the hypo­thesis of enthusiasm: for if present, it must have cured their enthusiasm at once; if absent, [Page 207] fraud, not enthusiasm, must have car­ried it away.

But further, if we admit upon the con­current testimony of all the histories, so much of the account as states that the reli­gion of Jesus was set up at Jerusalem, and set up with asserting, in the very place in which he had been buried, and a few days after he had been buried, his resurrection out of the grave, it is evident that if his body could have been found, the Jews would have produced it, as the shortest and com­pletest answer possible to the whole story. The attempt of the apostles could not have survived this refutation a moment. If we also admit, upon the authority of St. Mat­thew, that the Jews were advertised of the expectation of Christ's followers, and that they had taken due precaution in conse­quence of this notice, and that the body was in marked and public custody, the observa­tion receives more force still. For, notwith­standing their precaution, and although thus prepared and forewarned; when the story [Page 208] of the resurrection of Christ came forth, as it immediately did; when it was publicly asserted by his disciples, and made the ground and basis of their preaching in his name, and collecting followers to his reli­gion, the Jews had not the body to pro­duce: but were obliged to meet the testi­mony of the apostles by an answer, not containing indeed any impossibility in itself, but absolutely inconsistent with the supposi­tion of their integrity; that is, in other words, inconsistent with the supposition, which would resolve their conduct into enthusiasm.

CHAP. IX. The Propagation of Christianity.

IN this argument, the first consideration is the fact; in what degree, within what time, and to what extent, Christianity ac­tually was propagated.

The accounts of the matter, which can be collected from our books, are as follow: A few days after Christ's disappearance out of the world, we find an assembly of dis­ciples at Jerusalem, to the number of "about one hundred and twenty*;" which hundred and twenty were, probably, a little associa­tion of believers, met together, not merely as believers in Christ, but as personally con­nected with the apostles, and with one an­other. Whatever was the number of believers [Page 210] then in Jerusalem, we have no reason to be surprised that so small a company should assemble; for there is no proof that the followers of Christ were yet formed into a society, that the society was reduced into any order, that it was at this time even un­derstood, that a new religion (in the sense which that term conveys to us) was to be set up in the world, or how the professors of that religion were to be distinguished from the rest of mankind. The death of Christ had left, we may suppose, the gene­rality of his disciples in great doubt, both as to what they were to do, and concerning what was to follow.

This meeting was held, as we have al­ready said, a few days after Christ's ascen­sion; for, ten days after that event was the day of pentecost, when, as our history re­lates *, upon a signal display of divine agency attending the persons of the apostles, there were added to the society "about [Page 211] three thousand souls *." But here, it is not, I think, to be taken, that these three thousand were all converted by this single miracle; but rather that many, who were before believers in Christ, became now pro­fessors of Christianity; that is to say, when they found that a religion was to be esta­blished, a society formed and set up in the name of Christ, governed by his laws, avowing their belief in his mission, united amongst themselves, and separated from the rest of the world, by visible distinctions, in pursuance of their former conviction, and by virtue of what they had heard and seen and known of Christ's history, they publicly became members of it.

We read in the fourth chapter of the Acts, that, soon after this, "the number of the men," i. e. of the society openly profess­ing their belief in Christ, "was about five thousand." So that here is an increase of two thousand within a very short time. And it is probable that there were many, [Page 212] both now and afterwards, who, although they believed in Christ, did not think it necessary to join themselves to this society; or who waited to see what was likely to be­come of it. Gamaliel, whose advice to the Jewish council is recorded Acts iv. 34, ap­pears to have been of this description; per­haps Nicodemus, and perhaps also Joseph of Arimathea. This class of men, their character and their rank, are likewise point­ed out by St. John, in the twelfth chapter of his gospel: "Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." Per­sons such as these, might admit the miracles of Christ, without being immediately con­vinced that they were under obligation to make a public profession of Christianity, at the risk of all that was dear to them in life, and even of life itself*.

[Page 213] Christianity, however, proceeded to in­crease in Jerusalem by a progress equally rapid with its first success; for, in the next* chapter of our history, we read that "be­lievers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women." And [Page 214] this enlargement of the new society appears in the first verse of the succeeding chapter, wherein we are told, that, "when the num­ber of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews because their widows were ne­glected *;" and, afterwards in the same chapter, it is declared expressly, that "the number of the disciples multiplied in Jeru­salem greatly, and that a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith."

This I call the first period in the propa­gation of Christianity. It commences with the ascension of Christ; and extends, as may be collected from incidental notes of time , to something more than one year after that event. During which term the preaching of Christianity, so far as our do­cuments inform us, was confined to the single city of Jerusalem. And how did it succeed there? The first assembly which we [Page 215] meet with of Christ's disciples, and that a few days after his removal from the world, consisted of "one hundred and twenty." About a week after this "three thousand were added" in one day; and the number of Christians, publicly baptized, and public­ly associating together, were very soon in­creased to "five thousand." "Multitudes both of men and women continued to be added:" "disciples multiplied greatly," and "many of the Jewish priesthood, as well as others, became obedient to the faith;" and this within a space of less than two years from the commencement of the institution.

By reason of a persecution raised against the church at Jerusalem, the converts were driven from that city, and dispersed through­out the regions of Judea and Samaria *. Wherever they came, they brought their re­ligion with them; for our historian informs us , that "they, that were scattered abroad, went every where preaching the word." [Page 216] The effect of this preaching comes after­wards to be noticed, where the historian is led, in the course of his narrative, to ob­serve, that then (i. e. about three years * posterior to this) "the churches had rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee and Sa­maria, and were edisied, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied." This was the work of the second period, which com­prises about four years.

Hitherto the preaching of the gospel had been consined to Jews, to Jewish proselytes, and to Samaritans. And I cannot forbear from setting down, in this place, an obser­vation of Mr. Bryant's, which appears to me to be perfectly well founded:—"The Jews still remain, but how seldom is it that we can make a single proselyte! There is reason to think, that there were more con­verted by the apostles in one day, than have [Page 217] since been won over in the last thousand years *."

It was not yet known to the apostles, that they were at liberty to propose the religion to mankind at large. That "mystery," as St. Paul calls it , and as it then was, was revealed to Peter by an especial miracle. It appears to have been about seven years after Christ's ascension, that the gospel was preached to the Gentiles of Cesarea. A year after this, a great multitude of Gentiles were converted at Antioch in Syria. The expres­sions employed by the historian are these—"a great number believed, and turned to the Lord;" "much people was added unto the Lord;" "the apostles Barnabas and Paul taught much people §." Upon Herod's death, which happened in the next year 𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁, it is observed that "the word of God grew [Page 218] and multiplied *." Three years from this time, upon the preaching of Paul at Ico­nium, the metropolis of Lycaonia, "a great multitude both of Jews and Greeks be­lieved ;" and afterwards, in the course of this very progress, he is represented as "making many disciples" at Derbe, a prin­cipal city in the same district. Three years after this, which brings us to sixteen after the ascension, the apostles wrote a public letter from Jerusalem to the Gentile con­verts in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, with which letter Paul travelled through these countries, and found the churches "esta­blished in the faith, and increasing in num­ber daily §." From Asia the apostle pro­ceeded into Greece, where, soon after his arrival in Macedonia, we find him at Thes­salonica; in which city "some of the Jews believed, and of the devout Greeks a great multitude 𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁." We meet also here with an [Page 219] accidental hint of the general progress of the Christian mission, in the exclamation of the tumultuous Jews of Thessalonica, "that they, who had turned the world upside down, were come thither also *." At Berea, the next city at which St. Paul arrives, the historian, who was present, informs us that "many of the Jews believed ." The next year and half of St. Paul's ministry was spent at Corinth. Of his success in that city we receive the following intimations: "that many of the Corinthians believed and were baptized," and "that it was revealed to the apostle by Christ, that he had much people in the city." Within less than a year af­ter his departure from Corinth, and twenty­five § years after the ascension, St. Paul fixed his station at Ephesus, for the space of two years 𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁 and something more. The effect of his ministry in that city and neighbour­hood, drew from the historian a reflection, "how mightily grew the word of God and [Page 220] prevailed *." And at the conclusion of this period, we find Demetrius at the head of a party, who were alarmed by the progress of the religion, complaining, that "not only at Ephesus, but also throughout all Asia, (i. e. the province of Lydia, and the country ad­joining to Ephesus) this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people ." Beside these accounts, there occurs, incidentally, mention of converts at Rome, Alexandria, Athens, Cyprus, Cyrene, Macedonia, Phi­lippi.

This is the third period in the propaga­tion of Christianity, setting off in the seventh year after the ascension, and ending at the twenty-eighth. Now, lay these three pe­riods together, and observe how the pro­gress of the religion by these accounts is represented. The institution, which pro­perly began only after its author's removal from the world, before the end of thirty years had spread itself through Judea, Galilee, [Page 221] and Samaria, almost all the numerous districts of the Lesser Asia, through Greece, and the islands of the Aegean Sea, the sea coast of Africa, and had extended itself to Rome, and into Italy. At Antioch in Syria, at Joppa, Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, Berea, Iconium, Derbe, Antioch in Pisidia, at Lydda, Saron, the number of converts is intimated by the expressions "a great num­ber," great multitudes," "much people." Converts are mentioned, without any de­signation of their number *, at Tyre, Cesa­rea, Troas, Athens, Philippi, Lystra, Damascus. [Page 222] During all this time, Jerusalem continued not only the centre of the mission, but a principal seat of the religion; for when St. Paul returned thither, at the conclusion of the period of which we are now consi­dering the accounts, the other apostles point­ed out to him, as a reason for his compliance with their advice, "how many thousands (myriads, ten thousands) there were in that city who believed *."

Upon this abstract, and the writing from which it is drawn, the following observa­tions seem material to be made:

I. That the account comes from a person, who was himself concerned in a portion of what he relates, and was contemporary with the whole of it; who visited Jerusalem, and frequented the society of those who had act­ed, and were acting, the chief parts in the transaction. I lay down this point positively; [Page 223] for had the ancient attestations to this valuable record been less satisfactory than they are, the unaffectedness and simplicity with which the author notices his presence upon certain occasions, and the entire ab­sence of art and design from these notices, would have been sufficient to persuade my mind, that, whoever he was, he actually lived in the times, and occupied the situa­tion, in which he represents himself to be. When I say "whoever he was," I do not mean to cast a doubt upon the name, to which antiquity hath ascribed the Acts of the Apo­stles (for there is no cause, that I am ac­quainted with, for questioning it), but to ob­serve, that in such a case as this, the time and situation of the author, is of more im­portance than his name; and that these ap­pear from the work itself, and in the most unsuspicious form.

II. That this account is a very incom­plete account of the preaching and propaga­tion of Christianity; I mean, that, if what we read in the history be true, much more [Page 224] than what the history contains must be true also. For, although the narrative from which our information is derived has been intitled the Acts of the Apostles, it is in fact a history of the twelve apostles, only during a short time of their continuing together at Jerusalem; and even of this period the ac­count is very concise. The work afterwards consists of a few important passages of Pe­ter's ministry, of the speech and death of Stephen, of the preaching of Philip the dea­con; and the sequel of the volume, that is, two thirds of the whole, is taken up with the conversion, the travels, the discourses and history of the new apostle Paul, in which history also large portions of time are often passed over with very scanty notice.

III. That the account, so far as it goes, is for this very reason more credible. Had it been the author's design to have displayed the early progress of Christianity, he would undoubtedly have collected, or, at least, have set forth, accounts of the preaching of the rest of the apostles, who cannot, without extreme [Page 225] improbability, be supposed to have re­mained silent and inactive, or not to have met with a share of that success which at­tended their colleagues. To which may be added, as an observation of the same kind,

IV. That the intimations of the number of converts, and of the success of the preach­ing of the apostles, come out for the most part incidentally; are drawn from the histo­rian by the occasion; such as the murmuring of the Grecian converts, the rest from per­secution, Herod's death, the sending of Bar­nabas to Antioch and Barnabas calling Paul to his assistance, Paul coming to a place and finding there disciples, the clamour of the Jews, the complaint of artificers interested in the support of the popular religion, the reason assigned to induce Paul to give sa­tisfaction to the Christians of Jerusalem. Had it not been for these occasions, it is probable that no notice whatever would have been taken of the number of converts, in several of the passages in which that no­tice now appears. All this tends to remove [Page 226] the suspicion of a design to exaggerate or deceive.

PARALLEL TESTIMONIES with the his­tory, are the letters which have come down to us of St. Paul, and of the other apostles. Those of St. Paul are addressed to the churches of Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, the church of Galatia, and, if the inscription be right, of Ephesus, his ministry at all which places is recorded in the history; to the church of Colosse, or rather to the churches of Colosse and Laodicea jointly, which he had not then visited. They re­cognize by reference the churches of Judea, the churches of Asia, and "all the churches of the Gentiles *." In the epistle to the Romans, the author is led to deliver a re­markable declaration, concerning the extent of his preaching, its efficacy, and the cause to which he ascribes it, "to make the Gen­tiles obedient by word and deed, through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of [Page 227] the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." In the epistle to the Colossians *, we find an oblique, but very strong signification, of the then general state of the Christian mission, at least as it appeared to St. Paul: "If ye continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven;" which gospel, he had reminded them near the beginning of his letter, "was present with them as it was in all the world." The expressions are hyperbolical; but they are hyperboles which could only be used by a writer who entertained a strong sense of the subject. The first epistle of Pe­ter accosts the Christians dispersed through­out Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.

It comes next to be considered, how far [Page 228] these accounts are confirmed, or followed up, by other evidence.

Tacitus, in delivering a relation, which has already been laid before the reader, of the fire which happened at Rome in the tenth year of Nero, which coincides with the thirtieth year after Christ's ascension, as­serts, that the emperor, in order to suppress the rumours of having been himself the au­thor of the mischief, procured the Christians to be accused. Of which Christians, thus brought into his narrative, the following is so much of the historian's account, as be­longs to our present purpose: "They had their denomination from Christus, who, in the reign of Tiberius, was put to death as a criminal by the procurator Pontius Pilate. This pernicious superstition, though checked for a while, broke out again, and spread not only over Judea, but reached the city also. At first they only were apprehended, who confessed themselves of that sect; afterwards a vast multitude were discovered by them." This testimony to the early propagation of [Page 229] Christianity is extremely material. It is from an historian of great reputation, living near the time; from a stranger and an ene­my to the religion: and it joins immediately with the period through which the scrip­ture accounts extend. It establishes these points, that the religion began at Jerusalem, that it spread throughout Judea, that it had reached Rome, and not only so, but that it had there obtained a great number of con­verts. This was about six years after the time that St. Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans, and something more than two years after he arrived there himself▪ The converts to the religion were then so nume­rous at Rome, that of those who were be­trayed by the information of the persons first persecuted, a great multitude (multitudo in­gens) were discovered and seized.

It seems probable, that the temporary check which Tacitus represents Christianity to have received (repressa in praesens) refer­red to the persecution at Jerusalem, which followed the death of Stephen (Acts viii.); [Page 230] and which, by dispersing the converts, caused the institution, in some measure, to disappear. Its second eruption at the same place, and within a short time, has much in it of the character of truth. It was the firm­ness and perseverance of men who knew what they relied upon.

Next in order of time, and perhaps supe­rior in importance, is the testimony of Pliny the younger. Pliny was the Roman go­vernor of Pontus and Bithynia, two consi­derable districts in the northern part of Asia Minor. The situation in which he found his province, led him to apply to the empe­ror (Trajan) for his direction as to the con­duct he was to hold towards the Christians. The letter, in which this application is con­tained, was written not quite eighty years after Christ's ascension. The president, in this letter, states the measures he had already pursued, and then adds, as his reason for re­sorting to the emperor's counsel and autho­rity, the following words:—"Suspending all judicial proceedings, I have recourse to [Page 231] you for advice; for it has appeared to me a matter highly deserving consideration, espe­cially upon account of the great number of persons who are in danger of suffering: for many of all ages, and of every rank, of both sexes likewise, are accused, and will be ac­cused. Nor has the contagion of this su­perstition seized cities only, but the lesser towns also, and the open country. Never­theless it seemed to me that it may be re­strained and corrected. It is certain that the temples, which were almost forsaken, begin to be more frequented; and the sacred so­lemnities, after a long intermission, are re­vived. Victims, likewise, are everywhere (passim) bought up; whereas, for some time, there were few to purchase them. Whence it is easy to imagine, what numbers of men might be reclaimed, if pardon were granted to those that shall repent *."

It is obvious to observe, that the passage of Pliny's letter, here quoted, proves, not [Page 232] only that the Christians in Pontus and Bi­thynia were now numerous, but that they had subsisted there for some considerable time. "It is certain (he says) that the tem­ples, which were almost forsaken (plainly ascribing this desertion of the popular wor­ship to the prevalency of Christianity), be­gin to be more frequented; and the sacred solemnities, after a long intermission, are re­vived." There are also two clauses in the former part of the letter which indicate the same thing; one, in which he declares that he had "never been present at any trials of Christians, and therefore knew not what was the usual subject of enquiry and punishment, or how far either was wont to be urged:" the second clause is the following, "others were named by an informer, who, at first, confessed themselves Christians, and after­wards denied it; the rest said, they had been Christians, some three years ago, some longer, and some above twenty years." It is also apparent that Pliny speaks of the Christians as a description of men well known to the person to whom he writes. [Page 233] His first sentence concerning them is, "I have never been present at the trials of Chris­tians." This mention of the name of Chris­tians, without any preparatory explanation, shews that it was a term familiar both to the writer of the letter, and the person to whom it was addressed. Had it not been so, Pliny would naturally have begun his letter by in­forming the emperor, that he had met with a certain set of men in the province called Christians.

Here then is a very signal evidence of the progress of the Christian religion in a short space. It was not fourscore years after the crucifixion of Jesus when Pliny wrote this letter; nor seventy years since the apostles of Jesus began to mention his name to the Gentile world. Bithynia and Pontus were at a great distance from Judea, the centre from which the religion spread; yet in these provinces Christianity had long subsisted, and Christians were now in such numbers as to lead the Roman governor to report to the emperor, that they were found, not only [Page 234] in cities, but in villages and in open coun­tries; of all ages, of every rank and condi­tion; that they abounded so much as to have produced a visible desertion of the temples, that beasts brought to market for victims had few purchasers, that the sacred solemnities were much neglected; circum­stances noted by Pliny, for the express pur­pose of shewing to the emperor the effect and prevalency of the new institution.

No evidence remains, by which it can be proved that the Christians were more nu­merous in Pontus and Bithynia than in other parts of the Roman empire; nor has any reason been offered to shew why they should be so. Christianity did not begin in these countries, nor near them. I do not know, therefore, that we ought to confine the de­scription in Pliny's letter to the state of Christianity in those provinces, even if no other account of the same subject had come down to us; but, certainly, this letter may fairly be applied in aid and confirmation of the representations given of the general state [Page 235] of Christianity in the world, by Christian writers of that and the next succeeding age.

Justin Martyr, who wrote about thirty years after Pliny, and one hundred and six after the ascension, has these remarkable words: "There is not a nation, either of Greek or Barbarian, or of any other name, even of those who wander in tribes, and live in tents, amongst whom prayers and thanksgivings are not offered to the Father and Creator of the universe by the name of the crucified Jesus *." Tertullian, who comes about fifty years after Justin, appeals to the governors of the Roman empire in these terms: "We were but of yesterday, and we have filled your cities, islands, towns and boroughs, the camp, the senate, and the fo­rum. They (the heathen adversaries of Christianity) lament, that every sex, age and condition, and persons of every rank also, are converts to that name ." I do allow that these expressions are loose, and [Page 236] may be called declamatory. But even de­clamation hath its bounds: this public boast­ing upon a subject, which must be known to every reader, was not only useless but un­natural, unless the truth of the case, in a con­siderable degree, corresponded with the de­scription; at least unless it had been both true and notorious, that great multitudes of Christians, of all ranks and orders, were to be found in most parts of the Roman em­pire. The same Tertullian, in another pas­sage, by way of setting forth the extensive diffusion of Christianity, enumerates as be­longing to Christ, beside many other coun­tries, the "Moors and Gaetulians of Africa, the borders of Spain, several nations of France, and parts of Britain inaccessible to the Romans, the Sarmatians, Daci, Germans, and Scythians *:" and, which is more ma­terial than the extent of the institution, the number of Christians in the several countries in which it prevailed, is thus expressed by him: "Although so great a multitude, that in [Page 237] almost every city we form the greater part, we pass our time modestly and in silence*." Clement Alexandrinus, who preceded Ter­tullian by a few years, introduces a compa­rison between the success of Christianity, and that of the most celebrated philosophical institutions. "The philosophers were con­fined to Greece, and to their particular re­tainers; but the doctrine of the Master of Christianity did not remain in Judea, as phi­losophy did in Greece, but is spread through­out the whole world, in every nation and village and city, both of Greeks and Barba­rians, converting both whole houses and separate individuals, having already brought over to the truth not a few of the philoso­phers themselves. If the Greek philosophy be prohibited, it immediately vanishes; whereas, from the first preaching of our doctrine, kings and tyrants, governors and presidents, with their whole train, and with the populace on their side, have endeavoured with their whole might to exterminate it, [Page 238] yet doth it flourish more and more *." Ori­gen, who follows Tertullian at the distance of only thirty years, delivers nearly the same account: "In every part of the world (says he), throughout all Greece, and in all other nations, there are innumerable and immense multitudes, who, having left the laws of their country, and those whom they esteemed gods, have given themselves up to the law of Moses, and the religion of Christ; and this, not without the bitterest resentment from the idolaters, by whom they were fre­quently put to torture, and sometimes to death: and it is wonderful to observe, how, in so short a time, the religion has increased, amidst punishment and death, and every kind of torture ." In another passage Ori­gen draws the following candid comparison between the state of Christianity in his time, and the condition of its more primitive ages:—"By the good providence of God the Christian religion has so flourished and increased continually, that it is now preached [Page 239] freely without molestation, although there were a thousand obstacles to the spreading of the doctrine of Jesus in the world. But as it was the will of God that the Gentiles should have the benefit of it, all the coun­cils of men against the Christians were de­feated; and by how much the more em­perors and governors of provinces, and the people every where, strove to depress them, so much the more have they increased and prevailed exceedingly *."

It is well known, that within less than eighty years after this, the Roman empire became Christian under Constantine; and it is probable that Constantine declared him­self on the side of the Christians, because they were the powerful party; for Arnobius, who wrote immediately before Constantine's accession, speaks of the whole world as fill­ed with Christ's doctrine, of its diffusion throughout all countries, of an innumerable body of Christians in distant provinces, of [Page 240] the strange revolution of opinion, of men of the greatest genius, orators, grammarians, rhetoricians, lawyers, physicians, having come over to the institution, and that also in the face of threats, executions, and tor­tures *." And not more than twenty years after Constantine's entire possession of the empire, Julius Firmicus Maternus calls upon the emperors Constantius and Constans to extirpate the relics of the ancient religion; the reduced and fallen condition of which is described by our author in the following words:—"Licet adhuc in quibusdam regio­nibus idololatriae morientia palpitent mem­bra, tamen in eo res est, ut a Christianis om­nibus terris pestiferum hoc malum funditùs amputetur;" and in another place, "modi­cum tantum superest, ut legibus vestris—ex­tincta idololatriae pereat funesta contagio ." It will not be thought that we quote this [Page 241] writer in order to recommend his temper or his judgement, but to shew the comparative state of Christianity and of Heathenism at this period. Fifty years afterwards, Jerome represents the decline of Paganism in lan­guage which conveys the same idea of its approaching extinction: "Solitudinem pa­titur et in urbe gentilitas. Dii quondam nationum, cum bubonibus et noctuis, in so­lis culminibus remanserunt *." Jerome here indulges a triumph, natural and allowable in a zealous friend of the cause, but which could only be suggested to his mind by the consent and universality with which he saw the religion received. "But now (says he) the passion and resurrection of Christ are celebrated in the discourses and writings of all nations. I need not mention Jews, Greeks and Latins. The Indians, Persians, Goths and Egyptians, philosophise, and sirmly believe the immortality of the soul and future recompences, which, before, the greatest philosophers had denied, or doubted [Page 242] of, or perplexed with their disputes. The fierceness of Thracians and Scythians is now softened by the gentle sound of the gospel; and every where Christ is all in all *." Were therefore the motives of Con­stantine's conversion ever so problematical, the easy establishment of Christianity, and the ruin of Heathenism under him and his immediate successors, is of itself a proof of the progress which Christianity had made in the preceding period. It may be added also, "that Maxentius, the rival of Constan­tine, had shewn himself friendly to the Christians. Therefore, of those who were contending for worldly power and empire, one actually favoured and flattered them, and another may be suspected to have join­ed himself to them, partly from considera­tion of interest: so considerable were they become, under external disadvantages of all sorts ." This at least is certain, that through­out the whole transaction hitherto, the great [Page 243] seemed to follow, not to lead, the public opinion.

It may help to convey to us some notion of the extent and progress of Christianity, or rather of the character and quality of many early Christians, of their learning and their labours, to notice the number of Chris­tian writers who flourished in these ages. St. Jerome's catalogue contains sixty-six wri­ters within the three first centuries, and the six first years of the fourth; and fifty-four between that time and his own, viz. A. D. 392. Jerome introduces his catalogue with the following just remonstrance:—"Let those who say the church has had no phi­losophers, nor eloquent and learned men, observe who and what they were, who founded, established, and adorned it; let them cease to accuse our faith of rusticity, and confess their mistake*." Of these wri­ters, several, as Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Bardesanes, [Page 244] Hippolitus, Eusebius, were voluminous wri­ters. Christian writers abounded particularly about the year 178. Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, founded a library in that city A. D. 212. Pamphilus, the friend of Ori­gen, founded a library at Cesarea A. D. 294. Public defences were also set forth, by vari­ous advocates of the religion, in the course of its three first centuries. Within one hun­dred years after Christ's ascension, Quadra­tus and Aristides, whose works, except some few fragments of the first, are lost; and about twenty years afterwards, Justin Mar­tyr, whose works remain, presented apolo­gies for the Christian religion to the Roman emperors; Quadratus and Aristides to Ad­rian, Justin to Antoninus Pius, and a second to Marcus Antoninus. Melito bishop of Sardis, and Apollinaris bishop of Hierapo­lis, and Miltiades, men of great reputation, did the same to Marcus Antoninus twenty years afterwards *: and ten years after this, [Page 245] Apollonius, who suffered martyrdom under the emperor Commodus, composed an apo­logy for his faith, which he read in the se­nate, and which was afterwards published *. Fourteen years after the apology of Apollo­nius, Tertullian addressed the work, which now remains under that name, to the go­vernors of provinces in the Roman empire; and, about the same time, Minucius Felix composed a defence of the Christian religion, which is still extant; and, shortly after the conclusion of this century, copious defences of Christianity were published by Arnobius and Lactantius.

SECTION II. Reflections upon the preceding Account.

IN viewing the progress of Christianity, our first attention is due to the number of converts at Jerusalem, immediately after its founder's death; because this success was a success at the time, and upon the spot, when and where the chief part of the history had been transacted.

We are, in the next place, called upon to attend to the early establishment of nu­merous Christian societies in Judea and Ga­lilee, which countries had been the scene of Christ's miracles and ministry, and where the memory of what had passed, and the knowledge of what was alledged, must have yet been fresh and certain.

We are, thirdly, invited to recollect the [Page 247] success of the apostles and of their compa­nions, at the several places to which they came, both within and without Judea; be­cause it was the credit given to original witnesses, appealing for the truth of their accounts to what themselves had seen and heard. The effect also of their preaching, strongly confirms the truth of what our his­tory positively and circumstantially relates, that they were able to exhibit to their hearers supernatural attestations of their mission.

We are, lastly, to consider the subsequent growth and spread of the religion, of which we receive successive intimations, and satis­factory, though general and occasional, ac­counts, until its full and final establishment.

In all these several stages, the history is without a parallel; for it must be observed, that we have not now been tracing the pro­gress, and describing the prevalency, of an opinion, founded upon philosophical or cri­tical arguments, upon mere deductions of [Page 248] reason, or the construction of ancient wri­tings, (of which kind are the several theo­ries which have, at different times, gained possession of the public mind in various de­partments of science and literature; and of one or other of which kind are the tenets also which divide the various sects of Chris­tianity): but that we speak of a system, the very basis and postulatum of which was a supernatural character ascribed to a parti­cular person; of a doctrine, the truth where­of depended entirely upon the truth of a matter of fact then recent. "To establish a new religion, even amongst a few peo­ple, or in one single nation, is a thing in it­self exceedingly difficult. To reform some corruptions which may have spread in a re­ligion, or to make new regulations in it, is not perhaps so hard, when the main and principal parts of that religion are preserved entire and unshaken; and yet this very of­ten cannot be accomplished, without an ex­traordinary concurrence of circumstances, and may be attempted a thousand times without success. But to introduce a new [Page 249] faith, a new way of thinking and acting, and to persuade many nations to quit the religion in which their ancestors had lived and died, which had been delivered down to them from time immemorial, to make them forsake and despise the deities which they had been accustomed to reverence and worship; this is a work of still greater dif­ficulty *. The resistance of education, worldly policy, and superstition, is almost invincible."

If men, in these days, be Christians in consequence of their education, in submis­sion to authority, or in compliance with fashion, let us recollect that the very con­trary of this, at the beginning, was the case. The first race of Christians, as well as mil­lions who succeeded them, became such in formal opposition to all these motives; to the whole power and strength of this in­fluence. Every argument therefore, and every instance, which sets forth the prejudice [Page 250] of education, and the almost irresistible effects of that prejudice (and no persons are more fond of expatiating upon this subject than deistical writers) in fact confirms the evidence of Christianity.

But, in order to judge of the argument which is drawn from the early propagation of Christianity, I know no fairer way of proceeding, than to compare what we have seen of the subject, with the success of Chris­tian missions in modern ages. In the East-India mission, supported by the society for promoting Christian knowledge, we hear sometimes of thirty, sometimes of forty, be­ing baptized in the course of a year, and these principally children. Of converts properly so called, that is, of adults volun­tarily embracing Christianity, the number is extremely small. "Notwithstanding the labour of missionaries for upwards of two hundred years, and the establishments of different Christian nations who support them, there are not twelve thousand Indian [Page 251] Christians, and those almost entirely outcasts *."

I lament, as much as any man, the little progress which Christianity has made in these countries, and the inconsiderable effect that has followed the labours of its missionaries; but I see in it a strong proof of the divine origin of the religion. What had the apo­stles to assist them in propagating Christi­anity, which the missionaries have not? If piety and zeal had been sufficient, I doubt not but that our missionaries possess these quali­ties in a high degree, for nothing, except piety and zeal, could engage them in the undertaking. If sanctity of life and man­ners was the allurement, the conduct of these men is unblameable. If the advantage of education and learning be looked to, there is not one of the modern missionaries, who is not, in this respect, superior to all the apo­stles; and that not only absolutely, but, what [Page 252] is of more importance, relatively, in compa­rison, that is, with those amongst whom they exercise their office. If the intrinsic excel­lency of the religion, the perfection of its morality, the purity of its precepts, the elo­quence or tenderness or sublimity of various parts of its writings, were the recommenda­tions by which it made its way, these re­main the same. If the character and cir­cumstances, under which the preachers were introduced to the countries in which they taught, be accounted of importance, this ad­vantage is all on the side of the modern mis­sionaries. They come from a country and a people, to which the Indian world look up with sentiments of deference. The apo­stles came forth amongst the Gentiles under no other name than that of Jews, which was precisely the character they despised and derided. If it be disgraceful in India to be­come a Christian, it could not be much less so to be enrolled amongst those, "quos per flagitia invisos, vulgus Christianos appella­bat." If the religion which they had to encounter be considered, the difference, I [Page 253] apprehend, will not be great. The theo­logy of both was nearly the same, "what is supposed to be performed by the power of Jupiter, of Neptune, of Aeolus, of Mars, of Venus, according to the mythology of the west, is ascribed, in the east, to the agency of Agrio the god of fire, Varoon the god of oceans, Vayoo the god of wind, Cama the god of love *." The facred rites of the western polytheism were gay, festive, and licentious; the rites of the public reli­gion in the east partake of the same charac­ter, with a more avowed indecency. "In every function performed in the pagodas, as well as in every public procession, it is the office of these women (i. e. of women pre­pared by the Brahmins for the purpose) to dance before the idol, and to sing hymns in his praise; and it is difficult to say, whe­ther they trespass most against decency by the gestures they exhibit, or by the verses which they recite. The walls of the pagodas [Page 254] were covered with paintings in a style no less indelicate * ."

On both sides of the comparison the po­pular religion had a strong establishment. In ancient Greece and Rome it was strictly incorporated with the state. The magistrate was the priest. The highest offices of go­vernment bore the most distinguished part in the celebration of the public rites. In India, a powerful and numerous cast pos­sess exclusively the administration of the established worship; and are, of consequence, devoted to its service, and attached to its in­terest. In both, the prevailing mythology was destitute of any proper evidence, or ra­ther, in both the origin of the tradition is run up into ages long anterior to the existence [Page 255] of credible history, or of written lan­guage. The Indian chronology computes aeras by millions of years, and the life of man by thousands *; and in these, or prior to these, is placed the history of their divi­nities. In both, the established superstition held the same place in the public opinion; that is to say, in both it was credited by the bulk of the people , but by the learned and [Page 256] philosophic part of the community, either derided, or regarded by them as only fit to be upholden for the sake of its political uses .

Or if it should be allowed, that the an­cient heathens believed in their religion less [Page 257] generally than the present Indians do, I am far from thinking that this circumstance would afford any facility to the work of the apostles, above that of the modern mission­aries. To me it appears, and I think it material to be remarked, that a disbelief of the established religion of their country has no tendency to dispose men for the recep­tion of another; but that, on the contrary, it generates a settled contempt of all religious pretensions whatever. General insidelity is the hardest soil which the propagators of a new religion can have to work upon. Could a Methodist or Moravian promise himself a better chance of success with a French esprit fort, who had been accustomed to laugh at the Popery of his country, than with a be­lieving Mahometan or Hindoo? Or are our modern unbelievers in Christianity, for that reason, in danger of becoming Maho­metans or Hindoos? It does not appear that the Jews, who had a body of historical evidence to offer for their religion, and who at that time undoubtedly entertained and held forth the expectation of a future state, [Page 258] derived any great advantage, as to the ex­tension of their system, from the discredit into which the popular religion had fallen with many of their heathen neighbours.

We have particularly directed our obser­vations to the state and progress of Christi­anity amongst the inhabitants of India; but the history of the Christian mission in other countries, where the efficacy of the mission is left solely to the conviction wrought by the preaching of strangers, presents the same idea, as the Indian mission does, of the feeble­ness and inadequacy of human means. About twenty-five years ago, was published in England, a translation from the Dutch of a history of Greenland, and a relation of the mission, for above thirty years carried on in that country by the Unitas Fratrum, or Moravians. Every part of that relation confirms the opinion we have stated. No­thing could surpass, or hardly equal, the zeal and patience of the missionaries. Yet their historian, in the conclusion of his nar­rative, could find place for no reflections [Page 259] more encouraging than the following:—"A person that had known the heathen, that had seen the little benefit from the great pains hitherto taken with them, and consi­dered that one after another had abandoned all hopes of the conversion of those infidels (and some thought they would never be converted, till they saw miracles wrought as in the apostles' days, and this the Greenland­ers expected and demanded of their instruc­tors): one that considered this, I say, would not much wonder at the past unfruitfulness of these young beginners, as at their stead­fast perseverance in the midst of nothing but distress, difficulties and impediments, inter­nally and externally; and that they never desponded of the conversion of those poor creatures amidst all seeming impossibilities *."

From the widely disproportionate effects, which attend the preaching of modern mis­sionaries of Christianity, compared with what followed the ministry of Christ and [Page 260] his apostles, under circumstances either alike, or not so unlike as to account for the dif­ference, a conclusion is fairly drawn, in sup­port of what our histories deliver concern­ing them, viz. that they possessed means of conviction, which we have not; that they had proofs to appeal to, which we want.

SECTION III. Of the Roligion of Mahomet.

THE only event in the history of the hu­man species, which admits of comparison with the propagation of Christianity, is the success of Mahometanism. The Mahome­tan institution was rapid in its progress, was recent in its history, and was founded upon a supernatural or prophetic character assum­ed by its author. In these articles the re­semblance with Christianity is confessed. But there are points of difference, which se­parate, we apprehend, the two cases en­tirely.

I. Mahomet did not found his preten­sions upon miracles, properly so called; that is, upon proofs of supernatural agency, ca­pable of being known and attested by others. Christians are warranted in this assertion by the evidence of the Koran, in which Mahomet [Page 262] not only does not affect the power of working miracles, but expressly disclaims it. The following passages of that book furnish direct proofs of the truth of what we alledge:—"The infidels say, unless a sign be sent down unto him from his lord, we will not believe; thou art a preacher only *." Again, "Nothing hindered us from sending thee with miracles, except that the former nations have charged them with imposture ." And lastly, "They say, unless a sign be sent down unto him from his lord, we will not believe; answer, signs are in the power of God alone, and I am no more than a public preacher. Is it not sufficient for them, that we have sent down unto them the book of the Koran to be read unto them ?" Beside these acknowledgments, I have observed thirteen distinct places, in which Mahomet puts the objection (unless a sign, &c.) into the mouth of the unbe­liever, in not one of which does he alledge [Page 263] a miracle in reply. His answer is, "that God giveth the power of working miracles when and to whom he pleaseth *;" "that if he should work miracles, they would not believe ;" "that they had before rejected Moses; and Jesus and the Prophets, who wrought miracles ;" "that the Koran itself was a miracle §."

The only place in the Koran, in which it can be pretended that a sensible miracle is referred to (for I do not allow the secret vi­sitations of Gabriel, the night journey of Mahomet to heaven, or the presence in bat­tle of invisible hosts of angels, to deserve the name of sensible miracles) is the beginning of the fifty-fourth chapter. The words are these—"The hour of judgement approach­eth, and the moon hath been split in sunder, but if the unbelievers see a sign, they turn aside saying, this is a powerful charm." The Mahometan expositors disagree in their interpretation of this passage; some explaining [Page 264] it to be a mention of the splitting of the moon, as one of the future signs of the ap­proach of the day of judgement; others refer­ring it to a miraculous appearance which had then taken place *. It seems to me not impro­bable, that Mahomet may have taken advan­tage of some extraordinary halo, or other unusual appearance of the moon, which had happened about this time; and which sup­plied a foundation both for this passage, and for the story which in after times had been raised out of it.

After this more than silence; after these authentic confessions of the Koran, we are not to be moved with miraculous stories related of Mahomet by Abulfeda, who wrote his life about six hundred years after his death; or which are found in the legend of Al Jan­nabi, who came two hundred years later . [Page 265] On the contrary, from comparing what Ma­homet himself wrote and said, with what was afterwards reported of him by his fol­lowers, the plain and fair conclusion is, that, when the religion was established by con­quest, then, and not till then, came out the stories of his miracles.

Now this difference alone constitutes, in my opinion, a bar to all reasoning from one case to the other. The success of a religion founded upon a miraculous history, shews the credit which was given to the history; and this credit, under the circumstances in which it was given, i. e. by persons capable of knowing the truth, and interested to en­quire after it, is evidence of the reality of the history, and, by consequence, of the truth of the religion. Where a miraculous history is not alledged, no part of this argument [Page 266] can be implied. We admit that mul­titudes acknowledged the pretensions of Ma­homet; but these pretensions being destitute of miraculous evidence, we know that the grounds upon which they were acknow­ledged, could not be secure grounds of per­suasion to his followers, nor their example any authority to us. Admit the whole of Mahomet's authentic history, so far as it was of a nature capable of being known or wit­nessed by others, to be true, (which is cer­tainly to admit all that the reception of the religion can be brought to prove), and Ma­homet might still be an impostor, or enthu­siast, or an union of both. Admit to be true almost any part of Christ's history, of that, I mean, which was public, and within the cognisance of his followers, and he must have come from God. Where matter of fact is not in question, where miracles are not alledged, I do not see that the progress of a religion is a better argument of its truth, than the prevalency of any system of opi­nions in natural religion, morality, or physics, is a proof of the truth of those opinions. [Page 267] And we know that this sort of ar­gument is inadmissible in any branch of phi­losophy whatever.

But it will be said, if one religion could make its way without miracles, why might not another? To which I reply, first, that this is not the question: the proper question is not, whether a religious institution could be set up without miracles, but whether a religion, or a change of religion, founding itself in miracles, could succeed without any reality to rest upon? I apprehend these two cases to be very different; and I apprehend Mahomet's not taking this course to be one proof, amongst others, that the thing is dif­ficult, if not impossible, to be accomplished: certainly it was not from an unconscious­ness of the value and importance of mira­culous evidence, for it is very observable, that in the same volume, and sometimes in the same chapters, in which Mahomet so re­peatedly disclaims the power of working miracles himself, he is incessantly referring to the miracles of preceding prophets. One [Page 268] would imagine, to hear some men talk, or to read some books, that the setting up of a religion by dint of miraculous pretences was a thing of every day's experience; whereas I believe, that, except the Jewish and Chris­tian religion, there is no tolerably well au­thenticated account of any such thing hav­ing been accomplished.

II. Secondly, the establishment of Maho­met's religion was effected by causes, which, in no degree, appertained to the origin of Christianity.

During the first twelve years of his mis­sion, Mahomet had recourse only to persua­sion. This is allowed. And there is suffi­cient reason from the effect to believe, that if he had confined himself to this mode of propagating his religion, we of the present day should never have heard either of him or it. "Three years were silently employ­ed in the conversion of fourteen proselytes. For ten years the religion advanced with a slow and painful progress within the walls [Page 269] of Mecca. The number of proselytes in the seventh year of his mission may be esti­mated by the absence of eighty-three men and eighteen women, who retired to Aethio­pia *." Yet this progress, such as it was, appears to have been aided by some very important advantages, which Mahomet found in his situation, in his mode of con­ducting his design, and in his doctrine.

I. Mahomet was the grandson of the most powerful and honourable family in Mecca; and although the early death of his father had not left him a patrimony suitable to his birth, he had, long before the com­mencement of his mission, repaired this de­ficiency by an opulent marriage. A person considerable by his wealth, of high descent, and nearly allied to the chiefs of his coun­try, taking upon himself the character of a religious teacher, would not fail of attract­ing attention and followers.

[Page 270] 2. Mahomet conducted his design, in the outset especially, with great art and pru­dence. He conducted it as a politician would conduct a plot. His first application was to his own family. This gained him his wife's uncle, a considerable person in Mecca, together with his cousin Ali, after­wards the celebrated Caliph, then a youth of great expectation, and even already dis­tinguished by his attachment, impetuosity and courage *. He next addressed himself to Abu Becr, a man amongst the first of the Koreish in wealth and influence. The interest and example of Abu Becr drew in five other principal persons in Mecca, whose solicitations prevailed upon five more of the [Page 271] same rank. This was the work of three years; during which time every thing was transacted in secret. Upon the strength of these allies, and under the powerful protec­tion of his family, who, however some of them might disapprove his enterprise, or de­ride his pretensions, would not suffer the orphan of their house, the relict of their fa­vourite brother, to be insulted, Mahomet now commenced his public preaching. And the advance which he made, during the nine or ten remaining years of his peaceable mi­nistry, was by no means greater than what, with these advantages, and with the addi­tional and singular circumstance of there being no established religion at Mecca at that time to contend with, might reasonably have been expected. How soon his primitive ad­herents were let into the secret of his views of empire, or in what stage of his undertak­ing these views first opened themselves to his own mind, it is not now easy to deter­mine. The event however was, that these his first proselytes all ultimately attained to [Page 272] riches and honours, to the command of ar­mies, and the government of kingdoms *.

3. The Arabs deduced their descent from Abraham through the line of Ishmael. The inhabitants of Mecca, in common probably with the other Arabian tribes, acknowledged, as, I think, may clearly be collected from the Koran, one supreme deity, but had asso­ciated with him many objects of idolatrous worship. The great doctrine, with which Mahomet set out, was the strict and exclu­sive unity of God. Abraham, he told them, their illustrious ancestor; Ishmael, the fa­ther of their nation; Moses, the law-giver of the Jews; and Jesus, the author of Chris­tianity, had all asserted the same thing; that their followers had universally corrupt­ed the truth, and that he was now com­missioned to restore it to the world. Was it to be wondered at, that a doctrine so spe­cious, and authorised by names, some or other of which were holden in the highest [Page 273] veneration by every description of his hear­ers, should, in the hands of a popular mis­sionary, prevail to the extent in which Ma­homet succeeded by his pacific ministry?

4. Of the institution which Mahomet joined with this fundamental doctrine, and of the Koran in which that institution is de­livered, we discover, I think, two purposes that pervade the whole, viz. to make con­verts, and to make his converts soldiers. The following particulars, amongst others, may be considered as pretty evident indica­tions of these designs:

1. When Mahomet began to preach, his address to the Jews, the Christians, and to the Pagan Arabs, was, that the religion which he taught, was no other than what had been originally their own. "We be­lieve in God, and that which hath been sent down unto us, and that which hath been sent down unto Abraham, and Ismael and Isaac, and Jacob and the tribes, and that which was delivered unto Moses and Jesus, [Page 274] and that which was delivered unto the Pro­phets from their Lord; we make no dis­tinction between any of them *." "He hath ordained you the religion which he commanded Noah, and which we have re­vealed unto thee, O Mohammed, and which we commanded Abraham and Moses and Jesus, saying, observe this religion, and be not divided therein ." "He hath chosen you, and hath not imposed on you any difficulty in the religion which he hath given you, the religion of your father Abraham ."

2. The author of the Koran never ceases from describing the future anguish of unbe­lievers, their despair, regret, penitence, and torment. It is the point which he labours above all others. And these descriptions are conceived in terms, which will appear in no small degree impressive, even to the modern reader of an English translation. [Page 275] Doubtless they would operate with much greater force upon the minds of those to whom they were immediately directed. The terror which they seem well calculated to inspire, would be to many tempers a powerful application.

3. On the other hand, his voluptuous pa­radise; his robes of silk, his palaces of mar­ble, his rivers and shades, his groves and couches, his wines, his dainties; and, above all, his seventy-two virgins assigned to each of the faithful, of resplendent beauty and eternal youth; intoxicated the imaginations, and seized the passions, of his Eastern fol­lowers.

4. But Mahomet's highest heaven was reserved for those, who fought his battles, or expended their fortunes in his cause. "Those believers who sit still at home, not having any hurt, and those who employ their fortunes and their persons for the re­ligion of God, shall not be held equal. God hath preferred those who employ their fortunes [Page 276] and their persons in that cause, to a degree above those who sit at home. God hath indeed promised every one Paradise, but God hath preferred those who fight for the faith, before those who sit still, by add­ing unto them a great reward; by degrees of honour conferred upon them from him, and by granting them forgiveness and mer­cy *." Again, "Do ye reckon the giving drink to the pilgrims, and the visiting of the holy temple, to be actions as meritorious as those performed by him who believeth in God and the last day, and fighteth for the religion of God? they shall not be held equal with God.—They who have believed, and fled their country, and employed their sub­stance and their persons in the defence of God's true religion, shall be in the highest degree of honour with God; and these are they who shall be happy. The Lord send­eth them good tidings of mercy from him, and good will, and of gardens wherein they shall enjoy lasting pleasures. They shall [Page 277] continue therein for ever, for with God is a great reward *." And, once more, "Ve­rily God hath purchased of the true be­lievers their souls and their substance, pro­mising them the enjoyment of Paradise, on condition that they fight for the cause of God, whether they slay or be slain, the promise for the same is assuredly due by the law and the gospel and the Koran ."

5. His doctrine of predestination was applicable, and was applied by him, to the same purpose of fortifying and of exalting the courage of his adherents. "If any thing of the matter had happened unto us, [Page 278] we had not been slain here. Answer, if ye had been in your houses, verily they would have gone forth to fight, whose slaughter was decreed to the places where they died *."

6. In warm regions, the appetite of the sexes is ardent, the passion for inebriating liquors moderate. In compliance with this distinction, although Mahomet laid a re­straint upon the drinking of wine, in the use of women he allowed an almost un­bounded indulgence. Four wives, with the liberty of changing them at pleasure , to­gether with the persons of all his captives , was an irresistible bribe to an Arabian war­rior. "God is minded," says he, speaking of this very subject, "to make his religion light unto you, for man was created weak." How different this from the unaccommo­dating purity of the Gospel? How would Mahomet have succeeded with the Christian [Page 279] lesson in his mouth, "Whosoever looketh after a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." It must be added, that Mahomet did not venture upon the prohibition of wine, till the fourth year of the Hegira, or the seventeenth of his mission *, when his military successes had completely established his authority. The same observation holds of the fast of the Ramadan , and of the most laborious part of his institution, the pilgrimage to Mecca .

What has hitherto been collected from the records of the Mussulman history, re­lates to the twelve or thirteen years of Ma­homet's peaceable preaching, which part alone of his life and enterprise admits of the smallest comparison with the origin of [Page 280] Christianity. A new scene is now unfolded. The city of Medina, distant about ten days journey from Mecca, was at that time dis­tracted by the hereditary contentions of two hostile tribes. These feuds were exasperated by the mutual persecutions of the Jews and Christians, and of the different Christian sects by which the city was inhabited *. The religion of Mahomet presented, in some measure, a point of union or compro­mise to these divided opinions. It embraced the principles which were common to them all. Each party saw in it an honourable acknowledgement of the fundamental truth of their own system. To the Pagan Arab, somewhat imbued with the sentiments and knowledge of his Jewish or Christian fellow citizen, it offered no offensive, or very im­probable theology. This recommendation procured to Mahometanism a more favour­able reception at Medina, than its author had been able, by twelve years painful en­deavours, to obtain for it at Mecca. Yet, [Page 281] after all, the progress of the religion was inconsiderable. His missionary could only collect a congregation of forty persons *. It was not a religious, but a political asso­ciation, which ultimately introduced Maho­met into Medina. Harassed, as it should seem, and disgusted by the long continuance of factions and disputes, the inhabitants of that city saw in the admission of the Pro­phet's authority, a rest from the miseries which they had suffered, and a suppression of the violence and fury which they had learnt to condemn. After an embassy there­fore, composed of believers and unbelievers, and of persons of both tribes, with whom a treaty was concluded of strict alliance and support, Mahomet made his public entry, and was received as the Sovereign of Me­dina.

From this time, or soon after this time, the impostor changed his language and his conduct. Having now a town at his command, [Page 282] where to arm his party, and to head them with security, he enters upon new councils. He now pretends that a divine commission is given to him to attack the insidels, to destroy idolatry, and to set up the true faith by the sword *. An early victory over a very superior force, achieved by conduct and bravery, established the re­nown of his arms, and of his personal cha­racter . Every year after this was marked by battles or assassinations. The nature and activity of Mahomet's future exertions may be estimated from the computation, that, in the nine following years of his life, he com­manded his army in person in eight gene­ral engagements , and undertook, by him­self or his lieutenants, fifty military enter­prises.

From this time we have nothing left to account for, but that Mahomet should col­lect an army, that his army should conquer, and that his religion should proceed together [Page 283] with his conquests. The ordinary experi­ence of human affairs, leaves us little to wonder at, in any of these effects: and they were likewise each assisted by peculiar faci­lities. From all sides, the roving Arabs crowded around the standard of religion and plunder, of freedom and victory, of arms and rapine. Beside the highly painted joys of a carnal paradise, Mahomet rewarded his followers in this world with a liberal di­vision of the spoils, and with the persons of their female captives *. The condition of Arabia, occupied by small independent tribes, exposed it to the impression, and yielded to the progress of a firm and reso­lute army. After the reduction of his na­tive peninsula, the weakness also of the Ro­man provinces on the North and the West, as well as the distracted state of the Persian empire on the East, facilitated the successful invasion of neighbouring countries. That Mahomet's conquests should carry his reli­gion along with them, will excite little sur­prise, [Page 284] when we know the conditions which he proposed to the vanquished. Death or conversion was the only choice offered to idolaters. "Strike off their heads; strike off all the ends of their fingers *: kill the idolaters, wheresoever ye shall find them ." To the Jews and Christians was left the somewhat milder alternative, of subjection and tribute, if they persisted in their own religion, or of an equal participation in the rights and liberties, the honours and privi­leges, of the faithful, if they embraced the religion of their conquerors. "Ye Chris­tian dogs, you know your option; the Ko­ran, the tribute, or the sword ." The cor­rupt state of Christianity in the seventh cen­tury, and the contentions of its sects, unhap­pily so fell in with mens care of their safety, or their fortunes, as to induce many to for­sake its profession. Add to all which, that Mahomet's victories not only operated by the natural effect of conquest, but that they [Page 285] were constantly represented both to his friends and enemies, as divine declarations in his favour. Success was evidence. Pro­sperity carried with it, not only influence, but proof. "Ye have already," says he, after the battle of Bedr, "had a miracle shown you, in two armies which attacked each other; one army fought for God's true re­ligion, but the other were insidels *." Again, "Ye slew not those who were slain at Bedr, but God slew them.—If ye desire a deci­sion of the matter between us, now hath a decision come unto you ."

Many more passages might be collected out of the Koran to the same effect. But they are unnecessary. The success of Ma­hometanism during this, and indeed every future period of its history, bears so little resemblance to the early propagation of Christianity, that no inference whatever can justly be drawn from it to the prejudice of the Christian argument. For what are we [Page 286] comparing? A Galilean peasant, accompa­nied by a few fishermen, with a conqueror at the head of his army. We compare Jesus, without force, without power, with­out support, without one external circum­stance of attraction or influence, prevailing against the prejudices, the learning, the hierarchy of his country, against the ancient religious opinions, the pompous religious rites, the philosophy, the wisdom, the au­thority of the Roman empire, in the most polished and enlightened period of its exist­ence, with Mahomet making his way amongst Arabs; collecting followers in the midst of conquests and triumphs, in the dark­est ages and countries of the world, and when success in arms not only operated by that command of men's wills and persons which attends prosperous undertakings, but was considered as a sure testimony of divine approbation. That multitudes, persuaded by this argument, should join the train of a victorious chief; that still greater multitudes should, without any argument, bow down before irresistible power, is a conduct in [Page 287] which we cannot see much to surprise us; in which we can see nothing that resembles the causes, by which the establishment of Christianity was effected.

The success therefore of Mahometanism stands not in the way of this important con­clusion, that the propagation of Christianity, in the manner and under the circumstances in which it was propagated, is an unique in the history of the species. A Jewish peasant overthrew the religion of the world.

I have, nevertheless, placed the preva­lency of the religion amongst the auxiliary arguments of its truth; because, whether it had prevailed or not, or whether its preva­lency can or cannot be accounted for, the direct argument remains still. It is still true, that a great number of men upon the spot, personally connected with the history and with the author of the religion, were in­duced by what they heard and saw and knew, not only to change their former opi­nions, but to give up their time, and sacrifice [Page 288] their case, to traverse seas and kingdoms without rest and without weariness, to com­mit themselves to extreme dangers, to un­dertake incessant toils, to undergo grievous sufferings, and all this, solely in consequence, and in support, of their belief of facts, which, if true, establish the truth of the religion, which, if false, they must have known to be so.


CHAP. I. The Discrepancies between the several Gospels.

I KNOW not a more rash or unphiloso­phical conduct of the understanding, than to reject the substance of a story, by reason of some diversity in the circumstances with which it is related. The usual character of human testimony is substantial truth under circumstantial variety. This is what the daily experience of courts of justice teaches. When accounts of a transaction come from the mouths of different witnesses, it is seldom [Page 290] that it is not possible to pick out appa­rent or real inconsistencies between them. These inconsistencies are studiously display­ed by an adverse pleader, but oftentimes with little impression upon the minds of the judges. On the contrary, a close and mi­nute agreement induces the suspicion of confederacy and fraud. When written his­tories touch upon the same scenes of action, the comparison almost always affords ground for a like reflection. Numerous, and some­times important, variations present them­selves; not seldom also, absolute and final contradictions; yet neither one nor the other are deemed sufficient to shake the credibility of the main fact. The embassy of the Jews to deprecate the execution of Claudian's or­der to place his statue in their temple, Philo places in harvest, Josephus in seed-time; both contemporary writers. No reader is led by this inconsistency to doubt, whether such an embassy was sent, or whether such an order was given. Our own history supplies ex­amples of the same kind. In the account of the Marquis of Argyle's death in the reign [Page 291] of Charles the Second, we have a very re­markable contradiction. Lord Clarendon re­lates that he was condemned to be hanged, which was performed the same day: on the contrary, Burnet, Woodrow, Heath, Echard, concur in stating that he was beheaded; and that he was condemned upon the Saturday, and executed upon the Monday *. Was any reader of English history ever sceptic enough to raise from hence a question, whe­ther the Marquis of Argyle was executed, or not? Yet this ought to be left in uncertainty, according to the principles upon which the Christian history has sometimes been attack­ed. Dr. Middleton contended, that the dif­ferent hours of the day assigned to the cru­cifixion of Christ, by John and by the other evangelists, did not admit of the reconcile­ment which learned men had proposed; and then concludes the discussion with this hard remark: "We must be forced▪ with several of the critics, to leave the difficulty just as [Page 292] we found it, chargeable with all the conse­quences of manifest inconsistency *." But what are these consequences? by no means the discrediting of the history as to the prin­cipal fact, by a repugnancy (even supposing that repugnancy not to be resolvable into different modes of computation) in the time of the day in which it is said to have taken place.

A great deal of the discrepancy, observable in the Gospels, arises from omission; from a fact or a passage of Christ's life being noticed by one writer, which is unnoticed by ano­ther. Now omission is at all times a very uncertain ground of objection. We per­ceive it, not only in the comparison of dif­ferent writers, but even in the same writer, when compared with himself. There are a great many particulars, and some of them of importance, mentioned by Josephus in his Antiquities, which, as we should have supposed, [Page 293] ought to have been put down by him in their place in the Jewish Wars *. Sueto­nius, Tacitus, Dio Cassius, have, all three, written of the reign of Tiberius. Each has mentioned many things omitted by the rest , yet no objection is from thence taken to the respective credit of their histories. We have in our own times, if there were not some­thing indecorous in the comparison, the life of an eminent person, written by three of his friends, in which there is very great variety in the incidents selected by them; some ap­parent, and perhaps some real contradictions; yet without any impeachment of the sub­stantial truth of their accounts, of the authen­ticity of the books, of the competent informa­tion or general fidelity of the writers.

But these discrepancies will be still more numerous, when men do not write histories, but memoirs; which is perhaps the true name, and proper description of our Gospels: that is, when they do not undertake, or ever [Page 294] meant to deliver, in order of time, a regular and complete account of all the things of importance, which the person, who is the subject of their history, did or said; but only, out of many similar ones, to give such pas­sages, or such actions and discourses, as offer­ed themselves more immediately to their at­tention, came in the way of their enquiries, occurred to their recollection, or were sug­gested by their particular design at the time of writing.

This particular design may appear some­times, but not always, nor often. Thus I think that the particular design, which St. Matthew had in view whilst he was writing the history of the resurrection, was to attest the faithful performance of Christ's promise to his disciples to go before them into Gali­lee; because he alone, except Mark, who seems to have taken it from him, has record­ed this promise, and he alone has confined his narrative to that single appearance to the disciples which fulfilled it. It was the pre­concerted, the great and most public manifestation [Page 295] of our Lord's person. It was the thing which dwelt upon St. Matthew's mind, and he adapted his narrative to it. But, that there is nothing in St. Matthew's lan­guage, which negatives other appearances, or which imports that this his appearance to his disciples in Galilee, in pursuance of his promise, was his first or only appearance, is made pretty evident by St. Mark's Gospel, which uses the same terms concerning the appearance in Galilee as St. Matthew uses, yet itself records two other appearances prior to this; "Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter, that he goeth before you into Ga­lilee, then shall ye see him as he said unto you." (xvi. 7.) We might be apt to infer from these words, that this was the first time they were to see him: at least, we might in­fer it, with as much reason as we draw the inference from the same words in Matthew: yet the historian himself did not perceive that he was leading his readers to any such conclusion; for, in the twelfth and two following verses of this chapter, he informs us of two appearances, which, by comparing [Page 296] the order of events, are shewn to have been prior to the appearance in Galilee. "He ap­peared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country; and went and told it unto the residue, neither be­lieved they them: afterwards he appeared unto the eleven, as they sat at meat, and up­braided them with their unbelief, because they believed not them that had seen him after he was risen."

Probably the same observation, concern­ing the particular design which guided the historian, may be of use in comparing many other passages of the Gospels.

CHAP. II. Erroneous Opinions imputed to the Apostles.

A Species of candour which is shewn to­wards every other book, is sometimes refus­ed to the Scriptures; and that is, the placing of a distinction between judgment and testi­mony. We do not usually question the credit of a writer, by reason of any opi­nion he may have delivered upon subjects unconnected with his evidence; and even upon subjects connected with his account, or mixed with it in the same discourse or writing, we naturally separate facts from opinions, testimony from observation, narra­tive from argument.

To apply this equitable consideration to the Christian records, much controversy, and much objection has been raised, concerning [Page 298] the quotations of the Old Testament found in the New; some of which quotations, it is said, are applied in a sense, and to events, apparently different from that which they bear, and from those to which they belong, in the original. It is probable to my appre­hension, that many of those quotations were intended by the writers of the New Testa­ment as nothing more than accommodations. They quoted passages of their scripture, which suited, and fell in with, the occasion before them, without always undertaking to assert, that the occasion was in the view of the author of the words. Such accommoda­tions of passages from old authors, from books especially, which are in every one's hands, are common with writers of all coun­tries; but in none, perhaps, were more to be expected, than in the writings of the Jews, whose literature was almost entirely confined to their scriptures. Those prophecies which are alledged with more solemnity, and which are accompanied with a precise declaration, that they originally respected the event then related, are, I think, truly alledged. But [Page 299] were it otherwise; is the judgment of the writers of the New Testament, in interpret­ing passages of the Old, or sometimes, per­haps, in receiving established interpretations, so connected, either with their veracity, or with their means of information concerning what was passing in their own times, as that a critical mistake, even were it clearly made out, should overthrow their historical cre­dit?—Does it diminish it? Has it any thing to do with it?

Another error, imputed to the first Chris­tians, was the expected approach of the day of judgment. I would introduce this objec­tion, by a remark, upon what appears to me a somewhat similar example. Our Saviour, speaking to Peter of John, said, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee *." These words, we find, had been so misconstrued, as that "a report" from thence "went abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die." Suppose that this [Page 300] had come down to us amongst the prevail­ing opinions of the early Christians, and that the particular circumstance, from which the mistake sprung, had been lost, (which hu­manly speaking was most likely to have been the case) some, at this day, would have been ready to regard and quote the error, as an impeachment of the whole Christian system. Yet with how little justice such a conclusion would have been drawn, or rather such a presumption taken up, the information, which we happen to possess, enables us now to perceive. To those who think that the Scriptures lead us to believe, that the early Christians, and even the Apostles, expected the approach of the day of judgment in their own times, the same reflection will occur, as that which we have made, with respect to the more partial perhaps and temporary, but still no less ancient error, concerning the duration of St. John's life. It was an error, it may be likewise said, which would effec­tually hinder those, who entertained it, from acting the part of impostors.

[Page 301] The difficulty which attends the subject of the present chapter, is contained in this ques­tion; if we once admit the fallibility of the apostolic judgment, where are we to stop, or in what can we rely upon it? To which question, as arguing with unbelievers, and as arguing for the substantial truth of the Christian history, and for that alone, it is competent to the advocate of Christianity to reply, Give me the apostle's testimony, and I do not stand in need of their judgment; give me the facts, and I have complete se­curity for every conclusion I want.

But, although I think that it is compe­tent to the Christian apologist to return this answer; I do not think that it is the only answer which the objection is capable of re­ceiving. The two following cautions, found­ed, I apprehend, in the most reasonable dis­tinctions, will exclude all uncertainty upon this head, which can be attended with danger.

First, to separate what was the object of the apostolic mission, and declared by them [Page 302] to be so, from what was extraneous to it, or only incidentally connected with it. Of points clearly extraneous to the religion, nothing need be said. Of points inciden­tally connected with it, something may be added. Demoniacal possession is one of these points: concerning the reality of which, as this place will not admit the examination, or even the production of the arguments on either side of the question, it would be arro­gance in me to deliver any judgment. And it is unnecessary. For what I am concerned to observe is, that even they who think that it was a general, but erroneous, opinion of those times; and that the writers of the New Testament, in common with other Jewish writers of that age, fell into the man­ner of speaking and of thinking upon the subject, which then universally prevailed; need not be alarmed by the concession, as though they had any thing to fear from it, for the truth of Christianity. The doctrine was not what Christ brought into the world. It appears in the Christian records, inciden­tally and accidentally, as being the subsisting [Page 303] opinion of the age and country in which his ministry was exercised. It was no part of the object of his revelation, to regulate mens opinions concerning the action of spiritual substances upon animal bodies. At any rate it is unconnected with testimony. If a dumb person was by a word restored to the use of his speech, it signifies little to what cause the dumbness was ascribed; and the like of every other cure wrought upon those who are said to have been possessed. The malady was real, the cure was real, whether the popular explication of the cause was well founded, or not. The matter of fact, the change, so far as it was an object of sense, or of testimony, was in either case the same.

Secondly, that, in reading the apostolic writings, we distinguish between their doc­trines and their arguments. Their doc­tines came to them by revelation properly so called; yet in propounding these doctrines in their writings or discourses, they were wont to illustrate, support and enforce them, [Page 304] by such analogies, arguments, and consider­ations as their own thoughts suggested. Thus the call of the Gentiles, that is, the admission of the Gentiles to the Christian profession without a previous subjection to the law of Moses, was imparted to the Apo­stles by revelation, and was attested by the miracles which attended the Christian mi­nistry amongst them. The Apostles own assurance of the matter rested upon this foundation. Nevertheless, St. Paul, when treating of the subject, offers a great variety of topics in its proof and vindication. The doctrine itself must be received; but is it ne­cessary, in order to defend Christianity, to defend the propriety of every comparison, or the validity of every argument, which the apostle has brought into the discussion? The same observation applies to some other instances; and is, in my opinion, very well founded. "When divine writers argue upon any point, we are always bound to be­lieve the conclusions that their reasonings end in, as parts of divine revelation; but we are not bound to be able to make out, or [Page 305] even to assent to, all the premises made use of by them, in their whole extent, unless it appear plainly, that they affirm the premises as expressly as they do the conclusions prov­ed by them *."

CHAP. III. The Connection of Christianity with the Jewish History.

UNDOUBTEDLY, our Saviour assumes the divine origin of the Mosaic institution: and, independently of his authority, I con­ceive it to be very difficult to assign any other cause for the commencement or existence of that institution; especially for the singular circumstance of the Jews adhering to the unity, when every other people slid into po­lytheism; for their being men in religion, children in every thing else; behind other nations in the arts of peace and war, supe­rior to the most improved in their sentiments and doctrines relating to the deity *. Undoubtedly [Page 307] also, our Saviour recognises the prophetic character of many of their ancient writers. So far, therefore, we are bound as Christians to go. But to make Christianity answerable with its life, for the circumstan­tial truth of each separate passage of the Old Testament, the genuineness of every book, the information, fidelity, and judgment of every writer in it, is to bring, I will not say [Page 308] great, but unnecessary difficulties, into the whole system. These books were univer­sally read and received by the Jews of our Saviour's time. He and his apostles, in common with all other Jews, referred to them, alluded to them, used them. Yet, except where he expressly ascribes a divine authority to particular predictions, I do not know that we can strictly draw any conclusion from the books being so used and applied, beside the proof, which it unques­tionably is, of their notoriety and reception at that time. In this view our scriptures af­ford a valuable testimony to those of the Jews. But the nature of this testimony ought to be understood. It is surely very different from, what it is sometimes repre­sented to be, a specific ratification of each particular fact and opinion; and not only of each particular fact, but of the motives assigned for every action, together with the judgment of praise or dispraise bestowed upon them. St. James, in his epistle *, [Page 309] says, "Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord." Notwithstanding this text, the reality of Job's history, and even the existence of such a person, has been always deemed a fair subject of enquiry and discussion amongst Christian divines. St. James's authority is considered as good evidence of the existence of the book of Job at that time, and of its reception by the Jews, and of nothing more. St. Paul, in his second epistle to Timothy*, has this similitude: "Now, as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth." These names are not found in the Old Testament. And it is uncertain, whether St. Paul took them from some apo­cryphal writing then extant, or from tradi­tion. But no one ever imagined, that St. Paul is here asserting the authority of the writing, if it was a written account which he quoted, or making himself answerable for the authenticity of the tradition; much less, that he so involves himself with either [Page 310] of these questions, as that the credit of his own history and mission should depend upon the fact, whether "Jannes and Jam­bres withstood Moses, or not." For what reason a more rigorous interpretation should be put upon other references, it is difficult to know. I do not mean, that other passages of the Jewish history stand upon no better evidence than the history of Job, or of Jan­nes and Jambres (I think much otherwise); but I mean, that a reference in the New Testament, to a passage in the Old, does not so six its authority, as to exclude all enquiry into its credibility, or into the se­parate reasons upon which that credibility is founded; and that it is an unwarrantable, as well as unsafe rule to lay down concern­ing the Jewish history, what was never laid down concerning any other, that either every particular of it must be true, or the whole false.

I have thought it necessary to state this point explicitly, because a fashion revived by Voltaire, and pursued by the disciples of his [Page 311] school, seems to have much prevailed of late, of attacking Christianity through the sides of Judaism. Some objections of this class are founded in misconstruction, some in ex­aggeration; but all proceed upon a supposi­tion, which has not been made out by argu­ment, viz. that the attestation, which the author and first teachers of Christianity gave to the divine mission of Moses and the pro­phets, extends to every point and portion of the Jewish history; and so extends, as to make Christianity responsible in its own cre­dibility, for the circumstantial truth, I had almost said for the critical exactness, of every narrative contained in the Old Testa­ment.

CHAP. IV. Rejection of Christianity.

WE acknowledge that the Christian re­ligion, although it converted great numbers, did not produce an universal, or even a general conviction in the minds of men, of the age and countries in which it appeared. And this want of a more complete and ex­tensive success, is called the rejection of the Christian history and miracles; and has been thought by some, to form a strong objec­tion to the reality of the facts which the history contains.

The matter of the objection divides itself into two parts, as it relates to the Jews, and as it relates to Heathen nations; be­cause the minds of these two descriptions of men may have been, with respect to Chris­tianity, under the influence of very different causes. The case of the Jews, inasmuch as [Page 313] our Saviour's ministry was originally ad­dressed to them, offers itself first to our con­sideration.

Now, upon the subject of the truth of the Christian religion, with us there is but one question, viz. whether the miracles were actually wrought? From acknowledging the miracles we pass instantaneously to the ac­knowledgment of the whole. No doubt lies between the premises and the conclu­sion. If we believe the works, or any one of them, we believe in Jesus. And this order of reasoning is become so universal and familiar, that we do not readily appre­hend how it could ever have been other­wise. Yet it appears to me perfectly cer­tain, that the state of thought, in the mind of a Jew of our Saviour's age, was totally different from this. After allowing the re­ality of the miracle, he had a great deal to do to persuade himself that Jesus was the Messiah. This is clearly intimated by vari­ous passages of the gospel history. It ap­pears that, in the apprehension of the writers [Page 314] of the New Testament, the miracles did not irresistibly carry, even those who saw them, to the conclusion intended to be drawn from them; or so compel assent, as to leave no room for suspense, for the exer­cise of candour, or the effects of prejudice. And to this point at least, the evangelists may be allowed to be good witnesses; be­cause it is a point, in which exaggeration or disguise would have been the other way. Their accounts, if they could be suspected of falsehood, would rather have magnified, than diminished, the effects of the miracles.

John vii. 21—31. "Jesus answered, and said unto them, I have done one work, and ye all marvel—If a man on the Sabbath­day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken, are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the Sabbath-day? Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this he whom they seek to kill? but lo, he speaketh boldly, [Page 315] and they say nothing to him; do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ? Howbeit we know this man, whence he is; but, when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is. Then cried Jesus in the tem­ple as he taught, saying, Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am; and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not; but I know him, for I am from him, and he hath sent me. Then they sought to take him, but no man laid hands on him because his hour was not yet come; and many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than those which this man hath done?"

This passage is very observable. It ex­hibits the reasoning of different sorts of per­sons upon the occasion of a miracle, which persons of all sorts are represented to have acknowledged as real. One sort of men thought, that there was something very ex­traordinary in all this; but that still Jesus could not be the Christ, because there was [Page 316] a circumstance in his appearance, which mi­litated with an opinion concerning Christ, in which they had been brought up, and of the truth of which, it is probable, they had never entertained a particle of doubt, viz. that "when Christ cometh no man know­eth whence he is." Another sort were in­clined to believe him to be the Messiah. But even these did not argue as we should; did not consider the miracle as of itself de­cisive of the question, as what, if once al­lowed, excluded all farther debate upon the subject, but founded their opinion upon a kind of comparative reasoning, "When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than those which this man hath done?"

Another passage in the same evangelist, and observable for the same purpose, is that, in which he relates the resurrection of La­zarus: "Jesus," he tells us, (xi. 43, 44.) "when he had thus spoken, cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth; and he, that was dead, came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, and his face was [Page 317] bound about with a napkin. Jesus faith unto them, Loose him and let him go." One might have expected, that at least all those who stood by the sepulchre, when Lazarus was raised, would have believed in Jesus. Yet the evangelist does not so represent it. "Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him; but some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done." We cannot suppose that the evangelist meant, by this account, to leave his readers to imagine that any of the spectators doubted about the truth of the miracle. Far from it. Unques­tionably he states the miracle to have been fully allowed: yet the persons who allowed it, were, according to his representation, ca­pable of retaining hostile sentiments towards Jesus. "Believing in Jesus" was not only to believe that he wrought miracles, but that he was the Messiah. With us there is no difference between these two things; with them there was the greatest. And the dif­ference is apparent in this transaction. If [Page 318] St. John has represented the conduct of the Jews upon this occasion truly (and why he should not I cannot tell, for it rather makes against him than for him), it shews clearly the principles upon which their judgment proceeded. Whether he has related the matter truly or not, the relation itself dis­covers the writer's own opinion of those principles, and that alone possesses consider­able authority. In the next chapter, we have a reflection of the evangelist, entirely suited to this state of the case; "but though he had done so many miracles before them, yet believed they not on him *." The evan­gelist does not mean to impute the defect of their belief to any doubt about the mi­racles, but to their not perceiving, what all now sufficiently perceive, and what they would have perceived had not their under­standings been governed by strong preju­dices, the infallible attestation, which the works of Jesus bore, to the truth of his pre­tensions.

[Page 319] The ninth chapter of St. John's gospel contains a very circumstantial account of the cure of a blind man; a miracle sub­mitted to all the scrutiny and examination, which a sceptic could propose. If a mo­dern unbeliever had drawn up the interro­gatories, they could hardly have been more critical or searching. The account contains also a very curious conference between the Jewish rulers and the patient, in which the point for our present notice, is their resist­ance of the force of the miracle, and of the conclusion to which it led, after they had failed in discrediting its evidence. "We know that God spake unto Moses, but as for this fellow we know not whence he is." That was the answer which set their minds at rest. And by the help of much prejudice, and great unwillingness to yield, it might do so. In the mind of the poor man re­stored to sight, which was under no such biass, felt no such reluctance, the miracle had its natural operation. "Herein," says he, "is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, yet he hath opened [Page 320] mine eyes. Now we know that God hear­eth not sinners; but if any man be a wor­shipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. Since the world began was it not heard, that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God he could do nothing." We do not find, that the Jewish rulers had any other reply to make to this defence, than that which authority is sometimes apt to make to argument, "Dost thou teach us?"

If it shall be enquired how a turn of thought, so different from what prevails at present, should obtain currency with the ancient Jews, the answer is found in two opinions, which are proved to have subsist­ed in that age and country. The one was, their expectation of a Messiah, of a kind to­tally contrary to what the appearance of Jesus bespoke him to be: the other, their persuasion of the agency of demons in the production of supernatural effects. These opinions are not supposed by us for the pur­pose of argument, but are evidently recognised [Page 321] in the Jewish writings, as well as in ours. And it ought moreover to be con­sidered, that in these opinions the Jews of that age had been from their infancy brought up; that they were opinions, the grounds of which they had probably few of them enquired into, and of the truth of which they entertained no doubt. And I think that these two opinions conjointly af­ford an explanation of their conduct. The first put them upon seeking out some ex­cuse to themselves, for not receiving Jesus in the character in which he claimed to be received; and the second supplied them with just such an excuse as they wanted. Let Jesus work what miracles he would, still the answer was in readiness, "that he wrought them by the assistance of Beelze­bub." And to this answer no reply could be made, but that which our Saviour did make, by shewing that the tendency of his mission was so adverse to the views with which this Being was, by the objectors themselves, supposed to act, that it could not reasonably be supposed that he would [Page 322] assist in carrying it on. The power dis­played in the miracles did not alone refute the Jewish solution, because, the interposi­tion of invisible agents being once admitted, it is impossible to ascertain the limits by which their efficiency is circumscribed. We of this day may be disposed, possibly, to think such opinions too absurd to have been ever seriously entertained. I am not bound to contend for the credibility of the opinions. They were at least as reasonable as the belief in witchcraft. They were opi­nions in which the Jews of that age had from their infancy been instructed: and those who cannot see enough in the force of this reason, to account for their conduct towards our Saviour, do not sufficiently consider how such opinions may sometimes become very general in a country, and with what pertinacity, when once become so, they are, for that reason alone, adhered to. In the suspense which these notions, and the prejudices resulting from them, might occasion, the candid and docile and humble minded would probably decide in Christ's [Page 323] favour; the proud and obstinate, together with the giddy and the thoughtless, almost universally against him.

This state of opinion discovers to us also the reason of what some choose to wonder at, why the Jews should reject miracles when they saw them, yet rely so much upon the tradition of them in their own history. It does not appear, that it had ever entered into the minds of those who lived in the time of Moses and the Prophets, to ascribe their miracles to the supernatural agency of evil Beings. The solution was not then invented. And the authority of Moses and the Prophets being established, and become the foundation of the national policy and religion, it was not probable that the later Jews, brought up in a reverence for that religion, and the subjects of that policy, should apply to their history a reasoning which tended to overthrow the foundation of both.

II. The infidelity of the gentile world, [Page 324] and that more especially of men of rank and learning in it, is resolvable into a principle, which, in my judgment, will account for the inefficacy of any argument or any evi­dence whatever, viz. contempt prior to ex­amination. The state of religion amongst the Greeks and Romans had a natural ten­dency to induce this disposition. Dionysius Halicarnassensis remarks, that there were six hundred different kinds of religions or sa­cred rites exercised at Rome *. The supe­rior classes of the community treated them all as fables. Can we wonder then, that Christianity was included in the number, without enquiry into its separate merits, or the particular grounds of its pretensions? It might be either true or false for any thing they knew about it. The religion had no­thing in its character which immediately engaged their notice. It mixed with no po­litics. It produced no fine writers. It con­tained no curious speculations. When it did reach their knowledge, I doubt not but that [Page 325] it appeared to them a very strange system—so unphilosophical—dealing so little in argu­ment and discussion, in such arguments however and discussions as they were ac­customed to entertain. What is said of Jesus Christ, of his nature, office, and mi­nistry, would be, in the highest degree, aliene from the conceptions of their theo­logy. The redeemer, and the destined judge, of the human race, a poor young man exe­cuted at Jerusalem with two thieves upon a cross! Still more would the language, in which the Christian doctrine was delivered, be dissonant and barbarous to their ears. What knew they of grace, of redemption, of justification, of the blood of Christ shed for the sins of men, of reconcilement, of mediation? Christianity was made up of points they had never thought of; of terms which they had never heard.

It was presented also to the imagination of the learned heathen, under additional dis­advantage, by reason of its real, and still more of its nominal, connection with Judaism. [Page 326] It shared in the obloquy and ridi­cule, with which that people and their reli­gion were treated by the Greeks and Ro­mans. They regarded Jehovah himself only as the idol of the Jewish nation, and what was related of him, as of a piece with what was told of the tutelar deities of other coun­tries: nay, the Jews were in a particular manner ridiculed for being a credulous race; so that whatever reports of a miraculous na­ture came out of that country, were looked upon by the heathen world as false and fri­volous. When they heard of Christianity, they heard of it as a quarrel amongst this people, about some articles of their own su­perstition. Despising therefore, as they did, the whole system, it was not probable that they would enter, with any degree of seri­ousness or attention, into the detail of its disputes, or the merits of either side. How little they knew, and with what carelessness they judged of these matters, appears, I think, pretty plainly from an example of no less weight than that of Tacitus, who, in a grave and professed discourse upon the [Page 327] history of the Jews, states that they wor­shipped the effigy of an ass *. The passage is a proof, how prone the learned men of these times were, and upon how little evi­dence, to heap together stories, which might increase the contempt and odium in which that people was held. The same foolish charge is also considently repeated by Plu­tarch .

It is observable, that all these considera­tions are of a nature to operate with the greatest force upon the highest ranks; upon men of education, and that order of the public from which writers are principally taken: I may add also, upon the philosophi­cal as well as the libertine character; upon the Antonines or Julian, not less than upon Nero or Domitian; and, more particularly, upon that large and polished class of men, who acquiesced in the general persuasion, that all they had to do was to practise the duties of morality, and to worship the deity [Page 328] more patrio; a habit of thinking, liberal as it may appear, which shuts the door against every argument for a new religion. The considerations above-mentioned, would ac­quire also strength, from the prejudice which men of rank and learning universally enter­tain against any thing that originates with the vulgar and illiterate; which prejudice is known to be as obstinate as any prejudice whatever.

Yet Christianity was still making its way: and, amidst so many impediments to its progress, so much difficulty in procuring au­dience and attention, its actual success is more to be wondered at, than that it should not have universally conquered scorn and indifference, fixed the levity of a voluptu­ous age, or, through a cloud of adverse pre­judications, opened for itself a passage to the hearts and understandings of the scholars of the age.

And the cause which is here assigned for the rejection of Christianity, by men of [Page 329] rank and learning among the heathens, namely, a strong antecedent contempt, ac­counts also for their silence concerning it. If they had rejected it upon examination, they would have written about it. They would have given their reasons. Whereas what men repudiate upon the strength of some prefixed persuasion, or from a settled con­tempt of the subject, of the persons who propose it, or of the manner in which it is proposed, they do not naturally write books about, or notice much in what they write upon other subjects.

The letters of the younger Pliny furnish an example of this silence, and let us, in some measure, into the cause of it. From his celebrated correspondence with Trajan, we know that the Christian religion pre­vailed in a very considerable degree in the province over which he presided; that it had excited his attention; that he had enquired into the matter, just so much as a Roman magistrate might be expected to enquire, viz. whether the religion contained any opinions [Page 330] dangerous̄ to government; but that of its doctrines, its evidences, or its books, he had not taken the trouble to inform him­self with any degree of care or correctness. But although Pliny had viewed Christianity in a nearer position, than most of his learn­ed countrymen saw it in; yet he had re­garded the whole with such negligence and disdain (farther than as it seemed to concern his administration), that, in more than two hundred and forty letters of his which have come down to us, the subject is never once again mentioned. If out of this number the two letters between him and Trajan had been lost, with what confidence would the obscurity of the Christian religion have been argued from Pliny's silence about it, and with how little truth?

The name and character which Tacitus hath given to Christianity, "exitiabilis su­perstitio" (a pernicious superstition), and by which two words he disposes of the whole question of the merits or demerits of the religion, afford a strong proof how little [Page 331] he knew, or concerned himself to know, about the matter. I apprehend that I shall not be contradicted, when I take upon me to assert, that no unbeliever of the present age would apply this epithet to the Chris­tianity of the New Testament, or not allow that it was entirely unmerited. Read the instructions given, by a great teacher of the religion, to those very Roman converts, of whom Tacitus speaks; and given also a very few years before the time of which he is speaking; and which are not, let it be ob­served, a collection of fine sayings, brought together from different parts of a large work, but stand in one entire passage of a public letter, without the intermixture of a single thought, which is frivolous or exceptionable. "Abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another, with brotherly love, in honour preferring one another. Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer, distributing to the necessity of saints, given to hospitality. [Page 332] Bless them which persecute you; bless, and curse not; rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one towards another: mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Pro­vide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is mine! I will repay, faith the Lord: therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for, in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."

"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers, for there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God: whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God, and they that resist, shall receive unto themselves [Page 333] damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same, for he is the minister of God to thee for good: but if thou do that which is evil, be afraid, for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a reven­ger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake: for, for this cause, pay ye tribute also, for they are God's ministers, attending con­tinually upon this very thing. Render, therefore, to all their dues; tribute, to whom tribute is due; custom, to whom custom; fear, to whom fear; honour, to whom ho­nour."
"Owe no man any thing, but to love one another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law: for this, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not covet, and if there be any commandment, it [Page 334] is briefly comprehended in this saying, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."
"And that, knowing the time, that now is our salvation nearer than when we be­lieved. The night is far spent, the day is at hand; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying *."

Read this, and then think of exitiabilis superstitio!!—Or if we be not allowed, in contending with heathen authorities, to pro­duce our books against theirs, we may at least be permitted to confront theirs with one another. Of this "pernicious superstition," what could Pliny sind to blame, when he was led by his office, to institute something like an examination into the conduct and [Page 335] principles of the sect? He discovered no­thing, but that they were wont to meet to­gether on a stated day before it was light, and sing among themselves a hymn to Christ as a God, and to bind themselves by an oath, not to the commission of any wickedness, but not to be guilty of theft, robbery, or adultery; never to falsify their word, nor to deny a pledge committed to them, when called upon to return it.

Upon the words of Tacitus we may build the following observations:

First, That we are well warranted in call­ing the view, under which the learned men of that age beheld Christianity, an obscure and distant view. Had Tacitus known more of Christianity, of its precepts, duties, constitu­tion or design, however he had discredited the story, he would have respected the prin­ciple. He would have described the reli­gion differently, though he had rejected it. It has been very satisfactorily shewn, that the "superstition" of the Christians consisted [Page 336] in worshiping a person unknown to the Roman calendar; and that the "pernicious­ness" with which they were reproached, was nothing else but there opposition to the established polytheism: and this view of the matter was just such a one as might be ex­pected to occur to a mind, which held the sect in too much contempt to concern itself about the grounds and reasons of their con­duct.

Secondly, We may from hence remark, how little reliance can be placed upon the most acute judgments, in subjects which they are pleased to despise; and which, of course, they from the first consider as unworthy to be enquired into. Had not Christianity sur­vived to tell its own story, it must have gone down to posterity as a "pernicious supersti­tion;" and that upon the credit of Tacitus's account, much, I doubt not, strengthened by the name of the writer, and the reputa­tion of his sagacity.

Thirdly, That this contempt prior to [Page 337] examination, is an intellectual vice, from which the greatest faculties of mind are not free. I know not, indeed, whether men of the greatest faculties of mind are not the most subject to it. Such men feel themselves seated upon an eminence. Looking down from their height upon the follies of man­kind, they behold contending tenets wast­ing their idle strength upon one another, with a common disdain of the absurdity of them all. This habit of thought, however comfortable to the mind which entertains it, or however natural to great parts, is ex­tremely dangerous; and more apt, than al­most any other disposition, to produce hasty and contemptuous, and, by consequence, erroneous judgments, both of persons and opinions.

Fourthly, We need not be surprised at many writers of that age not mentioning Christianity at all, when they, who did men­tion it, appear to have entirely misconceived its nature and character; and, in consequence [Page 338] of this misconception, to have re­garded it with negligence and contempt.

To the knowledge of the greatest part of the learned heathens, the facts of the Chris­tian history could only come by report. The books, probably, they had never look­ed into. The settled habit of their minds was, and long had been, an indiscriminate rejection of all reports of the kind. With these sweeping conclusions truth hath no chance. It depends upon distinction. If they would not enquire, how should they be convinced? It might be founded in truth, though they, who made no search, might not discover it.

"Men of rank and fortune, of wit and abilities, are often found, even in Christian countries, to be surprisingly ignorant of re­ligion, and of every thing that relates to it. Such were many of the heathens. Their thoughts were all fixed upon other things, upon reputation and glory, upon wealth and [Page 339] power, upon luxury and pleasure, upon bu­siness or learning. They thought, and they had reason to think, that the religion of their country was fable and forgery, an heap of inconsistent lies, which inclined them to suppose that other religions were no better. Hence it came to pass, that when the Apo­stles preached the gospel, and wrought mi­racles in confirmation of a doctrine every way worthy of God, many Gentiles knew little or nothing of it, and would not take the least pains to inform themselves about it. This appears plainly from ancient his­tory *."

I think it by no means unreasonable to suppose, that the heathen public, especially that part which is made up of men of rank and education, were divided into two classes; those who despised Christianity beforehand, and those who received it. In correspond­ency with which division of character, the [Page 340] writers of that age would also be of two classes, those who were silent about Christi­anity, and those who were Christians. "A good man, who attended sufficiently to the Christian affairs, would become a Christian; after which his testimony ceased to be Pa­gan, and became Christian *."

I must also add, that I think it sufficient­ly proved, that the notion of magic was resorted to by the heathen adversaries of Christianity, in like manner as that of diabo­lical agency had before been by the Jews. Justin Martyr alledges this as his reason for arguing from prophecy, rather than from miracles. Origen imputes this evasion to Celsus; Jerome to Porphyry; and Lactan­tius to the heathen in general. The seve­ral passages, which contain these testimonies, will be produced in the next chapter. It be­ing difficult however to ascertain, in what de­gree this notion prevailed, especially amongst [Page 341] the superior ranks of the heathen communi­ties, another, and I think an adequate cause, has been assigned for their infidelity. It is probable that in many cases the two causes would operate together.

CHAP. V. That the Christian miracles are not recited, or appealed to, by early Christian writers themselves, so fully or frequently as might have been expected.

I SHALL consider this objection, first, as it applies to the letters of the Apostles, pre­served in the New Testament; and secondly, as it applies to the remaining writings of other early Christians.

The epistles of the apostles are either hor­tatory or argumentative. So far as they were occupied, in delivering lessons of duty, rules of public order, admonitions against cer­tain prevailing corruptions, against vice, or any particular species of it, or in fortifying and encouraging the constancy of the dis­ciples under the trials to which they were exposed, there appears to be no place or [Page 343] occasion for more of these references than we actually find.

So far as the epistles are argumentative, the nature of the argument which they handle, accounts for the infrequency of these allusions. These epistles were not written to prove the truth of Christianity. The subject under consideration was not that which the miracles decided, the reality of our Lord's mission; but it was that which the miracles did not decide, the nature of his person or power, the design of his ad­vent, its effects, and of those effects the va­lue, kind, and extent. Still I maintain, that miraculous evidence lies at the bottom of the argument. For nothing could be so preposterous, as for the disciples of Jesus to dispute amongst themselves, or with others, concerning his office or character, unless they believed that he had shewn, by superna­tural proofs, that there was something extra­ordinary in both. Miraculous evidence, therefore, forming not the texture of these [Page 344] arguments, but the ground and substratum, if it be occasionally discerned, if it be inci­dentally appealed to, it is exactly so much as ought to take place, supposing the history to be true.

As a further answer to the objection, that the apostolic epistles do not contain so fre­quent, or such direct and circumstantial re­citals of miracles as might be expected, I would add, that the apostolic epistles resemble in this respect the apostolic speeches, which speeches are given by a writer, who dis­tinctly records numerous miracles wrought by these apostles themselves, and by the founder of the institution in their presence; that it is unwarrantable to contend, that the omission, or infrequency, of such recitals in the speeches of the apostles, negatives the existence of the miracles, when the speeches are given in immediate conjunction with the history of those miracles; and that a conclu­sion which cannot be inferred from the speeches, without contradicting the whole [Page 345] tenor of the book which contains them, can­not be inferred from letters, which, in this respect, are similar only to the speeches.

To prove the similitude which we alledge, it may be remarked, that although in St. Luke's gospel, the apostle Peter is represent­ed to have been present at many decisive miracles wrought by Christ; and although the second part of the same history ascribes other decisive miracles to Peter himself, par­ticularly the cure of the lame man at the gate of the temple (Acts iii. 1.), the death of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts v. 1.), the cure of Aeneas (Acts ix. 40.), the resur­rection of Dorcas (Acts ix. 34.); yet out of six speeches of Peter, preserved in the Acts, I know but two, in which reference is made to the miracles wrought by Christ, and only one in which he refers to miraculous powers possessed by himself. In his speech upon the day of Pentecost, Peter addresses his audience with great solemnity thus: "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among [Page 346] you, by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know, &c. *" In his speech upon the conversion of Cornelius, he delivers his testimony to the miracles per­formed by Christ in these words: "We are witnesses of all things which he did, both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem ." But in this latter speech no allusion appears to the miracles wrought by himself, notwith­standing that the miracles above enumerat­ed, all preceded the time in which it was delivered. In his speech upon the election of Matthias , no distinct reference is made to any of the miracles of Christ's history, ex­cept his resurrection. The same also may be observed of his speech upon the cure of the lame man at the gate of the temple §; the same in his speech before the Sanhedrim 𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁; the same in his second apology in the pre­sence of that assembly. Stephen's long speech contains no reference whatever to [Page 347] miracles, though it be expressly related of him, in the book which preserves the speech, and almost immediately before the speech, "that he did great wonders and miracles among the people *." Again, although miracles be expressly attributed to St. Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, first generally, as at Iconium (Acts xiv. 3.), during the whole tour through the Upper Asia (xiv. 27. xv. 12.), at Ephesus (xix. 11, 12.); se­condly, in specific instances, as the blindness of Elymas at Paphos , the cure of the crip­ple at Lystra , of the Pythoness at Phi­lippi §, the miraculous liberation from pri­son in the same city 𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁, the restoration of Eutychus , the predictions of his ship­wreck **, the viper at Milita ††, the cure of Publius's father ‡‡; at all which miracles, except the two first, the historian himself was present: notwithstanding, I say, this positive ascription of miracles to St. Paul, yet in the speeches delivered by him, and given as delivered [Page 348] by him, in the same book in which the miracles are related, and the miraculous powers asserted, the appeals to his own mi­racles, or indeed to any miracles at all, are rare and incidental. In his speech at An­tioch in Pisidia *, there is no allusion, but to the resurrection. In his discourse at Mi­letus , none to any miracle; none in his speech before Felix ; none in his speech before Festus §; except to Christ's resurrec­tion, and his own conversion.

Agreeably hereunto, in thirteen letters ascribed to St. Paul, we have incessant refe­rences to Christ's resurrection, frequent re­ferences to his own conversion, three indu­bitable references to the miracles which he wrought 𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁𝄁, four other references to the same, less direct yet highly probable ; but more copious or circumstantial recitals we have not. The consent, therefore, between St. Paul's speeches and letters, is in this respect [Page 349] sufficiently exact: and the reason in both is the same; namely, that the miraculous his­tory was all along presupposed, and that the question, which occupied the speaker's and the writer's thoughts, was this: whether, allowing the history of Jesus to be true, he was, upon the strength of it, to be received as the promised Messiah; and, if he was, what were the consequences, what was the object and benefit of his mission?

The general observation which has been made upon the apostolic writings, namely, that the subject, of which they treated, did not lead them to any direct recital of the Christian history, belongs also to the writ­ings of the apostolic fathers. The epistle of Barnabas is, in its subject and general composition, much like the epistle to the Hebrews; an allegorical application of di­vers passages of the Jewish history, of their law and ritual, to those parts of the Chris­tian dispensation, in which the author per­ceived a resemblance. The epistle of Cle­ment was written for the sole purpose of [Page 350] quieting certain dissensions that had arisen amongst the members of the church of Co­rinth; and of reviving, in their minds, that temper and spirit of which their predecessors in the gospel had left them an example. The work of Hermas is a vision; quotes neither the Old Testament nor the New; and merely falls now and then into the lan­guage, and the mode of speech, which the author had read in our gospels. The epistles of Polycarp and Ignatius had, for their prin­cipal object, the order and discipline of the churches which they addressed. Yet, un­der all these circumstances of disadvantage, the great points of the Christian history are fully recognized. This hath been shewn in its proper place *.

There is, however, another class of wri­ters, to whom the answer above given, viz. the unsuitableness of any such appeals or references as the objection demands to the subjects of which the writings treated, does [Page 351] not apply; and that is, the class of ancient apologists, whose declared design it was, to defend Christianity, and to give the reasons of their adherence to it. It is necessary, therefore, to enquire how the matter of the objection stands in these.

The most ancient apologist, of whose works we have the smallest knowledge, is Quadratus. Quadratus lived about seventy years after the ascension, and presented his apology to the emperor Adrian. From a passage of this work, preserved in Eusebius, it appears that the author did directly and formally appeal to the miracles of Christ, and in terms as express and consident as we could desire. The passage (which has been once already stated) is as follows: "The works of our Saviour were always conspicu­ous, for they were real; both they that were healed, and they that were raised from the dead, were seen, not only when they were healed or raised, but for a long time after­wards; not only whilst he dwelled on this earth, but also after his departure, and for a [Page 352] good while after it; insomuch as that some of them have reached to our times *." No­thing can be more rational or satisfactory than this.

Justin Martyr, the next of the Christian apologists whose work is not lost, and who followed Quadratus at the distance of about thirty years, has touched upon passages of Christ's history in so many places, that a tolerably complete account of Christ's life might be collected out of his works. In the following quotation, he asserts the perform­ance of miracles by Christ, in words as strong and positive as the language possesses: "Christ healed those who from their birth were blind, and deaf, and lame; causing by his word, one to leap, another to hear, and a third to see: and having raised the dead, and caused them to live, he by his works excited attention, and induced the men of that age to know him. Who, however, see­ing these things done, said that it was a [Page 353] magical appearance; and dared to call him a magician, and a deceiver of the people *."

In his first apology , Justin expressly assigns the reason for his having recourse to the argument from prophecy, rather than alledging the miracles of the Christian his­tory: which reason was, that the persons with whom he contended would ascribe these miracles to magic; "lest any of our opponents should say, What hinders, but that he who is called Christ by us, being a man sprung from men, performed the mi­racles which we attributed to him by magi­cal art." The suggesting of this reason meets, as I apprehend, the very point of the present objection; more especially when we find Justin followed in it, by other writers of that age. Irenaeus, who came about forty years after him, notices the same evasion in the adversaries of Christianity, and re­plies to it by the same argument: "But, if [Page 354] they shall say, that the Lord performed these things by an illusory appearance [...], leading these objectors to the prophecies, we will shew from them, that all things were thus predicted concerning him, and strictly came to pass *." Lactan­tius, who lived a century lower, delivers the same sentiment, upon the same occasion. "He performed miracles—we might have supposed him to have been a magician, as ye say, and as the Jews then supposed, if all the prophets had not with one spirit fore­told that Christ would perform these very things ."

But to return to the Christian apologists in their order; Tertullian—"That person whom the Jews had vainly imagined, from the meanness of his appearance, to be a mere man, they afterwards, in consequence of the power he exerted, considered as a magician, when he, with one word, ejected devils out of the bodies of men, gave sight [Page 355] to the blind, cleansed the leprous, strengthen­ed the nerves of those that had the palsy, and lastly, with one command, restored the dead to life; when he, I say, made the very elements obey him, assuaged the storms, walked upon the seas, demonstrating him­self to be the word of God *."

Next in the catalogue of professed apolo­gists we may place Origen, who, it is well known, published a formal defence of Chris­tianity, in answer to Celsus, a heathen, who had written a discourse against it. I know no expressions, by which a plainer or more positive appeal to the Christian miracles can be made, than the expressions used by Ori­gen; "Undoubtedly we do think him to be the Christ, and the Son of God, because he healed the lame and the blind; and we are the more confirmed in this persuasion, by what is written in the prophecies, Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear, and the lame men shall [Page 356] leap as an hart. But that he also raised the dead, and that it is not a fiction of those who wrote the Gospels, is evident from hence, that, if it had been a fiction, there would have been many recorded to be raised up, and such as had been a long time in their graves. But, it not being a fiction, few have been recorded; for instance, the daugh­ter of the ruler of a synagogue, of whom I do not know why he said, she is not dead but sleepeth, expressing something peculiar to her, not common to all dead persons; and the only son of a widow, on whom he had compassion, and raised him to life, after he had bid the bearer of the corpse to stop; and the third Lazarus, who had been buried four days." This is positively to assert the miracles of Christ, and it is also to comment upon them, and that with a considerable de­gree of accuracy and candour.

In another passage of the same author *, we meet with the old solution of magic [Page 357] applied to the miracles of Christ by the ad­versaries of the religion. "Celsus," faith Origen, "well knowing what great works may be alledged to have been done by Jesus, pretends to grant that the things related of him are true; such as healing diseases, raising the dead, feeding multitudes with a few loaves, of which large fragments were left." And then Celsus gives, it seems, an answer to these proofs of our Lord's mission, which, as Origen understood it, resolved the pheno­mena into magic; for Origen begins his re­ply, by observing, "You see that Celsus in a manner allows that there is such a thing as magic *."

It appears also from the testimony of St. Jerome, that Porphyry, the most learned and able of the heathen writers against Christi­anity, resorted to the same solution: "Un­less," says he, speaking to Vigilantius, "ac­cording to the manner of the Gentiles, and [Page 358] the profane, of Porphyry and Eunomius, you pretend that these are the tricks of de­mons *."

This magic, these demons, this illusory appearance, this comparison with the tricks of jugglers, by which many of that age ac­counted so easily for the Christian miracles, and which answers, the advocates of Chris­tianity often thought it necessary to refute, by arguments drawn from other topics, and particularly from prophecy (to which, it seems, these solutions did not apply), we now perceive to be gross subterfuges. That such reasons were ever seriously urged, and seri­ously received, is only a proof, what a gloss and varnish fashion can give to any opi­nion.

It appears, therefore, that the miracles of Christ, understood, as we understand them, in their literal and historical sense, were po­sitively and precisely asserted and appealed [Page 359] to by the apologists for Christianity; which answers the allegation of the objection.

I am ready, however, to admit, that the ancient Christian advocates did not insist upon the miracles in argument, so frequently as I should have done. It was their lot to contend with notions of magical agency, against which the mere production of the facts was not sufficient for the convincing of their adversaries: I do not know whether they themselves thought it quite decisive of the controversy. But since it is proved, I conceive, with certainty, that the sparing­ness with which they appealed to miracles, was owing neither to their ignorance, nor their doubt of the facts, it is, at any rate, an objection, not to the truth of the history, but to the judgment of its defenders.

CHAP. VI. Want of universality in the knowledge and re­ception of Christianity, and of greater clear­ness in the evidence.

OF a revelation which really came from God, the proof, it has been said, would in all ages be so public and manifest, that no part of the human species would remain ig­norant of it, no understanding could fail of being convinced by it.

The advocates of Christianity do not pre­tend that the evidence of their religion pos­sesses these qualities. They do not deny, that we can conceive it to be within the compass of divine power, to have commu­nicated to the world a higher degree of as­surance, and to have given to his communi­cation a stronger and more extensive influ­ence. For any thing we are able to discern, [Page 361] God could have so formed men, as to have perceived the truths of religion intuitively; or to have carried on a communication with the other world, whilst they lived in this; or to have seen the individuals of the spe­cies, instead of dying, pass to heaven by a sensible translation. He could have pre­sented a separate miracle to each man's senses. He could have established a standing miracle. He could have caused miracles to be wrought in every different age and coun­try. These, and many more methods, which we may imagine, if we once give loose to our imaginations, are, so far as we can judge, all practicable.

The question, therefore, is not, whether Christianity possesses the highest possible de­gree of evidence, but whether the not hav­ing more evidence be a sufficient reason for rejecting that which we have.

Now there appears to be no fairer method of judging, concerning any dispensation which is alledged to come from God, when [Page 362] a question is made whether such a dispensa­tion could come from God or not, than by comparing it with other things, which are acknowledged to proceed from the same council, and to be produced by the same agency. If the dispensation in question la­bour under no defects but what apparently belong to other dispensations, these seeming defects do not justify us, in setting aside the proofs which are offered of its authenticity, if they be otherwise entitled to credit.

Throughout that order then of nature, of which God is the author, what we find is a system of beneficence, we are seldom or ever able to make out a system of optimism. I mean, that there are few cases in which, if we permit ourselves to range in possibili­ties, we cannot suppose something more per­fect, and more unobjectionable, than what we see. The rain which descends from hea­ven is confessedly amongst the contrivances of the Creator, for the sustentation of the animals and vegetables which subsist upon the surface of the earth. Yet how partially [Page 363] and irregularly is it supplied? How much of it falls upon the sea, where it can be of no use; how often is it wanted where it would be of the greatest? What tracts of continent are rendered desarts by the scarci­ty of it? Or, not to speak of extreme cases, how much, sometimes, do inhabited coun­tries suffer by its deficiency or delay?—We could imagine, if to imagine were our busi­ness, the matter to be otherwise regulated. We could imagine showers to fall, just where and when they would do good; al­ways seasonable, everywhere sufficient; so distributed as not to leave a field upon the face of the globe scorched by drought, or even a plant withering for the lack of mois­ture. Yet does the difference between the real case and the imagined case, or the seeming inferiority of the one to the other, authorize us to say, that the present disposition of the atmosphere is not amongst the productions or the designs of the Deity. Does it check the inference which we draw from the confessed beneficence of the provision? or does it make us cease to admire the contrivance?— [Page 364] The observation, which we have exemplified in the single instance of the rain of heaven, may be repeated concerning most of the phe­nomena of nature: and the true conclusion to which it leads is this, that to enquire what the Deity might have done, could have done, or, as we even sometimes presume to speak, ought to have done, or, in hypothetical cases, would have done, and to build any propo­sitions upon such enquiries against evidence of facts, is wholly unwarrantable. It is a mode of reasoning, which will not do in na­tural history, which will not do in natural religion, which cannot therefore be applied with safety to revelation. It may have some foundation, in certain speculative apriori ideas of the divine attributes; but it has none in experience, or in analogy. The general cha­racter of the works of nature is, on the one hand, goodness both in design and effect; and, on the other hand, a liability to diffi­culty, and to objections, if such objections be allowed, by reason of seeming incom­pleteness or uncertainty in attaining their end. Christianity participates of this character [Page 365] The true similitude between nature and revelation consists in this; that they each bear strong marks of their original; that they each also bear appearances of irre­gularity and defect. A system of strict optimism may nevertheless be the real system in both cases. But what I contend is, that the proof is hidden from us; that we ought not to expect to perceive that in revelation, which we hardly perceive in any thing; that beneficence, of which we can judge, ought to satisfy us, that optimism, of which we can­not judge, ought not to be sought after. We can judge of beneficence, because it de­pends upon effects which we experience, and upon the relation between the means which we see acting, and the ends which we see produced. We cannot judge of op­timism, because it necessarily implies a com­parison of that which is tried, with that which is not tried; of consequences which we see, with others which we imagine, and concerning many of which, it is more than probable we know nothing; concerning some, that we have no notion.

[Page 366] If Christianity be compared with the state and progress of natural religion, the argu­ment of the objector will gain nothing by the comparison. I remember hearing an unbeliever say, that, if God had given a re­velation, he would have written it in the skies. Are the truths of natural religion writ­ten in the skies, or in a language which every one reads? or is this the case with the most useful arts, or the most necessary sciences of human life? An Otaheitean or an Esqui­maux knows nothing of Christianity; does he know more of the principles of deism or morality? which, notwithstanding his igno­rance, are neither untrue, nor unimportant, nor uncertain. The existence of the Deity is left to be collected from observations, which every man does not make, which every man, perhaps, is not capable of mak­ing. Can it be argued, that God does not exist, because, if he did, he would let us see him; or discover himself to mankind by proofs (such as, we may think, the nature of the subject merited), which no inadvertency could miss, no prejudice withstand?

[Page 367] If Christianity be regarded as a providen­tial instrument for the melioration of man­kind, its progress and diffusion resembles that of other causes, by which human life is improved. The diversity is not greater, nor the advance more slow in religion, than we find it to be in learning, liberty, government, laws. The Deity hath not touched the or­der of nature in vain. The Jewish religion produced great and permanent effects: the Christian religion hath done the same. It hath disposed the world to amendment. It hath put things in a train. It is by no means improbable, that it may become uni­versal; and that the world may continue in that state so long as that the duration of its reign may bear a vast proportion to the time of its partial influence.

When we argue concerning Christianity, that it must necessarily be true, because it is beneficial, we go perhaps too far on one side: and we certainly go too far on the other, when we conclude that it must be false, be­cause it is not so efficacious as we could have [Page 368] supposed. The question of its truth is to be tried upon its proper evidence, without de­ferring much to this sort of argument, on either side. "The evidence," as Bishop Butler hath rightly observed, "depends up­on the judgment we form of human con­duct, under given circumstances, of which it may be presumed that we know something; the objection stands upon the supposed con­duct of the Deity, under relations with which we are not acquainted."

What would be the real effect of that over­powering evidence which our adversaries re­quire in a revelation, it is difficult to foretell; at least, we must speak of it as of a dispen­sation, of which we have no experience. Some consequences however would, it is pro­bable, attend this oeconomy, which do not seem to besit a revelation that proceeded from God. One is, that irresistible proof would restrain the voluntary powers too much; would not answer the purpose of trial and probation; would call for no exercise of candour, seriousness, humility, enquiry; no [Page 369] submission of passions, interests, and preju­dices, to moral evidence and to probable truth; no habits of reflection; none of that previous desire to learn, and to obey the will of God, which forms perhaps the test of the virtuous principle, and which induces men to attend, with care and reverence, to every credible intimation of that will, and to resign present advantages and present plea­sures to every reasonable expectation of pro­pitiating his favour. "Men's moral proba­tion may be, whether they will take due care to inform themselves by impartial con­sideration; and, afterwards, whether they will act as the case requires, upon the evi­dence which they have. And this, we find by experience, is often our probation in our temporal capacity *."

II. These modes of communication would leave no place for the admission of internal evidence; which ought, perhaps, to bear a considerable part in the proof of every revelation, [Page 370] because it is a species of evidence, which applies itself to the knowledge, love, and practice of virtue, and which operates in proportion to the degree of those quali­ties which it finds in the person whom it ad­dresses. Men of good dispositions, amongst Christians, are greatly affected by the im­pression which the scriptures themselves make upon their minds. Their conviction is much strengthened by these impressions. And this perhaps was intended to be one ef­fect to be produced by the religion. It is likewise true, to whatever cause we ascribe it (for I am not in this work at liberty to in­troduce the Christian doctrine of grace or assistance, or the Christian promise, "that, if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God *,")—it is true, I say, that they who sincerely act, or sincerely endeavour to act, according to what they believe, that is, according to the just result of the probabilities, or, if you please, the possibilities in natural and revealed [Page 371] religion, which they themselves perceive, and according to a rational estimate of conse­quences, and, above all, according to the just effect of those principles of gratitude and de­votion, which even the view of nature ge­nerates in a well-ordered mind, seldom fail of proceeding farther. This also may have been exactly what was designed.

Whereas may it not be said, that irresist­ible evidence would confound all characters, and all dispositions? would subvert, rather than promote, the true purpose of the divine councils, which is not to produce obedience by a force little short of mechanical con­straint (which obedience would be regula­rity not virtue, and would hardly perhaps differ from that which inanimate bodies pay to the laws impressed upon their nature), but to treat moral agents agreeably to what they are; which is done, when light and mo­tives are of such kinds, and are imparted in such measures, that the influence of them depends upon the recipients themselves? "It is not meet to govern rational free agents [Page 372] in viâ by sight and sense. It would be no trial or thanks to the most sensual wretch to forbear sinning if heaven and hell were open to his sight. That spiritual vision and fruition is our state in patriâ." (Baxter's Reasons, p. 357.) There may be truth in this thought, though roughly expressed. Few things are more improbable than that we (the human species) should be the high­est order of beings in the universe; that ani­mated nature should ascend from the lowest reptile to us, and all at once stop there. If there be classes above us of rational intelli­gences, clearer manifestations may belong to them. This may be one of the distinc­tions. And it may be one, to which we ourselves hereafter shall attain.

III. But thirdly; may it not also be asked, whether the perfect display of a future state of existence would be compatible with the activity of civil life, and with the success of human affairs? I can easily conceive that this impression may be overdone; that it may so seize and fill the thoughts, as to [Page 373] leave no place for the cares and offices of men's several stations, no anxiety for world­ly prosperity, or even for a worldly provi­sion, and, by consequence, no sufficient sti­mulus to secular industry. Of the first Christians we read, "that all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need; and, continuing daily with one ac­cord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with glad­ness and singleness of heart*." This was extremely natural, and just what might be expected, from miraculous evidence coming with full force upon the senses of mankind: but I much doubt, whether, if this state of mind had been universal, or long continued, the business of the world could have gone on. The necessary arts of social life would have been little cultivated. The plough and the loom would have stood still. Agri­culture, manufactures, trade, and navigation, [Page 374] would not, I think, have flourished, if they could have been exercised at all. Men would have addicted themselves to contem­plative and ascetic lives, instead of lives of business and of useful industry. We ob­serve that St. Paul found it necessary, fre­quently to recall his converts to the ordi­nary labours and domestic duties of their condition; and to give them, in his own example, a lesson of contented application to their worldly employments.

By the manner in which the religion is now proposed, a great portion of the hu­man species is enabled, and of these, multi­tudes of every generation are induced, to seek and to effectuate their salvation through the medium of Christianity, without inter­ruption of the prosperity, or of the regular course of human affairs.

CHAP. VII. The supposed Effects of Christianity.

THAT a religion, which, under every form in which it is taught, holds forth the final reward of virtue, and punishment of vice, and proposes those distinctions of vir­tue and vice, which the wisest and most cul­tivated part of mankind confess to be just, should not be believed, is very possible; but that, so far as it is believed, it should not produce any good, but rather a bad effect upon public happiness, is a proposition, which it requires very strong evidence to render credible. Yet many have been found to contend for this paradox, and very confi­dent appeals have been made to history, and to observation, for the truth of it.

In the conclusions, however, which these writers draw, from what they call experience, [Page 376] two sources, I think, of mistake, may be perceived.

One is, that they look for the influence of religion in the wrong place:

The other, that they charge Christianity with many consequences, for which it is not responsible.

1. The influence of religion is not to be sought for in the councils of princes, in the debates or resolutions of popular assemblies, in the conduct of governments towards their subjects, or of states and sovereigns towards one another; of conquerors at the head of their armies, or of parties intriguing for power at home (topics, which alone almost occupy the attention, and fill the pages of history); but must be perceived, if perceived at all, in the silent course of private and do­mestic life. Nay more; even there its in­fluence may not be very obvious to obser­vation. If it check, in some degree, per­sonal dissoluteness, if it beget a general probity [Page 377] in the transaction of business, if it pro­duce soft and humane manners in the mass of the community, and occasional exertions of laborious or expensive benevolence in a few individuals, it is all the effect which can offer itself to external notice. The king­dom of Heaven is within us. That which is the substance of the religion, its hopes and consolations, its intermixture with the thoughts by day and by night, the devotion of the heart, the control of appetite, the stea­dy direction of the will to the commands of God, is necessarily invisible. Yet upon these depend the virtue and the happiness of millions. This cause renders the represen­tations of history, with respect to religion, defective and fallacious, in a greater degree than they are upon any other subject. Re­ligion operates most upon those of whom history knows the least; upon fathers and mothers in their families, upon men servants and maid servants, upon the orderly trades­man, the quiet villager, the manufacturer at his loom, the husbandman in his fields. Amongst such its influence collectively may [Page 378] be of inestimable value, yet its effects in the mean time little, upon those who figure up­on the stage of the world. They may know nothing of it; they may believe nothing of it; they may be actuated by motives more impetuous than those which religion is able to excite. It cannot, therefore, be thought strange, that this influence should elude the grasp and touch of public history; for what is public history, but a register of the suc­cesses and disappointments, the vices, the follies, and the quarrels, of those who en­gage in contentions for power?

I will add, that much of this influence may be felt in times of public distress, and little of it in times of public wealth and se­curity. This also increases the uncertainty of any opinions that we draw from historical representations. The influence of Christi­anity is commensurate with no effects which history states. We do not pretend, that it has any such necessary and irresistible power over the affairs of nations, as to surmount the force of other causes.

[Page 379] The Christian religion also acts upon pub­lic usages and institutions, by an operation which is only secondary and indirect. Chris­tianity is not a code of civil law. It can only reach public institutions through pri­vate character. Now its influence upon private character may be considerable, yet many public usages and institutions, repug­nant to its principles, may remain. To get rid of these, the reigning part of the com­munity must act, and act together. But it may be long before the persons who com­pose this body, be sufficiently touched with the Christian character, to join in the sup­pression of practices, to which they and the public have been reconciled, by causes which will reconcile the human mind to any thing, by habit and interest. Nevertheless, the ef­fects of Christianity, even in this view, have been important. It has mitigated the con­duct of war, and the treatment of captives. It has softened the administration of despo­tic, or of nominally despotic governments. It has abolished polygamy. It has restrain­ed the licentiousness of divorces. It has put [Page 380] an end to the exposure of children, and the immolation of slaves. It has suppressed the combats of gladiators *, and the impu­rities of religious rites. It has banished, if not unnatural vices, at least the toleration of them. It has greatly meliorated the con­dition of the laborious part, that is to say, of the mass of every community, by pro­curing for them a day of weekly rest. In all countries, in which it is professed, it has produced numerous establishments for the relief of sickness and poverty; and, in some, a regular and general provision by law. It has triumphed over the slavery established in the Roman empire: it is contending, and, I trust, will one day prevail, against the worse slavery of the West Indies.

A Christian writer , so early as in the [Page 381] second century, has testified the resistance which Christianity made to wicked and li­centious practices, though established by law and by public usage. "Neither in Parthia, do the Christians, though Parthians, use po­lygamy; nor in Persia, though Persians, do they marry their own daughters; nor, among the Bactri or Galli, do they violate the sanc­tity of marriage; nor, wherever they are, do they suffer themselves to be overcome by ill-constituted laws and manners."

Socrates did not destroy the idolatry of Athens, or produce the slightest revolution in the manners of his country.

But the argument to which I recur is, that the benefit of religion being felt chiefly in the obscurity of private stations, necessa­rily escapes the observation of history. From the first general notification of Christianity to the present day, there have been in every age many millions, whose names were never heard of, made better by it, not only in their conduct, but in their disposition; and happier, [Page 382] not so much in their external circum­stances, as in that which is inter praecordia, in that which alone deserves the name of happiness, the tranquillity and consolation of their thoughts. It has been, since its commencement, the author of happiness and virtue to millions and millions of the hu­man race. Who is there that would not wish his son to be a Christian?

Christianity also, in every country in which it is professed, hath obtained a sensi­ble, although not a complete influence, up­on the public judgment of morals. And this is very important. For without the oc­casional correction which public opinion re­ceives, by referring to some fixed standard of morality, no man can foretell into what extravagancies it might wander. Assassina­tion might become as honourable as duel­ling; unnatural crimes be accounted as venial, as fornication is wont to be account­ed. In this way it is possible, that many may be kept in order by Christianity, who are not themselves Christians. They may [Page 383] be guided by the rectitude which it com­municates to public opinion. Their con­sciences may suggest their duty truly, and they may ascribe these suggestions to a mo­ral sense, or to the native capacity of the human intellect, when in fact they are no­thing more, than the public opinion reflect­ed from their own minds; an opinion, in a considerable degree, modified by the lessons of Christianity. "Certain it is, and this is a great deal to say, that the generality, even of the meanest and most vulgar and igno­rant people, have truer and worthier notions of God, more just and right apprehensions concerning his attributes and perfections, a deeper sense of the difference of good and evil, a greater regard to moral obligations and to the plain and most necessary duties of life, and a more firm and universal ex­pectation of a future state of rewards and punishments, than, in any heathen country, any considerable number of men were found to have had *."

[Page 384] After all, the value of Christianity is not to be appreciated by its temporal effects. The object of revelation, is to influence hu­man conduct in this life; but what is gained to happiness by that influence, can only be estimated by taking in the whole of human existeiice. Then, as hath already been ob­served, there may be also great consequences of Christianity, which do not belong to it as a revelation. The effects upon human salvation, of the mission, of the death, of the present, of the future agency of Christ, may be universal, though the religion be not universally known.

Secondly, I assert that Christianity is charged with many consequences for which it is not responsible. I believe that religi­ous motives have had no more to do, in the formation of nine-tenths of the intolerant and persecuting laws, which in different countries have been established upon the subject of religion, than they have had to do in England with the making of the game laws. These measures, although they have [Page 385] the Christian religion for their subject, are resolvable into a principle which Christi­anity certainly did not plant (and which Christianity could not universally condemn, because it is not universally wrong), which principle is no other than this, that they who are in possession of power do what they can to keep it. Christianity is answer­able for no part of the mischief which has been brought upon the world by persecu­tion, except that which has arisen from con­scientious persecutors. Now these perhaps have never been, either numerous, or pow­erful. Nor is it to Christianity that even their mistake can fairly be imputed. They have been misled by an error, not properly Christian or religious, but by an error in their moral philosophy. They pursued the particular, without adverting to the general consequence. Believing certain articles of faith, or a certain mode of worship, to be highly conducive, or perhaps essential to salvation, they thought themselves bound to bring all they could, by every means, into them. And this they thought, without [Page 386] considering what would be the effect of such a conclusion, when adopted amongst mankind as a general rule of conduct. Had there been in the New Testament, what there are in the Koran, precepts authorizing coercion in the propagation of the religion, and the use of violence towards unbeliev­ers, the case would have been different. This distinction could not have been taken, or this defence made.

I apologize for no species nor degree of persecution, but I think that even the fact has been exaggerated. The slave trade de­stroys more in a year, than the inquisition does in a hundred, or perhaps hath done since its foundation.

If it be objected, as I apprehend it will be, that Christianity is chargeable with every mischief, of which it has been the occasion, though not the motive; I answer, that, if the malevolent passions be there, the world will never want occasions. The noxious element will always sind a conductor. Any [Page 387] point will produce an explosion. Did the applauded intercommunity of the Pagan theology preserve the peace of the Roman world? Did it prevent oppressions, pro­scriptions, massacres, devastations? Was it bigotry that carried Alexander into the East, or brought Caesar into Gaul? Are the nations of the world, into which Chris­tianity hath not found its way, or from which it hath been banished, free from con­tentions? Are their contentions less ruinous and sanguinary? Is it owing to Christianity, or to the want of it, that the finest regions of the East, the countries inter quatuor maria, the peninsula of Greece, together with a great part of the Mediteranean coast, are at this day a desart? or that the banks of the Nile, whose constantly renewed fertility is not to be impaired by neglect, or destroyed by the ravages of war, serve only for the scene of a ferocious anarchy, or the supply of unceasing hostilities? Europe itself has known no religious wars for some centu­ries, yet has hardly ever been without war. Are the calamities, which at this day afflict [Page 388] it, to be imputed to Christianity? Hath Po­land fallen by a Christian crusade? Hath the overthrow in France, of civil order and security, been effected by the votaries of our religion, or by the foes? Amongst the awful lessons, which the crimes and the mi­series of that country afford to mankind, this is one, that, in order to be a persecutor, it is not necessary to be a bigot: that in rage and cruelty, in mischief and destruc­tion, fanaticism itself can be outdone by in­fidelity.

Finally, if war, as it is now carried on between nations, produce less misery and ruin than formerly, we are indebted per­haps to Christianity for the change, more than to any other cause. Viewed therefore even in its relation to this subject, it appears to have been of advantage to the world. It hath humanised the conduct of wars; it hath ceased to excite them.

The differences of opinion, that have in all ages prevailed amongst Christians, fall [Page 389] very much within the alternative which has been stated. If we possessed the disposition, which Christianity labours, above all other qualities, to inculcate, these differences would do little harm. If that disposition be want­ing, other causes, even were these absent, would continually rise up, to call forth the malevolent passions into action. Differ­ences of opinion, when accompanied with mutual charity, which Christianity forbids them to violate, are for the most part inno­cent, and for some purposes useful. They promote enquiry, discussion, and knowledge. They help to keep up an attention to reli­gious subjects, and a concern about them, which might be apt to die away in the calm and silence of universal agreement. I do not know that it is in any degree true, that the influence of religion is the greatest, where there are the fewest dissenters.

CHAP. VIII. The Conclusion.

IN religion, as in every other subject of human reasoning, much depends upon the order in which we dispose our enquiries. A man who takes up a system of divinity with a previous opinion that either every part must be true, or the whole false, ap­proaches the discussion with great disadvan­tage. No other system, which is founded upon moral evidence, would bear to be treat­ed in the same manner. Nevertheless, in a certain degree, we are all introduced to our religious studies under this prejudication. And it cannot be avoided. The weakness of the human judgment in the early part of youth, yet its extreme susceptibility of im­pression, renders it necessary to furnish it with some opinions, and with some princi­ples, or other. Or indeed, without much [Page 391] express care, or much endeavour for this purpose, the tendency of the mind of man, to assimilate itself to the habits of thinking and speaking which prevail around him, pro­duces the same effect. That indifferency and suspense, that waiting and equilibrium of the judgment, which some require in re­ligious matters, and which some would wish to be aimed at in the conduct of education, are impossible to be preserved. They are not given to the condition of human life.

It is a consequence of this situation that the doctrines of religion come to us before the proofs; and come to us with that mix­ture of explications and inferences from which no public creed is, or can be, free. And the effect which too frequently follows, from Christianity being presented to the un­derstanding in this form, is, that when any articles, which appear as parts of it, contra­dict the apprehension of the persons to whom it is proposed, men of rash and con­fident tempers hastily and indiscriminately reject the whole. But is this to do justice, [Page 392] either to themselves, or to the religion? The rational way of treating a subject of such acknowledged importance is to attend, in the first place, to the general and substan­tial truth of its principles, and to that alone. When we once feel a foundation; when we once perceive a ground of credibility in its history, we shall proceed with safety to en­quire into the interpretation of its records, and into the doctrines which have been de­duced from them. Nor will it either endan­ger our faith, or diminish or alter our mo­tives for obedience, if we should discover that these conclusions are formed with very diffe­rent degrees of probability, and possess very different degrees of importance.

This conduct of the understanding, dictat­ed by every rule of right reasoning, will up­hold personal Christianity, even in those countries in which it is established under forms, the most liable to difficulty and objec­tion. It will also have the further effect of guarding us against the prejudices which are wont to arise in our minds to the disadvantage [Page 393] of religion, from observing the nume­rous controversies which are carried on amongst its professors; and likewise of indu­cing a spirit of lenity and moderation in our judgment, as well as in our treatment, of those who stand, in such controversies, upon sides opposite to ours. What is clear in Christianity we shall find to be sufficient, and to be infinitely valuable; what is dubious, unnecessary to be decided, or of very subor­dinate importance; and what is most ob­scure, will teach us to bear with the opinions which others may have formed upon the same subject. We shall say to those who the most widely dissent from us, what Au­gustine said to the worst heretics of his age; "Illi in vos saeviant, qui nesciunt, cum quo labore verum inveniatur, et quam difficile caveantur errores—qui nesciunt, cum quantâ difficultate sanetur oculus interioris hominis—qui nesciunt, quibus suspiriis et gemitibus fiat, ut ex quantulacunque parte possit intelligi Deus *."

[Page 394] A judgment, moreover, which is once pretty well satisfied of the general truth of the religion, will not only thus discriminate in its doctrines, but will possess sufficient strength to overcome the reluctance of the imagination to admit articles of faith which are attended with difficulty of apprehension, if such articles of faith appear to be truly parts of the revelation. It was to be expect­ed beforehand, that what related to the oeco­nomy, and to the persons, of the invisible world, which revelation professes to do, and which, if true, it actually does, should con­tain some points remote from our analogies, and from the comprehension of a mind which hath acquired all its ideas from sense and from experience.

It hath been my care, in the preceding work, to preserve the separation between evidences and doctrines as inviolable as I could; to remove from the primary ques­tion all considerations which have been unnecessarily joined with it: and to offer a defence of Christianity, which every Christian [Page 395] might read, without seeing the tenets in which he had been brought up attacked or decried: and it always afforded a satisfaction to my mind to observe that this was practi­cable; that few or none of our many con­troversies with one another affect or relate to the proofs of our religion; that the rent never descends to the foundation.

The truth of Christianity depends upon its leading facts, and upon them alone. Now of these we have evidence which ought to satisfy us, at least until it appear that man­kind have ever been deceived by the same. We have some uncontested and incontesti­ble points, to which the history of the human species hath nothing similar to offer. A Jewish peasant changed the religion of the world, and that, without force, without power, without support; without one natural source or circumstance of attraction, influ­ence, or success. Such a thing hath not happened in any other instance. The com­panions of this person, after he himself had been put to death for his attempt, asserted [Page 396] his supernatural character, founded upon his supernatural operations; and, in testimony of the truth of their assertions, i. e. in conse­quence of their own belief of that truth, and in order to communicate the knowledge of it to others, voluntarily entered upon lives of toil and hardship, and, with a full expe­rience of their danger, committed themselves to the last extremities of persecution. This hath not a parallel. More particularly, a very few days after this person had been publicly executed, and in the very city in which he was buried, these his companions declared with one voice that his body was restored to life; that they had seen him, handled him, eat with him, conversed with him; and, in pursuance of their persuasion of the truth of what they told, preached his religion, with this strange fact as the foundation of it, in the face of those who had killed him, who were armed with the power of the country, and necessarily and naturally disposed to treat his followers as they had treated himself; and having done this upon the spot where the event took [Page 397] place, carried the intelligence of it abroad, in despite of difficulties and opposition, and where the nature of their errand gave them nothing to expect but derision, insult, and outrage. This is without example. These three facts, I think, are certain, and would have been nearly so, if the Gospels had never been written. The Christian story, as to these points, hath never varied. No other hath been set up against it. Every letter, every discourse, every controversy, amongst the followers of the religion; every book written by them, from the age of its com­mencement to the present time, in every part of the world in which it hath been professed, and with every sect into which it hath been divided (and we have letters and discourses written by contemporaries, by witnesses of the transaction, by persons themselves bear­ing a share in it, and other writings follow­ing that age in regular succession), concur in representing these facts in this manner. A religion, which now possesses the greatest part of the civilised world, unquestionably sprang up at Jerusalem at this time. Some account [Page 398] must be given of its origin; some cause as­signed for its rise. All the accounts of this origin, all the explications of this cause, whether taken from the writings of the early followers of the religion (in which, and in which perhaps alone, it could be expected that they should be distinctly unfolded) or from occasional notices in other writings of that or the adjoining age, either expressly alledge the facts above stated as the means by which the religion was set up, or advert to its commencement in a manner which agrees with the supposition of these facts being true, and which testifies their operation and effects.

These propositions alone lay a foundation for our faith; for they prove the existence of a transaction, which cannot even in its most general parts be accounted for, upon any reasonable supposition, except that of the truth of the mission. But the particulars, the detail of the miracles or miraculous pre­tences (for such there necessarily must have been) upon which this unexampled transaction [Page 399] rested, and for which these men acted and suffered as they did act and suffer, it is undoubtedly of great importance to us to know. We have this detail from the foun­tain head, from the persons themselves; in accounts written by eye-witnesses of the scene, by contemporaries and companions of those who were so; not in one book, but four, each containing enough for the verifi­cation of the religion, all agreeing in the fundamental parts of the history. We have the authenticity of these books established by more and stronger proofs than belong to almost any other ancient book whatever, and by proofs which widely distinguish them from any others claiming a similar au­thority to theirs. If there were any good reason for doubt concerning the names to which these books are ascribed (which there is not, for they were never ascribed to any other, and we have evidence not long after their publication of their bearing the names which they now bear), their antiquity, of which there is no question, their reputation and authority amongst the early disciples of [Page 400] the religion, of which there is as little, form a valid proof that they must, in the main at least, have agreed with what the first teachers of the religion delivered.

When we open these ancient volumes, we discover in them marks of truth, whether we consider each in itself, or collate them with one another. The writers certainly knew something of what they were writing about, for they manifest an acquaintance with local circumstances, with the history and usages of the times, which could only belong to an inhabitant of that country, living in that age. In every narrative we perceive simplicity and undesignedness; the air and the language of reality. When we compare the different narratives together, we find them so varying as to repel all suspicion of confederacy; so agreeing under this variety, as to shew that the accounts had one real transaction for their common foundation; often attributing different actions and discourses, to the per­son whose history, or rather memoirs of whose history, they profess to relate, yet [Page 401] actions and discourses so similar, as very much to bespeak the same character; which is a coincidence, that, in such writers as they were, could only be the consequence of their writing from fact, and not from imagination.

These four narratives are confined to the history of the founder of the religion, and end with his ministry. Since however it is certain that the affair went on, we cannot help being anxious to know how it pro­ceeded. This intelligence hath come down to us in a work purporting to be written by a person, himself connected with the busi­ness during the first stages of its progress, taking up the story where the former histo­ries had left it, carrying on the narrative, oftentimes with great particularity, and throughout with the appearance of good sense *, information and candour; stating [Page 402] all along the origin, and the only probable origin, of effects which unquestionably were produced, together with the natural conse­quences of situations which unquestionably did exist; and confirmed, in the substance at least of the account, by the strongest possible accession of testimony which a history can receive, original letters, written by the per­son who is the principal subject of the his­tory, written upon the business to which the history relates, and during the period, or soon after the period, which the history comprises. No man can say that this alto­gether is not a body of strong historical evidence.

When we reflect that some of those, from whom the books proceeded, are related to have themselves wrought miracles, to have been the subject of miracles, or of superna­tural assistance in propagating the religion, we may perhaps be led to think, that more credit, or a different kind of credit, is due to these accounts, than what can be claimed by merely human testimony. But this is an [Page 403] argument which cannot be addressed to sceptics or unbelievers. A man must be a Christian before he can receive it. The in­spiration of the historical scriptures, the na­ture, degree, and extent of that inspiration, are questions undoubtedly of serious discus­sion, but they are questions amongst Chris­tians themselves, and not between them and others. The doctrine itself is by no means necessary to the belief of Christianity, which must, in the first instance at least, depend upon the ordinary maxims of historical cre­dibility *.

In viewing the detail of miracles recorded in these books, we find every supposition negatived, by which they can be resolved into fraud or delusion. They were not se­cret, nor momentary, nor tentative, nor ambiguous; nor performed under the sanc­tion of authority, with the spectators on their side, or in affirmance of tenets and practices already established. We find also [Page 404] the evidence alledged for them, and which evidence was by great numbers received, different from that upon which other mira­culous accounts rest. It was contemporary, it was published upon the spot, it continued; it involved interests and questions of the greatest magnitude; it contradicted the most fixed persuasions and prejudices of the per­sons to whom it was addressed; it required from those who accepted it, not a simple indolent assent, but a change, from thence­forward, of principles and conduct, a fub­mission to consequences the most serious and the most deterring, to loss and danger, to insult, outrage, and persecution. How such a story should be false, or, if false, how un­der such circumstances it should make its way, I think impossible to be explained: yet such the Christian story was, such were the circumstances under which it came forth, and in opposition to such difficulties did it prevail.

An event so connected with the religion, and with the fortunes, of the Jewish people, [Page 405] as one of their race, one born amongst them, establishing his authority and his law throughout a great portion of the civilized world, it was perhaps to be expected, should be noticed in the prophetic writings of that nation; especially when this person, together with his own mission, caused also to be ac­knowledged, the divine original of their in­stitution, and by those who before had al­together rejected it. Accordingly we per­ceive in these writings, various intimations concurring in the person and history of Jesus, in a manner, and in a degree, in which passages taken from these books could not be made to concur, in any person arbitrarily assumed, or in any person, except him, who has been the author of great changes in the affairs and opinions of mankind. Of some of these predictions the weight depends a good deal upon the concurrence. Others possess great separate strength: one in parti­cular does this in an eminent degree. It is an entire description, manifestly directed to one character and to one scene of things: it is extant in a writing, or collection of [Page 406] writings, declaredly prophetic; and it applies to Christ's character, and to the circum­stances of his life and death, with consider­able precision, and in a way which no di­versity of interpretation hath, in my opi­nion, been able to confound. That the ad­vent of Christ, and the consequences of it, should not have been more distinctly reveal­ed in the Jewish sacred books, is, I think, in some measure accounted for by the conside­ration, that for the Jews to have foreseen the fall of their institution, and that it was to merge at length into a more perfect and comprehensive dispensation, would have cooled too much, and relaxed, their zeal for it, and their adherence to it, upon which zeal and adherence the preservation in the world of any remains, for many ages, of religious truth, might in a great measure depend.

Of what a revelation discloses to man­kind, one, and only one, question can pro­perly be asked, "Was it of importance to mankind to know, or to be better assured [Page 407] of?" In this question, when we turn our thoughts to the great Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, and of a future judgment, no doubt can possibly be enter­tained. He who gives me riches or ho­nours does nothing; he who even gives me health does little, in comparison with that which lays before me just grounds for ex­pecting a restoration to life, and a day of account and retribution: which thing Chris­tianity hath done for millions.

Other articles of the Christian faith, al­though of infinite importance when placed beside any other topic of human enquiry, are only the adjuncts and circumstances of this. They are however such as appear worthy of the original to which we ascribe them. The morality of the religion, whe­ther taken from the precepts or the example of its founder, or from the lessons of its primitive teachers, derived, as it should seem, from what had been inculcated by their master, is, in all its parts, wise and pure; neither adapted to vulgar prejudices, [Page 408] nor flattering popular notions, nor excusing established practices, but calculated, in the matter of its instruction, truly to promote human happiness, and, in the form in which it was conveyed, to produce impression and effect; a morality which, let it have pro­ceeded from any person whatever, would have been satisfactory evidence of his good sense and integrity, of the soundness of his understanding and the probity of his de­signs; a morality, in every view of it, much more perfect than could have been expect­ed from the natural circumstances and cha­racter of the person who delivered it; a mo­rality, in a word, which is, and hath been, most beneficial to mankind.

Upon the greatest therefore of all possible occasions, and for a purpose of inestimable value, it pleased the Deity to vouchsafe a miraculous attestation. Having done this for the institution, when this alone could fix its authority, or give to it a beginning, he committed its future progress to the natural means of human communication, and to the [Page 409] influence of those causes by which human conduct and human affairs are governed. The seed being sown, was left to vegetate; the leaven being inserted, was left to fer­ment; and both according to the laws of nature: laws, nevertheless, disposed and controlled by that Providence which con­ducts the affairs of the universe, though by an influence inscrutable, and generally un­distinguishable by us. And in this, Chris­tianity is analogous to most other provisions for happiness. The provision is made; and being made, is left to act according to laws, which, forming part of a more general sys­tem, regulate this particular subject, in com­mon with many others.

LET the constant recurrence to our obser­vation, of contrivance, design, and wisdom in the works of nature, once fix upon our minds the belief of a God, and after that all is easy. In the councils of a Being pos­sessed of the power and disposition which the Creator of the universe must possess, it is not improbable that there should be a [Page 410] future state; it is not improbable that we should be acquainted with it. A future state rectifies every thing; because if moral agents be made, in the last event, happy or miserable, according to their conduct in the station, and under the circumstances in which they are placed, it seems not very material by the operation of what causes, according to what rules, or even, if you please to call it so, by what chance or ca­price, these stations are assigned, or these circumstances determined. This hypothesis, therefore, solves all that objection to the divine care and goodness, which the promis­cuous distribution of good and evil (I do not mean in the doubtful advantages of riches and grandeur, but in the unquestion­ably important distinctions of health and sickness, strength and infirmity, bodily ease and pain, mental alacrity and depression) is apt on so many occasions to create. This one truth changes the nature of things: gives order to confusion: makes the moral world of a piece with the natural.

[Page 411] Nevertheless, a higher degree of assur­ance than that to which it is possible to ad­vance this, or any argument drawn from the light of nature, was necessary, especially to overcome the shock, which the imagina­tion and the senses receive, from the effects and the appearances of death; and the ob­struction which from thence arises to the expectation of either a continued or a fu­ture existence. This difficulty, although of a nature, no doubt, to act very forcibly, will be found, I think, upon reflection, to reside more in our habits of apprehension, than in the subject; and that the giving way to it, when we have any reasonable grounds for the contrary, is rather an indulging of the imagination, than any thing else. Abstract­edly considered, that is, considered without relation to the difference, which habit, and merely habit, produces in our faculties and modes of apprehension, I do not see any thing more in the resurrection of a dead man, than in the conception of a child; ex­cept it be this, that the one comes into his world with a system of prior consciousnesses [Page 412] about him, which the other does not: and no person will say, that he knows enough of either subject to perceive, that this cir­cumstance makes such a difference in the two cases, that the one should be easy, and the other impossible; the one natural, the other not so. To the first man the succes­sion of the species would be as incompre­hensible, as the resurrection of the dead is to us.

Thought is different from motion, per­ception from impact: the individuality of a mind is hardly consistent with the divisibi­lity of an extended substance; or its voli­tion, that is, its power of originating mo­tion, with the inertness which cleaves to every portion of matter, which our observa­tion or our experiments can reach. These distinctions lead us to an immaterial prin­ciple: at least, they do this; they so nega­tive the mechanical properties of matter, in the constitution of a sentient, still more of a rational being, that no argument, drawn from these properties, can be of any great [Page 413] weight in opposition to other reasons, when the question respects the changes of which such a nature is capable, or the manner in which these changes are effected. Whatever thought be, or whatever it depend upon, the regular experience of sleep makes one thing concerning it certain, that it can be completely suspended, and completely re­stored.

If any one find it too great a strain upon his thoughts, to admit the notion of a sub­stance strictly immaterial, that is, from which extension and solidity are excluded, he can find no difficulty in allowing, that a particle as small as a particle of light, minuter than all conceiveable dimensions, may just as easily be the depositary, the organ, and the vehicle of consciousness, as the congeries of animal substance, which forms a human body, or the human brain; that, being so, it may transfer a proper identity to whatever shall hereafter be united to it; may be safe amidst the destruction of its integuments; may connect the natural with the spiritual, [Page 414] the corruptible with the glorified body. If it be said, that the mode and means of all this is imperceptible by our senses, it is only what is true of the most important agencies and operations. The great powers of na­ture are all invisible. Gravitation, electri­city, magnetism, though constantly present, and constantly exerting their influence; though within us, near us, and about us; though diffused throughout all space, over­spreading the surface, or penetrating the contexture of all bodies with which we are acquainted, depend upon substances and ac­tions, which are totally concealed from our senses. The Supreme Intelligence is so himself.

But whether these, or any other attempts to satisfy the imagination, bear any resem­blance to the truth, or whether the imagi­nation, which, as I have said before, is the mere slave of habit, can be satisfied, or not; when a future state, and the revelation of a future state, is not only perfectly consistent with the attributes of the Being who governs [Page 415] the universe; but when it is more; when it alone removes the appearances of contra­riety, which attend the operations of his will towards creatures capable of comparative merit and demerit, of reward and punish­ment; when a strong body of historical evi­dence, confirmed by many internal tokens of truth and authenticity, gives us just rea­son to believe that such a revelation hath actually been made; we ought to set our minds at rest with the assurance, that, in the resources of creative wisdom, expedients cannot be wanted to carry into effect what the Deity hath purposed: that either a new and mighty influence will descend upon the human world, to resuscitate extinguished consciousness; or that, amidst the other wonderful contrivances with which the uni­verse abounds, and by some of which we see animal life, in many instances, assuming improved forms of existence, acquiring new organs, new perceptions, and new sources of enjoyment, provision is also made, though by methods secret to us (as all the great processes of nature are), for conducting the [Page 416] objects of God's moral government, through the necessary changes of their frame, to those final distinctions of happiness and misery, which he hath declared to be re­served for obedience and transgression, for virtue and vice, for the use and the neglect, the right and the wrong employment, of the faculties and opportunities, with which he hath been pleased, severally, to entrust, and to try us.


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