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We may be permitted however to add,
1. That there is no evidence, that any spurious or apocryphal books whatever existed in the first century of the Christian era, in which century all our historical books are proved to have been extant. "There are no quotations of any such books in the apostolical fathers, by whom I mean Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp, whose writings reach from about the year of our Lord 70 to the year 108" (and some of whom have quoted each and every one of our historical scriptures); "I say this," adds Dr. Lardner, "because I think it has been proved*."
2. These apocryphal writings were not read in the churches of Christians;
3. Were not admitted into their volume;
4. Do not appear in their catalogues;
5. Were not noticed by their adversaries;
6. Were not alleged by different parties, as of authority in their controversies ;
7. Were not the subjects, amongst them, of commentaries, versions, collations, expositions.
Finally; beside the silence of three centuries, or evidence, within that time, of their rejection, they were, with a consent nearly universal, reprobated by Christian writers of succeeding ages.
Although it be made out by these observations, that the books in question never obtained any degree of credit and notoriety, which can place them in competition with our scriptures; yet it appears, from the writings of the fourth century, that many such existed in that century, and in the century preceding it. It may be difficult at this distance of time to account for their origin. Perhaps the most probable explication is, that they were in general composed
*Lard. vol. xii. p. 158.
with a design of making a profit by the sale. Whatever treated of the subject, would find purchasers. It was an advantage taken of the pious curiosity of unlearned Christians.
With a view to the same purpose, they were many of them adapted to the particular opinions of particular sects, which would naturally promote their circulation amongst the favourers of those opinions. After all, they were probably much more obscure than we imagine. Except the gospel according to the Hebrews, there is none of which we hear more than the gospel of the Egyptians; yet there is good reason to believe that Clement, a presbyter of Alexandria in Egypt, A. D. 184, and a man of almost universal reading, had never seen it*. A gospel according to Peter, was another of the most ancient books of this kind; yet Serapion, bishop of Antioch, A. D. 200, had not read it, when he heard of such a book being in the hands of the Christians of Rhossus in Cilicia; and speaks of obtaining a sight of this gospel from some sectaries who used itt. Even of the gospel of the Hebrews, which confessedly stands at the head of the catalogue, Jerome, at the end of the fourth century, was glad to procure a copy by the favour of the Nazarenes of Berea. Nothing of this sort ever happened, or could have happened, concerning our Gospels.
One thing is observable of all the apocryphal Christian writings, viz. that they proceed upon the same fundamental history of Christ and his apostles, as that which is disclosed in our scriptures. The mission of Christ, his power of working miracles, his communication of that power to the apostles, his passion, death and resurrection, are assumed or asserted by every one of them. The names under which some of them came forth, are the names of men of eminence in our histories. What these books give, are
* Jones, vol. i. p. 243.
Lard. Cred. vol. ii. p. 557.
not contradictions, but unauthorised additions. The principal facts are supposed, the principal agents the same; which shews that these points were too much fixed to be altered or disputed.
If there be any book of this description, which appears to have imposed upon some considerable number of learned Christians, it is the Sybilline oracles; but, when we reflect upon the circumstances which facilitated that imposture, we shall cease to wonder either at the attempt or its success. It was at that time universally understood, that such a prophetick writing existed. Its contents were kept secret. This situation afforded to some one a hint, as well as an opportunity, to give out a writing under this name, favourable to the already established persuasion of Christians, and which writing, by the aid and recommendation of these circumstances, would in some degree, it is proba ble, be received. Of the ancient forgery we know but little: what is now produced could not, in my opinion, have imposed upon any one. It is nothing else than the gospel history, woven into verse. Perhaps was at first, rather a fiction, than a forgery; an exercise of ingenuity, more than an attempt to deceive.
THE reader will now be pleased to recollect, that the two points which form the subject of our present discussion, are, first, that the founder of Christianity, his associates, and immediate followers, passed their lives in labours, dangers, and sufferings; secondly, that they did so, in attestation of the miraculous history recorded in our scriptures,
and solely in consequence of their belief of the truth of
The argument, by which these two propositions have been maintained by us, stands thus:
No historical fact, I apprehend, is more certain, than that the original propagators of Christianity voluntarily subjected themselves to lives of fatigue, danger, and suffering, in the prosecution of their undertaking. The nature of the undertaking; the character of the persons employed in it; the opposition of their tenets to the fixed opinions and expectations of the country, in which they first advanced them; their undissembled condemnation of the religion of all other countries; their total want of power, authority, or force; render it in the highest degree probable that this must have been the case. The probability is increased, by what we know of the fate of the founder of the institution, who was put to death for his attempt; and by what we also know of the cruel treatment of the converts to the institution, within thirty years after its commencement: both which points are attested by heathen writers, and, being once admitted, leave it very incredible that the primitive emissaries of the religion, who exercised their ministry, first, amongst the people who had destroyed their master, and, afterwards,amongst those who persecuted their converts, should themselves escape with impunity, or pursue their purpose in ease and safety. This probability, thus sustained by foreign testimony, is advanced, I think, to historical certainty, by the evidence of our own books; by the accounts of a writer who was the companion of the persons, whose sufferings he relates; by the letters of the person themselves; by predictions of persecutions ascribed to the founder of the religion, which predictions would not have been inserted in his history, much less have been studiously dwelt upon, if they had not ac
corded with the event, and which, even if falsely ascribed to him, could only have been so ascribed because the event suggested them; lastly, by incessant exhortations to fortitude and patience, and by an earnestness, repetition, and urgency upon the subject, which were unlikely to have appeared, if there had not been, at the time, some extraordinary call for the exercise of these virtues.
It is made out also, I think, with sufficient evidence, that both the teachers and converts of the religion, in consequence of their new profession, took up a new course of life and behaviour.
The next great question is, what they did this FOR. That it was for a miraculous story of some kind or other, is to my apprehension extremely manifest; because, as to the fundamental article, the designation of the person, viz. that this particular person, Jesus of Nazareth, ought to be received as the Messiah, or as a messenger from God, they neither had, nor could have, any thing but miracles to stand upon. That the exertions and sufferings of the apostles were for the story which we have now, is proved by the consideration that this story is transmitted to us by two of their own number, and by two others personally connected with them; that the particularity of the narrative proves, that the writers claimed to possess circumstantial information, that from their situation they had full opportunity of acquiring such information, that they certainly, at least, knew what their colleagues, their companions, their masters taught; that each of these books contains enough to prove the truth of the religion; that, if any one of them therefore be genuine, it is sufficient; that the genuineness however of all of them is made out, as well by the general arguments which evince the genuineness, of the most undisputed remains of antiquity, as also by peculiar and specifick proofs, viz. by citations from