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in such matters, that all the passages of the gospel history exhibited things certain aad indubitable.
In the second place, the gospels are credible for this reason, that the principal facts. contained in them are vouched, not only by all the Christian writers now remaining from the earliest ages down to the present time, but by the Jewish writers also, and even by the heathens themselves. For that Jesus Christ lived in Judea under the reign of the emperor Tiberius, both Tacitus, and Suetonius, and the younger Pliny testify. That he gathered disciples, was put to death in an ignominious manner by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, and that after his death he was worshipped as a god, the same authors affirm. Nor does Porphyry himself, nor Julian the emperor, nor any other of the antient enemies of Christianity, deny these things. On the contrary, they plainly acknowledge that miracles were done by Jesus and his apostles and, by ascribing them to the power of magic, or to the assistance of demons, which was the solution given by Christ's enemies in his own life-time, they have left us no room to doubt of the sincerity of their acknowledgments. The writers, likewise, of the Talmudical books among the Jews acknowledge the principal transactions of Christ's life; for they durst not contradict, nor even pretend to doubt of facts so universally known. But they ridiculously imputed them to his having the true writings of the name JEHOVAH in his possession, which they said he stole out of the temple. In short, as Grotius has well expressed it, there is no history in the world more certain and indubitable than this, which is supported by the concurring testimony, not to say of so many men, but of so many different nations, divided indeed among themselves in other particulars, but all agreeing in acknowledging the truth of the matters contained in the gospels
In the third place, the gospels are credible, because the principal facts contained in them are confirmed by monuments of great fame subsisting in every Christian country at this very day. For instance, baptism, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the rite by which, from the beginning, men have been initiated into the profession of Christianity, keeps up the remembrance of Christ's having taught those sublime truths concerning the Father Almighty, the Eternal Son, and the Holy Spirit the Comforter, with which the world is now enlightened, as the gospels inform us. The Lord's supper, celebrated frequently by all believers, prevents the memory of Christ's death from being lost in any age or country of the world. The stated observation of the first day of the week, in honour of Christ's resurrection from the dead, hinders that grand event from falling into oblivion. And as these monuments perpetuate the memory, so they demonstrate the truth of the facts contained in the gospel history. For if Jesus Christ neither lived, nor taught, nor wrought miracles, nor died, nor rose again from the dead, it is altogether incredible that so many men, in countries so widely distant, should have conspired together to perpetuate such a heap of falsehoods, by beginning the observation of those institutions of baptism, and the Lord's supper, and the sabbath: incredible likewise, that by continuing the observation of them, they should have imposed those falsehoods upon their posterity. Nor is this all: the truth of the gospel history is demonstrated by a monument of greater fame still, namely, the sudden conversion of a great part of the world from Judaism, and from the many different forms of heathenism, to Christianity, effected in all countries, notwithstanding the sword of the magistrate, the craft of the priests, the passions of the people, and the pride of the philosophers, were closely combined to support their several national forms of worship, and to crush the Christian faith. Had this total overthrow of all the religions then subsisting been brought to pass by the force of arms, the influence of authority, or the
refinements of policy, it had been less to be wondered at. Whereas, having been accomplished by the preaching of twelve illiterate fishermen and their assistants, who were wholly destitute of the advantages of birth, learning, and fortune, and who, by condemning the established religions of all countries, were every where looked upon as the most flagitious of men, and opposed accordingly with the utmost virulence by all, it is inconceivable how the world could be converted, if the facts recorded in the gospels were false. And what makes this monument of the truth of our Lord's history very remarkable is, that the world was thus converted in an age justly celebrated for the height to which learning and the polite arts were carried by the Greeks and Romans, the renowned masters of the sciences. Nay, which is still more remarkable, almost the very first triumphs of the Christian religion were in the heart of Greece itself. For churches were soon planted at Corinth, at Thessalonica, and at Philippi, as is evident from Paul's epistles directed to the churches in these cities. Even Rome itself, the seat of wealth and empire, was not able to resist the force of truth, many of its inhabitants embracing the Christian faith. Nor was it the lower sort of people only in those cities which first became Christians. Among the early converts, we find men of the highest rank and character, such as Sergius Paulus, proconsul of Cyprus; Erastus, treasurer of Corinth; Dionysius, a member of the senate of Areopagus in Athens; nay, and the domestics of the emperor himself: all of them persons whose education qualified them to judge of an affair of this kind, and whose offices and stations rendered them conspicuous. In process of time, it was not a single person of figure in this city or that nation who obeyed the gospel, but multitudes of the wise, the learned, the noble, and the mighty, in every country, who, being all fully convinced of the truth of the gospel, and impressed with the deepest sense of Christ's dignity, worshipped him as God, notwithstanding he had been punished with the ignominious death of a malefactor, and they themselves had been educated in the belief of other religions, to desert which they had not the smallest temptation from views of interest; but strongly the contrary, inasmuch as by becoming Christians they denied themselves many sensual gratifications which their own religious indulged them in, lost the affections of their dearest friends who persisted in their antient errors, and exposed themselves to all manner of sufferings in their persons, reputations, and fortunes. Add to this, that although the conversion of the world was sudden, it was not on that account unstable, or of short continuance. For the Christian religion has remained to this day in full vigour, during the course of above eighteen hundred years, notwithstanding its enemies every where strenuously attacked it both with arguments and arms. Upon the whole, monuments so remarkable still subsisting in the world loudly proclaim the truth of the gospel history, because their original cannot be accounted for on any supposition but this, that the reports contained in the gospel concerning the doctrines, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, after the strictest scrutiny which those who lived nearest to the time and place of action would make, were found to rest on proofs not to be gainsayed. And to entertain the least suspicion of the contrary is to suppose, that when the gospel was first preached all mankind in every country had renounced the common principles of sense and reason, or, in other words, were absolutely mad.
In the fourth place, the character of the evangelists, both as writers and men, renders their history credible in the highest degree. They were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word, that is, of the things which they preached and wrote of, relating scarce any thing but what they either saw, or heard, or performed themselves. Now these being all matters obvious to sense, in judging of them, neither acuteness of genius nor depth of learning were necessary; but only a sound understanding, a faithful
memory, and organs of sense rightly disposed. Wherefore, though the evangelists were vulgar and illiterate men, the subject of their gospels being, for the most part, matters fallen under the cognizance of sense, and in many of which they were themselves actors, they could not possibly be mistaken in them. And as they could not themselves be deceived in the things of which they wrote, so neither can it be imagined that they had any design to deceive the world. For it is well known that impostors always propose to themselves some reward of their fraud, riches, it may be, or honours, or power. If so, those who think the evangelists impostors ought to shew what advantages they promised to themselves by imposing upon the world such a story as their gospels. It is well known that these men set themselves in opposition to all the religions then in being, and required the express renunciation of them under the severest penalties, and, by so doing, made all the world their enemies. Hence it came to pass, that, instead of amassing riches, or wallowing in luxury, the first Christians, but especially the ringleaders of the sect of the Nazarenes, as they were called, the apostles and evangelists, were every where oppressed with poverty, hunger, nakedness, and wretchedness. Instead of high offices of trust and power, the bitterest persecutions awaited them in all places, and death itself in its most terrible forms. Nor did these things befal them beyond their own expectations, by reason of cross accidents thwarting well laid schemes. They knew what was to happen; their Master foretold it to them [Mat. x. 16..28, xxiv. 9, Luke xii. 11, John xvi. 1..4.]; and they themselves expected no other things. [Acts xx. 22..24, 1 Cor. iv. 9, &c.] Now can it be imagined, that with the known loss of all that is dear in life, with the constant peril of death, and with the certain prospect of damnation, a number of men in their right wits should have propagated what they were sensible was a gross falsehood, and have persisted in the fraud even to death, sealing their testimony with their blood? No: this is a pitch of folly of which human nature is not capable. And therefore we must acknowledge that the evangelists, and all the first witnesses of our Lord's miracles and doctrine, who, by the providence of God, were generally thus brought to seal their testimony with their blood, were fully persuaded of the truth of what they published in their sermons and writings. It is not to the purpose to reply that enthusiasts have suffered persecution, and even death, in support of false opinions. For although a person's dying for his opinions does not prove their truth, it certainly proves the martyr's persuasion of the truth of his opinions. Let this be granted in the case of the evangelists, and the controversy is at an end. For if they themselves really believed what they wrote, and could not possibly have any intention to deceive us, their gospels must doubtless be true, the things contained in them being generally matters obvious to sense, which enthusiasm could by no means discolour, and in judging of which persons of the meanest capacities could not be deceived.
In the last place, the perfect agreement subsisting between the gospels rightly understood, is a circumstance which heightens their credibility not a little. The apparent inconsistencies observable in some of the narrations, when compared, prove undeniably that the evangelists were in no combination to make up their histories and deceive the world. In many instances, these inconsistencies are of such a kind, as would lead one to believe that the subsequent historians did not compare the accounts of particular transactions which they were about to publish with those that were already abroad in the world. Each evangelist represented the matters which are the subjects of his history as his own memory, under the direction of the Spirit, suggested them to him, without considering how far they might be agreeable to the accounts of his brethren historians. At the same time, the easy and full reconciliation of these inconsistencies, which arises from a proper knowledge of the gospels. and of the mannera
and customs of antiquity, proves that the writers were directed by the sober spirit of truth.
By the force of these and such-like arguments has the gospel history gained a belief next to universal in ages past; and by these, it stands at present firmly established against the violent attacks of its enemies, who, with unwearied application, are assaulting it on all quarters. In a word, founded upon these arguments, it can never be overturned in any age to come; but while men are capable of discerning, truth will be believed and received to the end of the world.
We shall now proceed to collect what hints we may meet with either in the New Testament or in ecclesiastical writings, relating to the history of the four evangelists after their writing of the gospels.
Of Matthew it is related upon doubtful authority, that, after having preached the gospel with great success in Egypt and Ethiopia, he was thrust through with a
Mark is asserted by Eusebius to have made many converts in Egypt, whom he supposes to have been remarked by Philo on account of the extraordinary severity of their lives. He is said to have suffered martyrdom in the city of Alexandria, having been first dragged about the streets with ropes, and then consumed in the fire.
Concerning Luke we know certainly, that, besides his gospel, he wrote another very valuable history entitled the Acts of the Apostles. The exact time of his writing this book is not known; but it must have been at least two years after Paul's arrival at Rome, because he informs us that Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house. Perhaps he wrote it while he remained with the apostle during his imprisonment. Luke, says a modern writer, is pure, copious, and flowing in his language, and has a wonderful and entertaining variety of select circumstances in his narration of our Saviour's divine actions. He acquaints us with numerous passages of the evangelical history not related by any other evangelist: both in his gospel and apostolical Acts, he is accurate and neat, clear and flowing with a natural and easy grace: his style is admirably accommodated to the design of history; it has a very considerable resemblance to that of his great master St. Paul; and, like him, he had a learned and liberal education, and appears to have been very conversant with the best classics; for many of his words and expressions are exactly similar to theirs. He is supposed to have died a natural death in the eightieth or eighty-fourth year of his age, about the year of our Lord 70; but some assert him to have been hanged.
John is believed to have been the writer of the three epistles which bear his name, and the Revelations. It is remarkable, that none of the three epistles which are. ascribed to John contain the name of that apostle. The reader may therefore be desirous of ascertaining by what arguments they are proved to be his writing, and upon what authority they are received into the sacred canon. To these questions we reply, 1. That which is called the first epistle of John has been universally ascribed to him by the most antient Christian writers, who, from the time in which they lived, were the most capable of deciding concerning its genuineness. This is confirmed by the conduct of the ancient Syriac translator, who rendered the first of John into that language for the benefit of the Jewish believers. 2. On a careful comparison of the epistle and gospel, the most striking resemblance in style and sentiment will be found to exist between them. To discover similarity of sentiment, let the reader compare at his leisure the following passages: John i. 1, with 1 John i. 1; John xiv. 23, with John ii. 5; John xv. 4, with 1 John ii. 6; John xiii. 34, with 1 Jolin ii. 8, and iii. 11; John i. 12, with 1 John iii. 1; many other passages also to the same purpose might be enumerated. Of his style it is easy to trace two peculiarities both in his
gospel and epistles; first, that he not only affirms the truth which he means to establish, but denies the contrary, for example, I John ii. 4, IIe who saith I have known him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him: secondly, that to express things emphatically, he frequently uses the pronoun this, as this is the condemnation, this is the promise, thus is life eternal, &c. 3. The most exact resemblance of style and sentiment may be traced between the two last epistles and the first; it is even asserted by Dr. Whitby, that out of the thirteen verses of which the second epistle is composed, no fewer than eight are to be found, at least, in substance in the first. 4. A very antient tradition in the church has ascribed the two latter epistles, as well as the former, to the apostle John. 5. The only grounds on which this opinion appears to have been controverted are these, that being very short, they have not been much quoted by very antient writers; that, being directed to particular individuals, it was some time before they became generally circulated; and that Johu, speaking of himself as an elder, it has been imagined by some that he was a different person from the apostle. Of the weakness of the last mentioned supposition, it is unnecessary to say more than that Peter exhorts as an elder, and Paul as such an one as Paul the aged. On the whole, therefore, it appears, that it was on the best and most solid grounds that these three epistles have been received as the divine word, and, as such, publicly read for the edification of the churches.
In the first epistle, the leading design of John appears to be to demonstrate the vanity of that superficial and mistaken faith which does not produce obedience, to excite a spirit of Christian affection, and to arm his readers against the snares and efforts of antichrist. In conformity with these designs, he first testifies the holiness and mercy which are exhibited in Christ Jesus to all that truly repent. [i. I to the end.] Then he urges the propitiation and intercession of Christ, as arguments to obedience, brotherly love, and victory over the world. [ch. ii. 1..17.] He proceeds to forewarn them of the many antichrists who were springing up in the world, directing them to the best preservatives against their ensnaring doctrines. [verse 18..28.] He then discourses of those exalted privileges to which the children of God are entitled, and urges the necessity of holiness both in heart and life, to prove that we are in that blessed number. [verse 29, iii. 10.] He employs the remainder of the third chapter in the enforcing of brotherly love, as an essential characteristic of the Christian. In the fourth, [verse 1..12.] he cautions them particularly against deceivers, and instructs them in what manner to distinguish between truth and falsehood. At length, drawing near to conclusion, he declares his general design to be the confirmation of their faith; reminds them of the ground they had to hope that their prayers would be heard both for themselves and others, who had not sinned unpardonably; and closes the whole with reflection on the happy difference between those that know God, and an ignorant and ungodly world. [verse 13 to the end.]
The Cerinthians, Ebionites, and other heretics who early disturbed the church, are supposed to have given occasion to this epistle. Where, or when it was written, and to whom it was addressed, is extremely uncertain. As probable an opinion as any seems to be that of Dr. Macknight, that it was published in Judea for the benefit of the Jewish Christians, a little before the destruction of their capital city.
An almost endless variety of opinions have been formed concerning the antichrist here mentioned. He appears to be the same with the man of sin characterized by Paul in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, and described in terms which apply literally to the excesses of papal power. Grotius maintains that Caligula was antichrist; others have affirmed the same of Nero; but the date of those emperors' reigns does not agree with his appearance at the end of the world. A favourite idea