صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

would have made to posterity a material defect in the history, and greatly impaired its evidence. In regard to the fifth, it is sufficient to observe, that without naming the traitor, justice could not have been done to the eleven. Whereas, of those scribes and Pharisees who bargained with Judas, of the men who apprehended Jesus, of the officer who struck him on the face at his trial, of the false witnesses who deposed against him, of those who afterwards spat upon him, buffeted and mocked him, of those who were loudest in crying, Away with him! crucify him! Not this man, but Barabbas ! of those who supplied the multitude with the implements of their mockery, the crown of thorns, the reed, and the scarlet robe, of those who upbraided him on the cross with his inability to save himself, or of the soldier who pierced his side with a spear, no name is given by any of the historians.

Now this reserve in regard to the names of those who were the chief instruments of his sufferings is the more observable, as the names of others, to whom no special part is attributed, are mentioned without hesitation. Thus Malchus, whose ear Peter cut off, and who was immediately after miraculously cured by Jesus, is named by John; but nothing further is told of him, than that he was present when our Lord was seized, and that he was a servant of the high-priest. Simon, the Cyrenian, who carried the cross, is named by no fewer than three of the evangelists; but we are also informed, that in this service he did not act voluntarily, but by compulsion. Joseph of Arimathca and Nicodemus are the only members of the sanhedrim, except the high-priest, who are mentioned by name; but they were the only persons of that body who did not concur in condemning the Son of God, and who, though once fearful and secret disciples, assumed the resolution to display their affection at a time when no one else ventured openly to acknowledge him. Our Lord's biographers, whilst they were thus. far ready to do justice to merit, avoid naming any man without necessity, of whom they have nothing to say that is not to his dishonour. To the virtuous and good, they conciliate our esteem and love, an effectual method of raising our admiration of virtue and goodness, and exciting in us a noble emulation; but our contempt and hatred they direct against the crimes, not against the persons of men; against vices, not against the vicious; aware that this last direction is often of the most dangerous tendency to Christian charity, and consequently to genuine virtue. They showed no disposition to hold up any man to the Christians of their own time as an object of either their fear or their abhorrence, or to transmit his name with infamy to posterity.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The evangelists Matthew and John, being apostles, were eye-witnesses of most of the things they have related. They attended our Lord during his ministry; they heard him preach all his sermons, and saw him perform the greatest part of his miracles ; they were present at his crucifixion; they conversed with him after his resurrection and they beheld his ascension. Besides, as apostles, they possessed the gifts of illumination and utterance. By the former, they were absolutely secured from falling into error in any point of doctrine or matter of fact relating to the Christian scheme. By the latter, they were enabled to express themselves clearly and pertinently upon every subject of Christianity which they had occasion to treat of, either in their sermons or writings. These gifts our Lord had expressly promised to all his apostles. [John xiv. 25.] These things have 1 spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Com forter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you. So likewise, after his resurrection, [Luke xxiv. 49.] And chold I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until be y€ endued with power from on high.

But

Farther, the apostles of the Lord spake by inspiration also, in ail the courts of justice and assemblies where they happened to be tried. This privilege their Master promised them very early. For when he sent them out on their first mission, he told them they were to be brought before kings and rulers for his name's sake; and forbade them to meditate beforehand what or how they should speak, assuring them that the Spirit would inspire them to make proper defences in behalf of themselves, and of the cause they were engaged to support. [Mat. x. 18..20.] And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak; for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. This promise Jesus renewed to his apostles a little before his passion. [Mark xiii. 11.] But when they shall lead you and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate; but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. Nay, on another occasion, he seems to have extended the promise of inspiration to all the disciples, who, at that time, were to be employed in preaching the gospel, and who thereby might be exposed to persecution. See Luke xii. 1, 11, 12. The whole of these promises were punctually fulfilled. For about ten days after our Lord's ascension, the disciples received the Holy Ghost while they tarried in Jerusalem, according to their Master's order, in expectation of being endued with power from on high. Thus we are told, Acts ii. 3, that while the disciples were gathered together, the Spirit descended in the visible symbol of fire, which rested upon each of them, to denote the indwelling of the Spirit with them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost: they were inspired with the knowledge of the Christian religion, and had all things that were either said or done by their Master brought to their remembrance, according to his promise. From that moment forth the Spirit gave clear indications of the reality of his presence with the disciples; for he enabled them all at once to speak the various languages under heaven as fluently as if they had been their native tongues, and thereby qualified them to preach the gospel in all countries immediately upon their arrival, without the necessity of submitting to the tedious and irksome labour of learning the languages of those countries. Moreover, he gave them the power of working all manner of miracles; nay, he enabled them to impart unto those whom they converted, the power of working miracles also, and the faculty of speaking with tongues, and of prophesying, and of preaching by inspiration. The apostles of the Lord, having such convincing proofs of their inspiration always abiding with them, they did not fail, on proper occasions, to assert it, that mankind might every where receive their doctrine and writings with that submission which is due to the dictates of the Spirit of God. Hence we find them calling the gospel which they preached and wrote, The word of God, The commandment of God, The wisdom of God, The testimony of God; also, The word of Christ, The gospel of Christ, The mind of Christ, The mystery of God the Father, and of Christ. Wherefore Matthew and John, being apostles, and having received the gift of the Spirit with the rest of their brethren, there can be no doubt of their inspiration. Their gospels were written under the direction of the Holy Ghost, who resided in them; and, upon that account, they are venerated by all Christians as the word of God, and have deservedly a place allowed them in the sacred canon.

The characters of Mark and Luke come next to be considered. They were not apostles, it is true; yet they were qualified to write such a history of our Lord's life as merits a place in the canon of scripture. For as they were, in all probability, carly disciples, they may have been eye-witnesses of most of the things which they

have related. Nay, they may have been in the apostles' company on the day of Pentecost, and may have received the gifts of the Spirit together with them, consequently they may have written by inspiration also. A tradition recorded by Epiphanius, that Mark was of the number of the seventy disciples, seems to favour these suppositions. However, if they are not admitted, this must be granted, that the evangelists whom we are speaking of accompanied the apostles in their travels. This matter is certain with respect to Luke; for, in his history of the Acts, he speaks of himself as Paul's companion; and, in the preface to his gospel, he expressly mentions the information of the ministers of the word, to lead us, as Dr. Macknight imagines, to think of Paul, with whom he had long travelled, and who had not the knowledge of Christ's history by personal acquaintance, but by revelation. [See Gal. i. 11, 12, 1 Cor. xi. 23.] As for Mark, he is generally reported by autiquity, and currently believed to have been Peter's assistant. And in conformity to this opinion, all interpreters, both antient and modern, suppose that Peter speaks of Mark the evangelist, l'epist. v. 13. The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, salutes you; and so doth Marcus, my son. This appellation Peter gives to Mark, because of the great intimacy and friendship which subsisted between them, agreeable to the apostle's description of Timothy's affection. [Phil. ii. 22.] But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel. If Mark was Peter's companion and fellowlabourer in the gospel, although he was neither an apostle nor an eye-witness, he must have been well acquainted with our Lord's history, because he could not but learn it from the conversation and sermons of Peter, who was both. Wherefore, to use the words of Luke, since these evangelists took in hand to write the history of our Lord's life according to the information which they had received from the eye-witnesses and ministers of the word, and executed their design while they accompanied the persons from whom they received those informations, we may reasonably suppose they would submit their works to their examination. Accordingly, Clemens Alexandrinus, quoted by Euseb. vi. 14, tells us, that Mark's gospel was revised by Peter. And Mr. Jones, in support of this opinion, has collected eight particulars from the other gospels, all tending to the honour of Peter, which are entirely omitted by Mark, because Peter's humility, as he supposes, would not allow him to tell these things to that historian. But if it be true that Mark and Luke wrote according to the information of the apostles, and had their gospels revised by them, it is evidently the same as if the gospels had been dictated by the apostles.

However, though none of all the suppositions just now mentioned should be granted, there is one unquestionable matter of fact which fully establishes the authority of the two gospels under consideration, namely, that they were written by the persons whose names they bear, and while most of the apostles were alive. For, in that case, they must have been perused by the apostles, and approved, as is certain from their being universally received in the earliest ages, and handed down to posterity as of undoubted authority. The apostolical approbation was the only thing, without the inspiration of the writers, which could give these books the reputation they have obtained. And had it been wanting in any degree, they must have shared the fate of the many accounts which Luke speaks of in his preface; that is, must have been neglected either as imperfect or spurious, and so have quickly perished. But if the gospels of Mark and Luke were approved by the apostles immediately upon their publication, and, for that reason, were received by all Christians, and handed down to posterity as of undoubted authority, it is the same as if they had been dictated by the apostles. Hence they are justly reckoned of equal authority with the other books of scripture, and admitted into the canon together with them. Such proofs as these, drawn from

"

the sacred writings themselves, are sufficient to make all Christians reverence the gospels as the word of God; and therefore they are fitly produced for the confirmation of our faith. But in arguing with infidels who look on the sacred writings as the works of impostors, the reasoning must proceed upon different topics.

The history of Jesus Christ, contained in the writings of the evangelists, may be proved to be credible for the following reasons.

These writings were published very near the times in which Jesus Christ, whose history they contain, is said to have lived. There are three arguments which prove this.

1. The writers of the age immediately following that in which our Lord lived, and of the subsequent ages down to our times, have mentioned the four gospels expressly by their names, have cited many passages out of them, and made numberless allusions both to facts and expressions contained in them, as unto things known and believed by all Christians, which they could not possibly have done had the gospels not been extant at the time we affirm. Farther, by the same succession of writers still remaining, it appears, that at and from the time when we suppose the gospels were published, peculiar regard was paid to them by all Christians; they believed them to contain the only authentic records of Christ's life, and read them with the other scriptures in all their public assemblics. Hence translations of them were very early made into many different languages, some of which are still remaining. Moreover, exhortations to the people were drawn from them, every doctrine claiming belief was proved out of them, whatever was contrary to them was rejected as erroneous, they were appealed to as the standard in all the disputes which Christians had among themselves, and by arguments drawn from them they confuted heretics and false teachers. That we learn these particulars concerning the gospels from the writings of Christians does not weaken the argument in the least; because if those writings arc as antient as is commonly believed, be their authors who they will, they necessarily prove the gospels to have been written at the time we suppose. If it is replied that the writings appealed to for the antiquity of the gospels are themselves forged, the answer is, that, being cited by the writers of the age which immediately followed them, and they again by subsequent writers, they cannot be thought forgeries, unless it is affirmed that all the books that ever were published by Christians are such, which is evidently ridiculous and impossible. Besides, an affirmation of this kind will appear the more absurd, when it is considered the enemies of Christianity themselves bear testimony to the antiquity of the gospels, particularly Porphyry, Julian, Hierocles, and Celsus, who draw several of their objections against the Christian religion from passages of our Lord's history contained in the gospels. The truth is, these books, being carly written, and of general concerument, were eagerly sought after by all, the copies of them multiplied fast, spread far, and came into the hands both of friends and foes; which is the reason that we have more antient manuscript copies of the gospels still remaining, than of any other part of the sacred writings, or even of any other antient book whatsoever.

2. The gospels were published very near the times in which Jesus is said to have lived; because the authors of the gospels call themselves his contemporaries, and affirm that they were eye and ear-witnesses of the transactions they relate, that they had a chief hand in several of them, and that all of them had happened but a few years before they wrote. Had these things been false, as soon as the books which contained them came abroad, every reader must at once have discovered the fraud, and, by that means, the books themselves must have been universally condemned as mischievous forgeries, and altogether neglected. Whereas, it is well known that they gained

universal belief, that they were translated into many different languages, and that copies of them were preserved with the greatest care by those into whose hands they

came.

3. In every instance where the evangelists had occasion to mention the manners and customs of the country which was the scene of their history, they have accurately described them; and as often as their subject led them to speak of Jewish affairs, they have done it in such a manner as to shew that they were perfectly acquainted with them. But, considering how extremely fluctuating the posture of affairs among the Jews was in that period, by reason of their intercourse with the Romans, such au exact knowledge of all the changes which happened could not possibly have entered into the supposititious work of any recent impostor. To have acquired such knowledge, the historian must both have been on the spot, and have lived near the times that are the subjects of his history, which is what we contend for in behalf of the evangelists.

These arguments prove that the gospels were published very near the time wherein they say our Lord lived. If so, they must be acknowledged to contain a true history of his life. For had any thing been told of him that was not consistent with the knowledge of his countrymen then living, it was in every one's power to have discovered and exposed the fraud. The great transactions of Christ's life, as they stand recorded in the gospels, were of the most public nature, and what the whole inhabitants of Judea were concerned in, especially the rulers and priests. His miracles are affirmed to have been performed openly, oftentimes before crowds, and in the great towns as well as in remote corners; nay, in the temple itself, under the eye of the grandecs, and that during the space of four years. Persons of all ranks and of all sects are introduced, acknowledging the truth of them. His enemies, however bitter, did not deny them, but ascribed them to the assistance of demons. Even the chief priests and Pharisees themselves are said to have confessed to one another that he did many miracles, and that if they let him alone all men would believe on him. In some instances, the subjects of his miracles were carried before the magistrates, whose examination rendered those miracles more public and unquestionable. On one occasion, ten thousand people, and, on another, eight thousand, are said to have been miraculously fed by him, many of whom must have been still alive when the gospels appeared. He was tried by the supreme council of the Jews, examined by the tetrarch of Galilee and his captains, condemned by the Roman governor, and put to death in the metropolis at the chief religious solemnity of the Jews, before all the people who had come up from the different quarters of the country to worship. If these and the like particulars, found in the gospels, had been fictitious, it is natural to think that the Jews, not only in their own country, but every where else, would have disclaimed the facts, both in conversation and writing, immediately upon the first appearance of the books which asserted them, when they could easily have confuted them, the persons of whom such falsehoods were told being many of them then alive; and, by so doing, might have suppressed the Christian religion at once, which most of them looked upon with abhorrence, as an impious schism, diametrically opposite to the institutions of Moses. Yet it does not appear that any of them went this way to work, neither Jew not Gentile, in the earliest ages, attempting to fix the stain of falsehood on the evangelists, or to disprove any of the facts contained in their histories. The truth is, the gospels. were permitted to go abroad every where without being called in question by any person; which could be owing to no cause whatsoever, but to the general belief which then prevailed, and to the particular persuasion of every individual capable of judging

« السابقةمتابعة »