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will be so far from receiving damage by it, that it were 'the best way to make them universally embraced, if they
were oftener brought to be canvassed amidst all sorts of ⚫ dissenters:-That there is no one profession amidst the ❝ several denominations of christians, that can be exposed to the search and scrutiny of its adversaries, with so much 'safety as ours.'
Dr. Bentley, in a sermon at a public commencement at Cambridge, says, It has pleased the Divine Wisdom, never yet to leave christianity wholly at leisure from op'posers; but to give its professors that perpetual exercise of their industry and zeal. And who can tell, if without such adversaries to rouse and quicken them, they might 'not in long tract of time have grown remiss in the du'ties, and ignorant in the doctrines of religion?'
These learned men have assured us upon the foundation of the scriptures, of the fathers, and reason, that all force on the minds of men in the matters of belief is contrary to religion in general, and to the christian religion in particular; and that severity instead of doing good, has always done harm.
These points might be enlarged upon, but nothing new can be offered. Possibly some good men may still be in some doubt concerning the issue of admitting the principles of religion to be freely and openly canvassed. But I think that such may find satisfaction even upon this head in the passages I have quoted, provided they will be pleased to consider them. However I will add a few observations briefly upon this matter.
It is an old saying, which has been much admired and applauded for its wisdom, that truth is great, and strong above all things. There is certainly some real excellence in Truth above error. Great and important truths are clearer than others, and not likely to be mistaken, but to shine the more for examination. The christian religion in particular, as contained in the New Testament, abounds with evidence.
These are considerations taken from the nature of things. Experience is on the same side. The christian religion triumphed for the first three hundred years over error and superstition, without the aids of civil authority, against the veneration of ancient custom, against ridicule and calumny, false arguments, and many severe persecutions. From small beginnings by its own internal excellence, and the force of that evidence with which God had clothed it, and the industry and zeal of its honest professors, it spread itPage 3, quarto edition, 1696.
self over the Roman empire, and the neighbouring coun
The christian church had in the same space of time a triumph within itself over those false and absurd opinions that sprang up under the christian name. These heresies,' Eusebius says, soon disappeared one after another, being 'continually changing into new forms and shapes. But the catholic and only true church, always the same and constant to itself, spread and increased continually; shining out among Greeks and barbarians by the gravity, simplicity, 'freedoin, modesty, and purity of its manners and principles.' This joint victory over Gentilism, and over heresies, was obtained, as he intimates, by the writings and discourses of the patrons of truth at that time. And indeed it could be owing to nothing else but to those methods, supported by holy lives and patient sufferings.
Our own time also affords a convincing instance to all that will open their eyes to observe. The protestant states and kingdoms of Europe, as they enjoy greater liberty than others, proportionably exceed their neighbours in the justness of their sentiments, and the goodness of their lives. Indeed there is among us protestants a great deal of vice and irreligion, which all good men observe with grief and concern, and some very bad and selfish men delight to aggravate and magnify with a view to their own evil designs; but still without vanity, if we be barely just to our circumstances, sure we have some reason to glory over some of our neighbours in this respect. Which advantage can be ascribed to no other cause so much as the liberty we enjoy. For introduce among us the tyranny they are under, and we shall be as ignorant, as superstitious, and corrupt, as they.
If then men should be permitted among us, to go on in delivering their sentiments freely in matters of religion, and to propose their objections against christianity itself; I apprehend, we have no reason to be in pain for the event. Ôn the side of christianity, I expect to see, as hitherto, the greatest share of learning, good sense, true wit, and fairness of disputation: which things, I hope, will be superior to low ridicule, false argument, and misrepresentation.
For ought I can see, in an age so rational as this we live
δ Αλλων επ' αλλαις αιρεσεων καινοτομεμένων, ὑποῤῥεωσων αει των προτερων, και εις πολυτροπες και πολυμορφες ιδεας αλλοτε αλλως φθειρομένων, Προσηει δ' εις αύξησιν και μεγεθος, αει κατα τα αυτα και ώσαυτως έχεσα, ή της καθολι και μονης αληθες εκκλησίας λαμπρότης, κ. λ. Η. E. 1. 4. c. 7.
Ομως δ' εν κατα τες δηλωμένες αυθις παρήγεν εις μέσον ἡ αληθεια πλειες ἑαυτης ὑπερμαχες, ε δι' αγραφων αυτο μονον ελεγχων, αλλα και δι' εγγραφων αποδείξεων κατα των αθεων αιρεσεων τρατευόμενες. Ibid.
in, the victory over our enemies may be speedily obtained. They will be driven to those manifest absurdities, which they must be ashamed to own; and be silent in dread of universal censure. But suppose the contest should last for some time, we shall all better understand our Bibles: we shall upon a fresh examination better understand the principles and the grounds of our religion. Possibly some errors may be mixed with our faith, which by this means may be separated, and our faith become more pure. Being more confirmed in the truths of our religion, we shall be more perfect in the duties of it. Instead of being unthinking and nominal, we shall become more generally serious and real christians: each one of which advantages will be a large step toward a complete and final victory.
This victory obtained upon the ground of argument and persuasion alone, by writing and discourse, will be honourable to us and our religion; and we shall be able to reflect upon it with pleasure. We shall not only keep that good thing we have received, but shall deliver it down to others with advantage. But a victory secured by mere authority is no less to be dreaded than a defeat. It may appear a benefit for the present, but it really undermines the cause, and strikes at the root of our holy profession. Will any serious and sensible Christian, in the view of a future judgment, undertake to answer for the damage thereby brought to the doctrine of his Saviour, the meek and patient Jesus? as meek in his principles, as in the example he has bequeathed us.
I might now address myself to our adversaries, and tell them, that it is a very desirable thing, that all authors should write as scholars and gentlemen, at least like civilized people: that it is a point long since determined, that in controversial writings, authors should confine themselves to things, that is, the merits of the cause, without annoying persons that it is grievous to all sorts of men, to have those things which they respect, treated with indecency. I might tell them, that other men's reputation is as sacred as their own. I might remind them, that christians at this time, generally speaking, are in as good temper as they were ever known to be: that some, being of opinion that Christ's kingdom is not of this world, and that it is his pleasure, that men should not be compelled to receive his law by the punishments of this life, or the fear of them, leave men to propose their doubts and objections in their own way: that others have openly declared, that they ought to be invited; and others that they ought to be permitted to pro
pose their objections, provided it be done in a grave and serious manner. Christians have also lately shown an instance of their moderation towards some books published in opposition to their principles. These are things, which, one would think, should have some effect on ingenuous minds; and draw them off from the design of any rudeness or indecency in their attacks on the sentiments commonly received among christians. I might also remind our adversaries of some examples of an admirable decorum observed by the disciples of Jesus in their arguings with the Jews and Gentiles. But really one has little encouragement from some late performances to enlarge upon these particulars. And perhaps it would be judged ridiculous, to imagine that any men should oppose the gospel with the same spirit, with which it was at first taught and propagated.
Besides, as all men are more concerned for the good conduct of their friends, than of others; so have I been chiefly solicitous on this occasion about the conduct of those who are engaged in the same cause with myself; that it may be such as is best suited to the nature of those sublime principles they profess, and most for the lasting honour and interest of our religion. And though the things here said may be at first disagreeable to some who are, or have been in part of a different sentiment, it is not impossible, but that upon calm and cool reflection they may obtain their approbation.
A passage of Origen out of his Books against Celsus, concerning these three miracles.
I HAVE in the Vindication prolixly shown, that the literal histories of these miracles are rational, consistent and credible: so that we may be safe and easy in understanding them in their literal sense, whatever any fathers or other people may say to the contrary. I shall however here set before the reader a passage of Origen written about A. D. 245, which passage I have chosen, not only as containing a testimony to the real performance of these miracles in their literal sense, and showing, that Origen argued the messiahship of Jesus from miracles; but also as containing an excellent observation concerning the credibility of the evangelists. The reader will likewise perceive that in Celsus's time, who flourished about the middle of the second century, the miracles of Jesus were much talked of, and well known to the heathens and that the christians in the time of Celsus, or
before, believed the miracles of Jesus, and argued his divine mission from them.
'But this,' says Origen, is no new thing with Celsus, when he is not able directly to oppose the miracles which 'Jesus is recorded to have done, to asperse them as juggling 'tricks. To which I have already often replied according to my ability. And here he a makes us answer him; 'that we therefore believe him to be the Son of God, because he healed the lame and the blind. He adds; and, 6 as you say, raised the dead. For certain we do believe him to be the Christ, and the Son of God, because he 'healed the lame and the blind. And we are confirmed
in it, because that in the prophets it is written: "Then 'shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the ' deaf shall hear, and the lame man leap as an hart." And 'that he raised the dead, and that this is not a fiction of 'those that wrote the gospels, is evident hence; that if it had been a fiction of theirs, they would have related many persons to have been raised up, and those who had lain a long time in their graves. But it not being a fiction, 'there are few of whom this is related: for instance, the
daughter of the ruler of the synagogue (of whom I do not know why he said, she is not dead, but sleepeth, express
ing somewhat peculiar to her, not common to all dead per
sons) and the only son of a widow, on whom he had compassion, and raised him up, after he had bid the bearers of the corpse stop; and the third, Lazarus, who had been buried four days.'
-Και νυν δε φησιν οιονει ήμας αποκρινασθαι, ότι δια τετ' ενομισαμεν αυτον ειναι Υιον Θε8, επει χωλες και τυφλες εθεράπευσε. Προτίθησι δε και το, ὡς ὑμεῖς φατε, ανιση νεκρες. Οτι μεν εν χωλες και τυφλες έθεραπευσε, διοπερ Χριτον αυτον και Υιον θες νομιζομεν· δηλον ἡμιν εστιν εκ τ8 και εν προφητειαις γεγραφθαι Τοτε.--Οτι δε και νεκρους ανίτη, και εκ εςι πλασμα των τα ευαγγελια γραψαντων· παρίσαται εκ τε, ει μεν πλασμα ην, πολλες αναγεγραφ9αι τες ανασταντας, και τες ηδη χρονες εχοντας πλείονας εν τοις μνημείοις. Επει δ' εκ εςι πλασμα, πανυ ευαρίθμητες λελεχθαι, την τε τε αρχισυναγωγε θυγατερα (περι ἧς εκ οιδ' οπως ειπεν, εκ απεθανεν, αλλα καθευδει· λεγων τι περι αυτης ὁ 8 πασι τοις αποθνεσι προσην) και τὸν μονογενη της χήρας υιον. Εφ' φ σπλαγχνισθεις ανεζησεν, ςησας τες φεροντας τον νεκρον και τριτον Λαζαρον τεταρτὴν ἡμέραν εν τη μνημειῳ εχοντα. Cont. Cels. 1. 2. p. 87.
Origen, it seems, did not then think of the reason of this. I have assigned the plain reason of it, p. 30. See also, p. 44.