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A. M. 4035, with all their mutual relations, and in their appropriate dress. In the very act of &c. or 5141. learning to speak, we necessarily learn to speak the truth; for what I have called menVulg. Er. 31, tal truth is impressed upon our minds by him who cannot err, and were we not to em
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ploy words for the expression of that truth exactly as they are employed by those with whom we converse, our language (if language it could be called) would be unintelligible jargon; and we could neither declare our wants, nor ask relief with any hope of success. Children beginning to speak may indeed often utter untruths or nonsense without any motive, and merely from mistake; and this indeed they often do, because the ideas and words of children have neither been long nor closely linked together; but it is impossible that a man, however wicked, should habitually, and without motives, lie on ordinary occasions, unless the constituent principles of his nature have been totally altered; unless his brain has been disordered by disease; unless his ideas and notions have been disarranged; and all the associations which have taken place among them from his infancy have been dissolved, and quite contrary associations formed in their stead.
We know indeed, by woeful experience, that immoral men occasionally utter false. hoods with a view to deceive. But in these cases they are influenced by some motive either of hope or of terror; the falsehood is always uttered with an effort; and so very strong is the association between words and ideas, that the truth will at times break out in spite of all their endeavours to conceal it; so that the end or middle of a false narrative, if it be of any length, and include a number of particular events or incidents, is commonly inconsistent with the beginning. We entertain a suspicion of falsehood, when those who relate the same tale, either palpably contradict each other, or agree in every minute circumstance, and speak throughout the very same language-when they are but few in number and of a doubtful character-when they have an interest in what they affirm or deny-when they deliver their testimony either with hesitation, or with superfluous and violent asseverations of its truth; because all these are circumstances which have been generally observed to accompany false witness. It is likewise with reluctance that we admit a narrative of events entirely different from every thing that we have hitherto seen or heard; because we may not be certain that the narrator is not under some influence to deceive us in matters concerning which we have nothing but his testimony on which to ground our judgment. But in every ease, where the fact recorded is in itself possible, and attributed to a cause which we know to be adequate; where a competent number of witnesses * had sufficient means of information, and were certainly under no inducement to deceive, testimony is complete evidence, however extraordinary the fact may be; because no fact, which is known to have had an adequate cause, can be so incredible, as that a number of men of sound understanding should act in a manner inconsistent with the fundamental principles of human na
real universe; and Dr Hartley attempted to account
phenomena themselves, into the will of the Almighty,
*Should it be asked what number of witnesses I call competent, I beg leave to reply, that it will be greater or less according to circumstances. In cases where there is no danger of the senses being deceived, two men of integrity and intelligence deserve equal credit with two thousand; but where there is particular occasion for good organs, whether of sight or hearing, the greater the number, the greater will be our security. To this must be added, that as hardly any individual can pay equal attention to all the circumstances of any complicated event; we may expect a fuller and more accurate account of the whole from several witnesses than from only one.
ture, or be able, if so disposed, to dissolve every association which had been formed in From Matth. the mind of each of them from his infancy. and form new ones, all agreeing exactly with Luke vi. 1. one another, and yet all contrary to the truth.
23. John v. 1. to
Mark ix. 14.
If this reasoning be just, and if the testimony of the apostles to their own and their Matth. xvii. 14. Master's miracles be false, it follows undeniably, either that they concerted a consist- Luke ix. 37. ent scheme of falsehood, and agreed to publish it at every hazard; or that God had John vii. ! dissolved all the associations, which had been formed in their minds, of ideas of sense with the words of language, and arbitrarily formed new associations all in exact conformity with each other, but all in direct contradiction to truth. One or other of these events must have taken place; because, upon the supposition of falsehood, there is no other alternative. But such a dissolution and formation of associations of ideas with words, as is supposed in the latter event, is as great a deviation from the established laws of nature, or, in other words, as real a miracle as the resurrection of a man from the dead; and all real miracles being acknowledged to be equally great, either of these could have been performed only by a power equal to the performance of the other.
Nor would the supposed voluntary agreement of the apostles, in such a scheme of falsehood as they are said to have published to the world, be an event less miraculous than the Divine interposition for the unworthy purpose implied in the former hypothesis. When they sat down to fabricate their pretended revelation, and to contrive a series of miracles, to which they were all to appeal for its truth, it is plain, since they proved successful in their daring enterprise, that they must have clearly foreseen every possible circumstance in which they could be placed, and have prepared consistent answers to every question that could be put to them by their most inveterate and most enlightened enemies; by the statesman, the lawyer, the philosopher, and the priest. That such foreknowledge as this would have been miraculous, will not surely be denied; since it forms the very attribute which we find it most difficult to allow even to God himself (a). It is not, however, the only miracle, which this supposition would compel us to admit. The very resolution of the apostles to propagate the belief of false miracles in support of such a religion as that which is taught in the New Testament, would have been as wide a deviation from the laws of nature, and therefore as great a miracle as the mind of man has ever conceived.
When they formed this design, either they must have hoped to succeed, or they must. have been convinced that they should fail, in their undertaking; and in either case they chose evil, and what they knew to be unmixed evil, for its own sake! They could not, if they foresaw that they should fail, look for any thing but that contempt, disgrace, and persecution, which were then the inevitable consequences of an unsuccessful endeavour to overthrow the established religion. Nor could their prospects be brighter on the supposition of their success As they knew themselves to be false witnesses and impious deceivers, they could have no hope beyond the grave; and by determining to oppose all the religious systems, superstitions, and prejudices of the age in which they lived, they wilfully exposed themselves to inevitable misery in the present life, to insult and imprisonment, to stripes and death. Nor can it be alleged that they might look forward to power and affluence, when they should through sufferings have converted their countrymen; for so desirous were they of obtaining nothing but misery as the end of their mission, that they made their own persecution a test of the truth of their doctrines. They introduced the Master, from whom they professed to have received those doctrines, as telling them, that “ they were sent forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; that they should be delivered up to councils, and scourged in synagogues; that they
(a) See Dr Beattie's Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, and Dr Pearson's Warburtonian Lectures.
A. M. 4035, should be hated of all men for his name's sake; that the brother should deliver up the bro&c. or 5441. ther to death, and the father the child; and that he who took not up his cross and followVulg. Er. 31, ed him, was not worthy of him."
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The very system of religion, therefore, which they invented and resolved to impose upon mankind, was so contrived, that the worldly prosperity of its first preachers, and even their exemption from persecution, was incompatible with its success. Had these clear predictions of the Author of that religion, under whom the apostles and evangelists acted only as ministers, not been verified, all mankind must have instantly perceived that their claim to inspiration was groundless, and that Christianity was a scandalous and impudent imposture. All this the apostles could not but foresee when they formed their plan for deluding the world. Whence it follows, that when they resolved to support their pretended revelation by an appeal to forged miracles, they wilfully, and with their eyes open, exposed themselves to inevitable misery, whether they should succeed or fail in their enterprise; and that they concerted their measures in such a manner as not to admit a possibility of recompence to themselves, either in this life, or in that which is to come.-But if there be a law of nature, for the reality of which we have better evidence than we have for others, it is, "that no man can choose misery for its own sake," or make the acquisition of it the ultimate end of all his pursuits. The existence of other laws of nature we know by testimony and our own observation of the regularity of their effects. The existence of this law is made known to us not only by these means, but also by the still clearer and more conclusive evidence of every man's own consciousness.
Thus then do miracles force themselves upon our assent in every possible view which we can take of this interesting subject. If the testimony of the first preachers of the Gospel was true, the miracles recorded in the New Testament were certainly performed, and the doctrines of our religion were derived from heaven. On the other hand, if that testimony was false, either God must have miraculously effaced from the minds of those by whom it was given, all the associations formed between their ideas of sensation and the words of language, or he must have endowed those men with the gift of prescience, and at the same time have compelled them to fabricate a pretended revelation for the purpose of deceiving the world, and involving themselves and their immediate followers in certain and foreseen destruction.
The power necessary to perform the one series of these miracles is just as great as that which would be requisite to the performance of the other, because they are equally deviations from the laws of nature; and considered merely as exertions of preternatural power, they may seem to balance each other, and to hold the mind in a state of suspense. But when we take into consideration the very different purposes for which those opposite and contending miracles were wrought, and call to mind that the regular course of events which we say proceeds according to the laws of nature, and every deviation from that course which we denominate miraculous, are alike produced by that allperfect Being, who, when he established the laws of nature, provided for every circumstance which we call contingent, the balance is instantly destroyed, and the mind relieved from the painful state of suspense. The miracles recorded in the Gospels, if real, were wrought in support of a revelation, which, in the opinion of all by whom it is received, has brought to light many important truths, which could not otherwise have been made known to men; and which, by the confession of those by whom it is rejected, contains the purest moral precepts, by which the conduct of mankind has ever been regulated. The opposite series of miracles, if real, was performed to enable and even to compel a company of Jews of the lowest rank and of the narrowest education, to fabricate, with the view of certain destruction to themselves, a consistent scheme of falsehood, and by an appeal to pretended miracles to impose it upon the world as a revelation from heaven. The object of the former series of miracles is worthy of a God of
23. Luke vi. 1.
infinite wisdom, goodness, and power. The object of the latter is absolutely inconsist- From Matth. ent with wisdom and goodness, which are demonstrably attributes of that Being by xii. 1. Mark ti. whom alone miracles can be performed. Hence it follows, that the supposition of the John v. 1. to apostles bearing false testimony to the miracles of their Master, implies a series of de- Matth. xvii. 14. viations from the laws of nature infinitely less probable in themselves than those mira- Luke ix. 37. cles; and therefore by the maxim of Hume and his disciples, we must reject the supposition of falsehood in the testimony, and admit the reality of the miracles.
It has been supposed however, that complete as the evidence certainly was which was furnished by the testimony of those who were eye-witnesses of our Lord's miracles, it has been greatly diminished to us by passing through so many generations. This theory of the diminution of evidence by transmission from hand to hand, was first framed, I believe, by a Scotchman *; but it appears to have been adopted by Laplace, who thus reasons in its support.
Suppose a fact to be transmitted through twenty persons-the first communicating it to the second, and the second to the third, &c, and let the probability of each testimony be expressed by, (that is, suppose that of ten reports made by each witness, nine only are true), then at every time the story passes from one witness to another, the evidence is reduced to nine-tenths of what it was before; so that after it has passed through the whole twenty, the evidence will be found to be less than one eighth of what it was originally." To illustrate his meaning, he compares the diminution of evidence by this sort of transmission to "the extinction of light by the interposition of several pieces of glass; a small number of pieces being sufficient to render an object entirely invisible, which a single piece allowed to be seen very distinctly."
This reasoning is not without force when applied to evidence transmitted from age to age by mere oral tradition; but it seems not to be at all applicable to evidence originally recorded in a book, and transmitted by means of that book from generation to generation. In a series of oral traditions the original evidence is lost as soon as the persons die by whom it was given; and we should have known nothing of it at all but from the report of others, who probably did not make use of the very words employed by the original witnesses, nor, however desirous they may really have been to speak the truth, relate the several circumstances of the event in the very same order. In this case, therefore, the original evidence will very soon become like the object gradually obscured by the successive interposition of several pieces of glass; but the case of evidence preserved in a record is very different, for it can never be either lost or obscured as long as the record remains, and its language is intelligible. Accordingly the very ingenious critic, who appears to me to suffer his own judgment to be occasionally biassed by the authority of Hume, completely refutes this reasoning of Laplace. "Take any ancient event, says he, that is well attested, such for example as the retreat of the Ten Thousand, and we are persuaded it will be generally admitted that the certainty of that event having taken place is as great at this moment as it was on the return of the Greek army, or immediately after Xenophon had published his narrative, The calculation of chances may indeed be brought to declare in favour of it; for Xenophon's narrative remains, and the probability will be found to be very small, that any considerable interpolation or change in that narrative could have taken place without some historical document remaining to inform us of such a change. The combination of chances necessary to produce and to conceal such an interpolation is in the highest degree improbable; and the authority of Xenophon remains on that account the same at this moment that it was originally.'
* One Craig, who, in 1699, published in London a work entitled Theologiæ Christiane Principia Mathematica, 4to. I know nothing either of the author, or of
his work, except what I have learned from Warburton,
Mark ix. 14.
John vii. 1.
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This is sound reasoning, but it applies with ten-fold force to the evidence, afforded &c. or 5441. by the Gospels, of our Lord's doctrines and miracles. These were witnessed equally Vulg. Fr. 31, by friends and enemies; they were recorded by four different authors-all eye-witnesses *, in the very age in which the doctrines were taught, and the miracles performed; these records were at an early period translated into all the languages of the Roman empire; they were deemed sacred by every man who adopted the Christian religion, and appealed to as containing all the principles of that religion; the Christians soon began to explain some parts of them very differently from each other, but all admitted the public facts, whether natural or miraculous, mentioned in these narratives; almost every important passage in them has been quoted by successive writers ever since the commencement of the Christian era (a); even Jews and heathens, who abhorred the Christian name, have occasionally quoted them; and all the versions and quotations have been in perfect harmony with the original records, which are still extant in some very ancient manuscripts. The ignorance or carlessness of transcribers has indeed introduced many various readings of single words and phrases, which have been all collated with wonderful accuracy by Mill, Wetstein, Griesbach, De Rossi, Matthei, and others, and all found to be of no vital importance. Some of the ancient heretics rejected Gospels, and parts of Gospels; but what they rejected was not the facts recorded in those Gospels, but doctrines which could not be reconciled to notions which they had brought into the church from the schools of Greek philosophy, or from the more wild and fantastic philosophy of the East; and their attempts at mutilation of the four Gospels were loudly condemned, as well by all the other heretical sects, as by the unanimous voice of the catholic church. In this state of things it is impossible that any considerable interpolation or change could have taken place in any of the four Gospels, without many documents remaining to inform us of such a change; and I am sure that the ingenious reviewer of Laplace-adverse as he seems to be to the admission of the smallest deviation, on any account from the known laws of nature-will agree with me, that "the combination of the chances necessary to produce and to conceal such an interpolation in the Gospels, is ten thousand times more improbable, than in the case of the narrative of Xenophon." That narrative was long known to the Greeks alone, and could never be very interesting to any other people. The Gospels were soon spread over the whole civi lized world, and must have been in the highest degree interesting, not only to all who named with reverence the name of Christ, but even to all who blasphemed that name, and who must therefore have been on the watch to detect the slightest change made by each other in these important writings. On this account, I am not without hopes that the same ingenious critic will admit, that for the reality of the Gospel miracles, we have at this day evidence as convincing to the reflecting mind, as those had who were contemporary with Christ and his apostles.]
It is not certain that St Mark was a personal attendant on our Saviour, but it is very certain that he received the substance of his Gospel from St Peter, who was. See the Appendix to the preceding Disser
tation on the four Gospels.
(a) See Lardner's Credibility of the Gospel History, and Paley's Evidences of the Christian Religion,