صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

b) The character of the first teachers of Christianity was, therefore, in itself calculated to arrest the attention of the primitive hearer and prepossess him in favor of their communications. But this interest was soon heightened, and this confidence increased by THE NATURE OF THE DOCTRINES WHICH THEY TAUGHT. The truths of the sacred volume relate either to doctrines to be believed, or changes of heart to be experienced, or to duties of life to be performed, and may therefore accurately be divided into doctrinal, experimental and practical. In all these departments of truth the primitive hearer was arrested, as he would naturally expect, by many things new, interesting and of eternal importance, and some things especially relating to God, which seemed to border on mystery. But as the truths concerning the divine being, which he had known and believed before, were of the same kind; as he could no more comprehend the mode of the divine omnipresence, the fact of which he had long believed, than the mode of the incarnation of the Son of God, and the trinity, which these new teachers inculcated, he considered this contiguous mystery as no objection. Each class of these truths, moreover, contained numerous positive evidences of divine origin. The doctrines which they taught, corrected the errors of both Jews and Gentiles, and supplied the deficiences of their religious systems. Instead of a God whose name was legion, being indeed many, the Christian religion taught the polytheistic heathen the existence of one living and true God-instead of idols of wood and stone, which their own hands had manufactured, it presented to them God as a spirit, pervading immensity with his presence, and beholding with omniscient eye the thoughts, words and deeds of all his creatures. Instead of the external homage through types and ceremonies at Jerusalem, it taught the Jew and Samaritan that the service of Je

1 For the full discussion of the relation of the trinity to reason, the consideration of which would in this place have interrupted the argument, the reader is referred to the article of the tri

hovah is not confined either to mount Gerizim or Jerusalem, but that God is a spirit, and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth, and may every where be found. Instead of the darkness and uncertainty which hung around the future destiny of man, it brought life and immortality to clearest light: it elevated the veil which separated between time and eternity, and spread before them in all their length and breadth, the future mansion of the blessed, as well as the doleful prison-house of the accursed. Above all it taught to every serious inquirer with a degree of clearness not to be misunderstood, and with an amplitude leaving nothing to be desired, a satisfactory answer to the momentous, the thrilling question, "what must I do to be saved?" The serious gentile found these doctrines so strongly commend themselves to his mind, and the reflecting Jew found them moreover so coincident with the doctrines of Moses and the prophets; that they felt the nature of this new religion combine with the character of its publishers, to arrest their attention and command their assent.

Nor could the changes of heart which Christianity required, appear unreasonable to the serious mind. That mankind were depraved creatures, prone to do and delight in that which they knew to be wrong, even the heathen had acknowledged. Now Christianity required, that this depraved heart should be so changed by the power of God, as to take delight in those holy occupations, which are best calculated to promote our happiness on earth, and must constitute the source of our felicity in heaven that we should be transformed into the image of God, and like him love holiness, delight in the prosperity of our fellowbeings, forgive our enemies and place our supreme affections on things above. That such a change must be conducive to happiness, that it was in every respect reasonable, the primitive hearer must have perceived; nor could the tender of its production, by the spirit of God, in all who would attend and obey the instructions of the apostles, be objectionable in his view.

The ethical system of Christianity in like manner must have made a favourable impression on the primitive hearer. The Jew found it elevating the standard of virtue far above the requisitions of Moses and the prophets,1 and saw his duty set forth in a light that could not fail to flash conviction into every serious, inquiring mind. The gentile found many of his imagined virtues blotted out from the catalogue, such as love of fame, self confidence, stoical apathy under suffering, hatred of enemies and suicide; and beheld their place supplied by milder, more humble and benevolent dispositions. The Christian religion inculcated love to enemies; taught its votary to bless those that cursed him, to do good to those that hate him, and pray for them who despitefully used him ;2 to love and do good to all mankind. It taught a path of duty adapted to the constitution of man, harmonizing fully with all his relations in life, requiring him to give unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and to discharge to God the duties which he owed to the great author of his being. The primitive hearer, therefore, found the truths proposed by the Saviour and his apostles, in themselves so new as to arrest their attention, so important as to excite their hopes and fears, so reasonable and plausible as to invite their belief. But these communications were accompanied by other circumstances, calculated still more to excite an interest in their bosoms and completely to command their belief.

c) Those who first preached these doctrines, declared, that God, who sent them, authenticated their mission by performing diverse miracles; and the primitive hearer actually witnessed such works with his own eyes. The miracles of the Saviour himself, who professed to be the Son of God, were not only first in order, but also most numerous, stupendous and important. But were they of such a nature, and performed under such

1 Matth. 5: 17. 21-22. 27. 28. 31. 32. 33. 34. &c.

2 Matth. 5: 43.

circumstances, as to be clear of all suspicion? How could the sincere inquirer doubt when even his enemies confessed, This man doth many miracles; when he knew that they were of the most various nature. He healed all kinds of sickness.1 He miraculously changed water into wine.2 He provided for Peter the piece of tribute money in the fish's mouth :3 and procured for him a miraculous draught of fishes. He walked upon the sea. He commanded the wind and waves and they obeyed." He miraculously fed at one time above four thousand, and at another five thousand persons, beside women and children.' He displayed divine foreknowledge. He raised the dead on several occasions, and finally he himself arose from the dead.10 It was also notorious, that these exhibitions of miraculous power, were not confined to one place, where Jesus might have enjoyed facilities for deception. Of some the theatre was Jerusalem, others were performed in the temple, others in Galilee, others in different towns and villages, and some the Saviour healed, whom he even did not see! Nor were his friends the only spectators of his miracles. Enemies of learning, ingenuity and virulence were often present; especially Judas, who had every possible opportunity to detect the supposed fraud, as well as every inducement to divulge it. And could any reflecting Jew for a moment indulge the supposition, that if the traitor had entertained the least suspicion, that Jesus was an impostor, he would have felt any compunction at having brought him to merited punishment; much less have brought back the money, acknowledged that he had betrayed innocent blood, and gone and hanged himself?

Nor could it have appeared possible, by any ingenuity whatever, to effect an imposition on his disciples and his enemies, with regard to the principal and most striking of all his miracles,

1 Matth. 4:23. 24.

4 Luke 5: 4-7.

7 Matth. 14: 21.

10 John 20. Luke 24: 1-40.

2 John 2:1-11.

5 Matth. 14: 25.

8 John 1: 49.50.

3 Matth. 17: 27.
6 Mark 4: 35-39.

9 John 11: 1—47.

his own resurrection from the dead. For, that he was truly dead was confessed by his most inveterate foes. When Joseph of Arimathea desired of Pilate the body of Jesus, Pilate would not grant his request, until, having inquired of the centurion, he found that Jesus had been dead some time. And the soldiers, who had been sent to break the legs of all three, brake the legs of the two malefactors, but coming to Jesus (we are told) "they brake not his legs, because he was dead already." And now when the Saviour had been committed to the tomb, what could any prudent inquirer, what could an enemy of the gospel wish, to make the evidence absolutely conclusive? Why that some cautious, discerning person, or better still some such enemy of Christ, could be there, and watch the grave during the eventful three days. Now all this, the first hearers of the apostles well knew, had actually been done. "The chief priests and pharisees came to Pilate saying, sir, we remember the deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command, therefore, that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, he is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first." How natural these suspicions! How exactly like what many at the present day would feel! We may then rest assured, these were the very persons who would not suffer an imposture to be practiced so much to their injury by which they would stand condemned as murderers of innocent blood. "Then said Pilate unto them, ye have a watch, go your way, make the grave as sure as ye can. So they went and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch." That the Saviour, however, notwithstanding all this precaution, actually arose from the dead, was a matter of absolute certainty to those whom the apostles first addressed; for he had frequently appeared to different persons, at one time to more than five hun

1 Matth. 27: 62-66.

[ocr errors]
« السابقةمتابعة »