« FöregåendeFortsätt »
and that, in the concurrence of four canoni
of our present narratives. The demand of cal narratives, we see a far more effectual the christian world was withdrawn from the argument for the miracles of the New Tes- less esteemed, to the more esteemed histotament, than in any number of those sepa-ries of our Saviour. The former ceased to rate and extraneous narratives, the want of be read, and copies of them would be no which is so much felt, and so much com- longer transcribed or multiplied. We canplained of. not find the testimony we are in quest of, not because it was never given, but because the early Christians, who were the most competent judges of that testimony, did not think it worthy of being transmitted to us.
But, though the number of narratives be necessarily limited by the nature of the subject, there is no such limitation upon works of a moral, didactic, or explanatory kind. Many such pieces have come down to us, both from the apostles themselves, and from the earlier fathers of the church. Now, though the object of these compositions is not to deliver any narrative of the Christian miracles, they may perhaps give us some occasional intimation of them. They may proceed upon their reality. We may gather either from incidental passages, or from the general scope of the performance, that the miracles of Christ and his apostles were recognised, and the divinity of our religion acknowledged, as founded upon these miracles.
That the New Testament is not one, but a collection of many testimonies, is what has been often said, and often acquiesced in. Yet even after the argument is formally acceded to, its impression is unfelt; and on this subject there is a great and an obstinate delusion, which not only confirms the infidel in his disregard to Christianity, but even veils the strength of the evidence from its warmest admirers.
There is a difference between a mere narrative and a work of speculation or morality. The latter subjects embrace a wider range, admit a greater variety of illustration, and are quite endless in their application to the new cases that occur in the everchanging history of human affairs. The subject of a narrative again admits of being exhausted. It is limited by the number of actual events. True, you may expatiate upon the character or importance of these events, but, in so doing, you drop the office of a pure historian, for that of the politician, or the moralist, or the divine. The evangelists give us a very chaste and perfect example of the pure narrative. They never appear in their own persons, or arrest the progress of the history for a single moment, by interposing their own wisdom, or their own piety. A gospel is a bare relation of what has been said or done; and it is evident that, after a few good compositions of this kind, any future attempts would be superfluous and uncalled for.
But, in point of fact, these attempts were made. It is to be supposed, that, after the singular events of our Saviour's history, the curiosity of the public would be awakened and there would be a demand for written accounts of such wonderful transactions. These written accounts were accordingly brought forward. Even in the interval of time between the ascension of our Saviour, and the publication of the earliest Gospel, such written histories seem to have been frequent. "Many," says St. Luke, (and in this he is supported by the testimony of subsequent writers,) "have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of these things." Now what has been the fate of all these performances? Such as might have been anticipated. They fell into disuse and oblivion. There is no evil design ascribed to the authors of them. They may have been written with perfect integrity, and been useful for a short time, and within a limited circle; but, as was natural, they all gave way to the superior authority, and more complete information,
The first piece of the kind with which we meet besides the writings of the New Testament, is an epistle ascribed to Barnabas, and, at all events, the production of a man who lived in the days of the apostles. It consists of an exhortation to constancy in the Christian profession, a dissuasive from Judaism, and other moral instructions. We shall only give a quotation of a single clause from this work. "And he (i. e. our Saviour) making great signs and prodigies to the people of the Jews, they neither believed nor loved him."
The next piece in the succession of Christian writers, is the undoubted epistle of Clement, the bishop of Rome, to the church of Corinth, and who, by the concurrent voice of all antiquity, is the same Clement who is mentioned in the epistle to the Philippians, as the fellow-labourer of Paul. It is written in the name of the church of Rome, and the object of it is to compose certain dissensions which had arisen in the church of Corinth. It was out of his way to enter into any thing like a formal narrative of the miraculous facts which are to be found in the evangelical history. The subject of his epistle did not lead him to this; and besides the number and authority of the narratives already published, rendered an attempt of this kind altogether superfluous. Still, however, though a miracle may not be formally announced, it may be brought in incidentally, or it may be proceeded upon, or assumed as the basis of an argument. We give one or two examples
of this. In one part of his epistle, he illus- | of every Christian, that a written expositrates the doctrine of our resurrection from tion of the argument was no longer necesthe dead, by the change and progression of sary,—but as a motive to constancy in the natural appearances, and he ushers in this Christian profession, and as the great pillar illustration with the following sentence of hope in our own immortality. We ac"Let us consider, my beloved, how the cordingly meet with the most free and conLord shows us our future resurrection per-fident allusions to this fact in the early fathers. We meet with five intimations of this fact in the undoubted epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians: a father who had been educated by the apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ.
It is quite unnecessary to exhibit passa
petually, of which he made the Lord Jesus Christ the first fruits, by raising him from the dead." This incidental way of bringing in the fact of our Lord's resurrection, appears to us the strongest possible form in which the testimony of Clement could have come down to us. It is brought forward in the most confident and unembar-ges from the epistles of Ignatius to the rassed manner. He does not stop to con- same effect, or to pursue the examination firm this fact by any strong asseveration, nor downwards through the series of written does he carry, in his manner of announcing testimonies. It is enough to announce it it, the most remote suspicion of its being as a general fact, that, in the very first age resisted by the incredulity of those to whom of the Christian church, the teachers of he is addressing himself. It wears the air this religion proceeded as confidently upon of an acknowledged truth, a thing under- the reality of Christ's miracles and resurstood and acquiesced in by all parties in this rection in their addresses to the people, as correspondence. The direct narrative of the teachers of the present day : Or, in other the evangelists give us their original testi- words, that they were as little afraid of bemony to the miracles of the Gospel. The ing resisted by the incredulity of the peoartless and indirect allusions of the apos-ple, at a time when the evidence of the tolic fathers, give us not merely their faith facts was accessible to all, and habit and in this testimony, but the faith of the whole prejudice were against them, as we are of societies to which they write. They let us being resisted by the incredulity of an unsee, not merely that such a testimony was lettered multitude, who listen to us with all given, but that such a testimony was gene- the veneration of a hereditary faith. rally believed, and that too at a time when the facts in question lay within the memory of living witnesses.
There are five apostolic fathers, and a series of Christian writers who follow after them in rapid succession. To give an idea to those who are not conversant in the study of ecclesiastical antiquities, how well sustained the chain of testimony is from the first age of Christianity, we shall give a passage from a letter of Irenæus, preserved by Eusebius. We have no less than nine compositions from different authors, which fill up the interval between him and Polycarp; and yet this is the way in which he speaks, in his old age, of the venerable Po
It was no object in those days for a Christian writer to come over the miracles of the New Testament, with the view of lend-lycarp, in a letter to Florinus. "I saw you, when I was very young, in the Lower Asia with Polycarp. For I better remember the affairs of that time than those which have lately happened; the things which we learn in our childhood growing up in the soul, and uniting themselves to it. Insomuch, that I can tell the place in which the blessed Polycarp sat and taught, and
ing his formal and explicit testimony to them. This testimony had already been completed to the satisfaction of the whole Christian world. If much additional testimony has not been given, it is because it was not called for. But we ought to see, that every Christian writer, in the fact of his being a Christian, in his expressed reverence for the books of the New Testa-his going out, and coming in, and the manment, and in his numerous allusions to ner of his life, and the form of his person, the leading points of the Gospel history, and his discourses to the people; and how has given as satisfying evidence to the he related his conversation with John, and truth of the Christian miracles, as if he others who had seen the Lord; and how he had left behind him a copious and distinct related their sayings, and what he had narrative. heard from them concerning the Lord, both concerning his miracles and his doctrines, as he had received them from the eye-wit nesses of the Word of Life: all which Polycarp related agreeably to the Scriptures. These things I then, through the mercy of
In another part, speaking of the apostles, Clement says, that "receiving the commandments, and being filled with full certainty by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and confirmed by the word of God, with the assurance of the Holy Spirit, they went out announcing the advent of the kingdom of God."
Of all the miracles of the Gospel, it was to be supposed, that the resurrection of our Saviour would be oftenest appealed to; not as an evidence of his being a teacher, for that was a point so settled in the mind
God towards me, diligently heard and attended to, recording them not on paper, but upon my heart."
cles of the Gospel. We see the most intrepid remonstrance against errors of conduct, or discipline, or doctrine. This savours strongly of upright and independent teach
Now is the time to exhibit to full advantage the argument which the different epis-ers; but is not a most striking circumtles of the New Testament afford. They stance, that among the severe reckonings are, in fact, so many distinct and additional which St. Paul had with some of his testimonies. If the testimonies drawn from churches, he was never once called upon the writings of the Christian fathers are to school their doubts, or their suspicions, calculated to make any impression, then as to the reality of the Christian miracles? the testimonies of these epistles, where This is a point universally acquiesced in; there is no delusion, and no prejudice in and, from the general strain of these episthe mind of the inquirer, must make a tles, we collect, not merely the testimony greater impression. They are more ancient, of their authors, but the unsuspected testiand were held to be of greater authority mony of all to whom they addressed themby competent judges. They were held suf- selves. ficient by the men of those days who were nearer to the sources of evidence; and they ought, therefore, to be held sufficient by us. The early persecuted Christians had too great an interest in the grounds of their faith, to make a light and superficial examination. We may safely commit the decision to them; and the decision they have made, is, that the authors of the different epistles in the New Testament, were worthier of their confidence, as witnesses of the truth, than the authors of those compositions which were left out of the collection, and maintain, in our eye, the form of a separate testimony. By what unaccountable tendency is it, that we feel disposed to reverse this decision, and to repose more faith in the testimony of subsequent and less esteemed writers? Is there any thing in the confidence given to Peter and Paul by their contemporaries, which renders them unworthy of ours? or, is the testimony of their writings less valuable and less impressive, because the Christians of old have received them as the best vouchers of their faith?
It gives us a far more satisfying impression than ever of the truth of our religion, when, in addition to several distinct and independent narratives of its history, we meet with a number of contemporaneous productions addressed to different societies, and all proceeding upon the truth of that history, as an agreed and unquestionable point among the different parties in the correspondence. Had that history been a fabrication, in what manner, we ask, would it have been followed up by the subsequent compositions of those numerous agents in the work of deception? How comes it, that they have betrayed no symptom of that insecurity which it would have been so natural to feel in their circumstances? Through the whole of these epistles, we see nothing like the awkward or embarrassed air of impostors. We see no anxiety, either to mend or to confirm the history that had already been given. We see no contest which they might have been called upon to maintain with the incredulity of their converts, as to the mira
And let it never be forgotten, that the Christians, who compose these churches, were in every way well qualified to be arbiters in this question. They had the first authorities within their reach. The five hundred who, Paul says to them, had seen our Saviour after his resurrection, could be sought after; and, if not to be found, Paul would have had his assertion to answer for. In some cases, they were the first authorities themselves, and had therefore no confirmation to go in search of. He appeals to the miracles which had been wrought among them, and in this way he commits the question to their own experience. He asserts this to the Galatians; and at the very time, too, that he is delivering against them a most severe and irritating invective. He intimates the same thing repeatedly to the Corinthians; and after he had put his honesty to so severe a trial, does he betray any insecurity as to his character and reputation among them? So far from this, that in arguing the general doctrine of the resurrection from the dead, as the most effectual method of securing assent to it, he rests the main part of the argument upon their confidence in his fidelity as a witness. "But if there be no resurrection from the dead, then is Christ not risen.-Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God, that he raised up Christ, whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not." Where, we ask, would have been the mighty charm of this argument, if Paul's fidelity had been questioned; and how shall we account for the free and intrepid manner in which he advances it, if the miracles which he refers to, as wrought among them, had been nullities of his own invention?
For the truth of the Gospel history, we can appeal to one strong and unbroken series of testimonies from the day of the apostles. But the great strength of the evidence lies in that effulgence of testimony, which enlightens this history at its commencement-in the number of its original witnesses-in the distinct and independent records which they left behind them, and
in the undoubted faith they bore among the numerous societies which they instituted. The concurrence of the apostolic fathers, and their immediate successors, forms a very strong and a very satisfying argument; but let it be further remembered, that
out of the materials which compose, if we may be allowed the expression, the original charter of our faith, we can select a stronger body of evidence than it is possible to form out of the whole mass of subsequent testimonies.
Remarks on the Argument from Prophecy.
VI. PROPHECY is another species of evi- fulfilled what was spoken by some of the dence to which Christianity professes an old prophets. If every event which enters abundant claim, and which can be estab-into the Gospel had been under the conlished on evidence altogether distinct from troul of agents merely human, and friends the testimony of its supporters. The pre- to Christianity, then we might have had diction of what is future may not be de- reason to pronounce the whole history to livered in terms so clear and intelligible as be one continued process of artful and dethe history of what is past; and yet, in its signed accommodation to the Old Testaactual fulfilment, it may leave no doubt on ment prophecies. But the truth is, that the mind of the inquirer that it was a predic- many of the events pointed at in the Old tion, and that the event in question was in Testament, so far from being brought about the contemplation of him who uttered it. by the agency of Christians, were brought It may be easy to dispose of one isolated about in opposition to their most anxious prophecy, by ascribing it to accident; but wishes. Some of them were brought about when we observe a number of these pro- by the agency of their most decided enephecies, delivered in different ages, and all mies; and some of them, such as the dissobearing an application to the same events, lution of the Jewish state, and the dispersion or the same individual, it is difficult to resist of its people among all countries, were quite the impression that they were actuated by beyond the controul of the apostles and a knowledge superior to human. their followers, and were effected by the intervention of a neutral party, which at the time took no interest in the question, and which was a stranger to the prophecy, though the unconscious instrument of its fulfilment.
The obscurity of the prophetical language has been often complained of; but it is not so often attended to, that if the prophecy which foretels an event were as clear as the narrative which describes it, it would in many cases annihilate the argument. Were the history of any individual foretold in terms as explicit as it is in the power of narrative to make them, it might be competent for any usurper to set himself forward, and in as far as it depended upon his own agency, he might realize that history. He has no more to do than to take his lesson from the prophecy before him; but could it be said that fulfilment like this carried in it the evidence of any thing divine or miraculous? If the prophecy of a Prince and a Saviour, in the Old Testament, were different from what they are, and delivered in the precise and intelligible terms of an actual history; then every accomplishment which could be brought about by the agency of those who understood the prophecy, and were anxious for its verification, is lost to the argument. It would be instantly said that the agents in the transaction took their clue from the prophecy before them. It is the way, in fact, in which infidels have attempted to evade the argument as it actually stands. In the New Testament, an event is sometimes said to happen, that it might be
Lord Bolingbroke has carried the objection so far, that he asserts Jesus Christ to have brought about his own death, by a series of wilful and preconcerted measures, merely to give the disciples who came after him the triumph of an appeal to the old prophecies. This is ridiculous enough; but it serves to show with what facility an infidel might have evaded the whole argument, had these prophecies been free of all that obscurity which is now so loudly complained of.
The best form, for the purposes of argument, in which a prophecy can be delivered, is to be so obscure, as to leave the event, or rather its main circumstances, unintelligible before the fulfilment, and so clear as to be intelligible after it. It is easy to conceive that this may be an attainable object; and it is saying much for the argument as it stands, that the happiest illustrations of this clearness on the one hand, and this obscurity on the other, are to be gathered from the actual prophecies of the Old Testament.
It is not, however, by this part of the argument, that we expect to reclaim the
enemy of our religion from his infidelity; has left the Jewish people; of the strong prejudices, even of the first disciples; of the manner in which these prejudices were dissipated, only by the accomplishment; and of their final conviction in the import of these prophecies being at last so strong, that it often forms their main argument for the divinity of that new religion which they were commissioned to publish to the world. Now, assuming, what we still persist in asserting, and ask to be tried upon, that an actual comparison of the prophecies in the Old Testament, with their alleged fulfilment in the New,
not that the examination would not satisfy him, but that the examination will not be given. What a violence it would be of fering to all his antipathies, were we to land him, at the outset of our discussions, among the chapters of Daniel or Isaiah! He has too inveterate a contempt for the Bible. He nauseates the whole subject too strongly to be prevailed upon to accompany us to such an exercise. On such a subject as this, there is no contract, no approximation between us; and we therefore leave him with the assertion, (an assertion which he has no title to pronounce upon, will leave a conviction behind it, that there till after he has finished the very examina- is a real correspondence between them; tion in which we are most anxious to en- we see, in the great events of the new disgage him,) that in the numerous prophe-pensation brought about by the blind incies of the Old Testament, there is such a strumentality of prejudice and opposition, multitude of allusions to the events of the far more unambiguous characters of the New, as will give a strong impression to finger of God, than if every thing had hapthe mind of every inquirer, that the whole pened with the full concurrence and anforms one magnificent series of communi- ticipation of the different actors in this hiscations between the visible and the invisible tory. world; a great plan over which the unseen God presides in wisdom, and which, beginning with the first ages of the world, is still receiving new developements from every great step in the history of the spe
It is impossible to give a complete exposition of this argument without an actual reference to the prophecies themselves; and this we at present abstain from. But it can be conceived, that a prophecy, when first announced, may be so obscure, as to be unintelligible in many of its circumstances; and yet may so far explain itself by its accomplishment, as to carry along with it the most decisive evidence of its being a prophecy. And the argument may be so far strengthened by the number, and distance, and independence, of the different prophecies, all bearing an application to the same individual and the same history, as to leave no doubt on the mind of the observer, that the events in question were in the actual contemplation of those who uttered the prediction. If the terms of the prophecy were not comprehended, it at least takes off the suspicion of the event being brought about by the controul or agency of men who were interested in the accomplishment. If the prophecies of the Old Testament are just invested in such degree of obscurity, as is enough to disguise many of the leading circumstances from those who lived before the fulfilment, -while they derive from the event an explanation satisfying to all who live after it, then, we say, the argument for the divinity of the whole is stronger, than if no such obscurity had existed. In the history of the New Testament, we see a natural and consistent account of the delusion respect- Scriptures, in the distant and independent ing the Messiah, in which this obscurity societies which were scattered over so
There is another essential part of the argument, which is much strengthened by this obscurity. It is necessary to fix the date of the prophecies, or to establish, at least, that the time of their publication was antecedent to the events to which they refer. Now, had these prophecies been delivered in terms so explicit, as to force the concurrence of the whole Jewish nation, the argument for their antiquity, would not have come down in a form as satisfying, as that in which it is actually exhibited. The testimony of the Jews, to the date of their sacred writings, would have been refused as an interested testimony. Whereas, to evade the argument as it stands, we must admit a principle, which, in no question of ordinary criticism, would be suffered for a single moment to influence your understanding. We must conceive, that two parties, at the very time that they were influenced by the strongest mutual hostility, combined to support a fabrication; that they have not violated this combination; that the numerous writers on both sides of the question have not suffered the slightest hint of this mysterious compact to escape them; and that, though the Jews are galled incessantly by the triumphant tone of the Christian appeals to their own prophecies, they have never been tempted to let out a secret, which would have brought the argument of the Christians into disgrace, and shown the world how falsehood and forgery mingled with their pretensions.
In the rivalry which, from the very commencement of our religion, has always obtained between Jews and Christians, in the mutual animosities of Christian sects, in the vast multiplication of copies of the