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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 unfeignedt."
"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 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 governours 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 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
The candour of the writers of the New Testament.
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 judgment 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 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 confined to this supposition; and that, by one of them, Peter is made to say, "Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead*." The most common 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 foes as well as his friends, to the scribes and pharisees, the Jewish council, and the Roman governor; or even if they had asserted the publick appearance of Christ in
*Acts x. 40, 41.
general unqualified terms, without noticing, as they have done, the presence of his disciples on each occasion, and noticing it in such a manner as to lead their 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; 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.
* Vol. ix. c. 50. note 96.
Of this kind is John the Baptist's message, preserved by St. Matthew (xi. 2.) and St. Luke. (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 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 apostasy of Judas*.
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 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
* I had once placed amongst these examples of fair concession, the remarkable words of St. Matthew, in his account of Christ's appearance upon the Galilean mountain; ‘And when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubtedt.' I have since, however, been convinced, by what is observed concerning this passage in Dr. Townshend's discourse‡ upon the resurrection, that the transaction, as related by St. Matthew, was really this: "Christ appeared first at a distance; the greater part of the company, the moment they saw him, worshipped, but some, as yet, i. e. upon this first distant view of his person, doubted; whereupon Christ came up to them, and spake to them," &c. : that the doubt, therefore, was a doubt only at first, for a moment, and upon his being seen at a distance, and was afterwards dispelled by his nearer approach, and by his entering into conversation with them.
§ St. Matthew's words are, Και προσελθὼν ὁ Ἰησες ελάλησεν αύτοις. This intimates, that, when he first appeared, it was at a distance, at least from many of the spectators. Ib. p. 197.
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 Mosaick 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 judgment 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 governour 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 xviii. 15.) : "If it be a question 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, on 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.'
*Lard. vol. xv. p. 422.