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the reign of Tiberius Cæsar, a certain number of persons set about an attempt of establishing a new religion in the world in the prosecution of which purpose, they voluntarily encountered great dangers, undertook great labours, sustained great sufferings, all for a mirsculous story, which they published wherever they came; and that the resurrection of a dead man, whom during his life they had followed and accompanied, was a constant part of this story. I know nothing in the above statement which can, with any appearance of reason, be disputed: and I know nothing, in the history of the human species, similar to it.
There is satisfactory evidence that many persons, professing to have been original witnesses of the Christian Miracles, passed their lives in labours, dangers, and sufferings, voluntarily undergone in attestation of the accounts which they delivered, and solely in consequence of their belief of the truth of those accounts; and that they also submitted from the same motives to new rules of conduct. THAT the story which we have now is, in the main, the story which the apostles published, is, I think, nearly certain, from the considerations which have been proposed. But whether, when we come to the particulars and the detail of the narrative,the historical books of the New Testament be deserving of credit as histories, so that a fact ought to be accounted true, because it is found in them; or whether they are entitled to be considered as representing the accounts, which, true or false, the apostles published; whether their authority, in either of these views, can be trusted to, is a point which necessarily depends upon what we know of the books, and of their authors.
Now, in treating of this part of our argument, the first, and a most material, observation upon the subject is, that, such was the situation of the authors to whom the four gospels are ascribed, that, if any one of the four be genuine, it is sufficient for our purpose. The received author of the first was an original apostle and emissary of the religion. The received author of the second was an inhabitant of Jerusalem at the time, to whose house the apostles were wont to resort, and himself an attendant upon one of the most eminent of that number. The received author of the third was a stated companion and fellow-traveller of the most active of all the teachers of the religion, and in the course of his travels frequently in the society of the original apostles. The received author of the fourth,as well as of the first, was one of these apostles. No stronger evidence of the truth of a history can arise from the situation of the historian, than what is here offered. The authors of all the histories lived at the time and upon the spot. The authors of two of the historics were present at many of the scenes which they describe; eye-witnesses of the facts, ear-witnesses of the discourses; writing from personal knowledge and recollection; and, what strengthens their testimony, writing upon a subject in which their minds were deeply engaged, and in which, as they must have been very frequently repeating the accounts to others, the passages of the history would be kept continually alive in their memory. Whoever reads the gospels (and they ought to be read for this particular purpose), will find in them not merely a general affirmation of miraculous powers, but detailed circumstantial accounts of miracles, with specification of time, place, and persons; and these accounts many and various. In the gospels, therefore, which bear the names of Matthew and John, these narratives,if they really proceeded from these men, must ei
ther be true, as far as the fidelity of human recollection is usually to be depended upon, that is, must be true in substance, and in their principal parts, (which is sufficient for the purpose of proving a supernatural agency), or they must be wilful and meditated falsehoods. Yet the writers who fabricated and uttered these falsehoods, if they be such, are of the number of those, who, unless the whole contexture of the Christian story be a dream, sacrificed their ease and safety in the cause, and for a purpose the most inconsistent that is possible with dishonest intentions. They were villains for no end but to teach honesty, and martyrs without the least prospect of honour or advantage.
The gospels which bear the name of Mark and Luke, although not the narratives of eye-witnesses, are, if genuine, removed from that only by one degree. They are the narratives of contemporary writers, of writers themselves mixing with the business; one of the two probably living in the place which was the principal scene of action; both living in habits of society and correspondence with those who had been present at the transactions which they relate. The latter of them accordingly tells us, (and with apparent sincerity, because he tells it without pretending to personal knowledge, and without claiming for his work greater authority than belonged to it), that the things which were believed amongst Christians came from those who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word; that he had traced up accounts to their source; and that he was prepared to instruct his reader in the certainty of the things which he related*. Very
Why should not the candid and modest preface of this historian be believed, as well as that which Dion Cassius prefixes to his life of Commodus ? "These things and the following I write not from the re
few histories lie só close to their facts; very few historians are so nearly connected with the subject of their narrative, or possess such means of authentick information, as these.
The situation of the writers applies to the truth of the facts which they record. But at present we use their testimony to a point somewhat short of this, namely, that the facts recorded in the gospels, whether true or false, are the facts, and the sort of facts, which the original preachers of the religion alleged. Strictly speaking, I am concerned only to shew, that what the gospels contain, is the same as what the apostles preached. Now, how stands the proof of this point? A set of men went about the world, publishing a story composed of miraculous accounts (for miraculous from the very nature and exigency of the case they must have been), and, upon the strength of these accounts, called upon mankind to quit the religions in which they had been educated, and to take up, thenceforth, a new system of opinions, and new rules of action. What is more in attestation of these accounts, that is, in support of an institution of which these accounts were the foundation, is, that the same men voluntarily exposed themselves to harassing and perpetual labours, dangers, and sufferings. We want to know what these accounts were. We have the particulars, i. e. many particulars, from two of their own number. We have them from an attendant of one of the number, and who, there is reason to believe, was an inhabitant of Jerusalem at the time. We have them from a fourth writer, who accompanied the most laborious missionary of the institution in his travels; who,in the course
port of others, but from my own knowledge and observation." I see no reason to doubt but that both passages describe truly enough the situa tion of the authors.
of these travels, was frequently brought into the society of the rest; and who, let it be observed, begins his narrative by telling us, that he is about to relate the things which had been delivered by those who were ministers of the word and eye-witnesses of the fact. I do not know what information can be more satisfactory than this. We may, perhaps, perceive the force and value of it more sensibly, if we reflect how requiring we should have been if we had wanted it. Supposing it to be sufficiently proved, that the religion,now professed among us,owed its original to the preaching and ministry of a number of men, who, about eighteen centuries ago, set forth in the world a new system of religious opinions, founded upon certain extraordinary things which they related of a wonderful person who had appeared in Judea; suppose it to be also sufficiently proved, that, in the course and prosecution of their ministry, these men had subjected themselves to extreme hardships, fatigue, and peril; but suppose the accounts which they published had not been committed to writing till some ages after their times, or at least that no histories, but what had been composed some ages afterwards, had reached our hands; we should have said, and with reason, that we were willing to believe these men under the circumstances in which they delivered their testimony, but that we did not, at this day, know with sufficient evidence what their testimony was. Had we received the particulars of it from any of their own number, from any of those who lived and conversed with them, from any of their hearers, or even from any of their contemporaries, we should have had something to rely upon. Now, if our books be genuine, we have all these. We have the very species of information which, as it appears to me, our imagination would have carved out for us, if it had been wanting.