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ancient classical book whatsoever. If, then, we entertain no doubt that the Cyropædia is the work of Xenophon; the Æneid, of Virgil; the Tusculan Disputations, of Cicero; and the Gallic Commentaries, of Cæsar; much less have we any → reason to hesitate in receiving the New Testament, as the production of the evangelists and apostles.
Here, perhaps, the inquiry may be suggested, what appearance of evidence is it probable could have been produced in favour of the books of the New Testament, had they been really spurious? This inquiry may be answered by an appeal to facts. We are actually in possession of spurious Gospels, spurious acts of Paul, and spurious Epistles, purporting to be written by Christ or his followers. It is probable that these wretched forgeries were produced during the second, third, and fourth, centuries of the Christian era; and the first production of some of them is matter of history. Now, they are not once alluded to by the fathers of the first century. By those of the three next centuries they are seldom cited: when cited, they are never adduced as Scripture, and are sometimes expressly declared to be destitute of all authority. They were the subjects of no commentaries. They were uniformly excluded from the canons of sacred books. They were written in a style totally differing from that of the New Testament, though unskilfully copied from it in parts: and lastly, they abound in absurdities, contradictions, anachronisms, trifling ridiculous details, and narrations even of an immoral tendency. While, therefore, these spurious productions afford a proof of the antecedent existence of those books which they so irreverently mimic, the inherent and extrinsic circumstances appertaining to their character and history may serve to show us how matters would have stood with the New Testament, had it also been spurious; and the absolute genuineness of that pure and unsophisticated volume is rendered more than ever manifest by the contrast: see Horne's Introd., vol. i, p. 717. Jones on the Canon.*
* The apocryphal Gospels and Epistles, now extant, form but a small proportion of that mass of absurd and irreligious forgery which was poured forth by the wilder sects of heretics during the second, third, and fourth, centuries. The very fact, that almost the whole of these productions have long since been lost and forgotten, while the canonical books have, in all ages of the Christian church, been received and carefully preserved, affords, in itself, a sufficient evidence of the spuriousness of the former, and of the genuineness of the latter. The ancient fathers were accustomed to cite these spurious works, for the purpose of showing that, in point of learning, they were on a par with
Finally, while it is thus abundantly evident that the New Testament is the genuine work of the evangelists and apostles, we have every reason to believe that its text, as we have long been accustomed to read it, is substantially correct and uncorrupted. The early multiplication of copies among persons of so many different characters and situations, and, in process of time, of such various religious persuasions, while it would naturally give rise to a vast number of unimportant various readings, afforded a sure check against the corruption or wilful alteration of the sacred text. The copies thus early made and disseminated may be regarded as the precursors and prototypes of those very numerous manuscripts of the New Testament which are still preserved. These therefore form one proper criterion for the final settlement of its text. Other criteria, of no less efficacy and importance, are found in the ancient versions of that volume, and in the multitudinous extracts from it, transfused into the pages of the early fathers. Now, the whole of these criteria have been applied by a succession of modern critics, with astonishing industry and great discrimination; and the result of their labours is this-that the Greek Testament, as it was read by the earliest reformers, and translated by the authors of our common English version, continues unimpaired, and, with very few exceptions of any moment, unaltered. It has not been deprived of a single doctrinal truth, of a single historical narration, of a single moral precept.
their opponents. When speaking of the forged Gospels, Origen, after distinguishing them from the four genuine ones, writes as follows:
Legimus ne quid ignorare videremur, propter eos qui se putant aliquid scire, si ista cognoverint:" Hom. in Luc. i, 1. So also Ambrose, "Legimus ne legantur (ab aliis); legimus ne ignoremus; legimus non ut teneamus, sed ut repudiemus, et ut sciamus qualia sint in quibus magnifici isti cor exultant suum;" Comment in Luc. i, 1. Jones on the Canon, vol. i, 129.
ON THE CREDIBILITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, AND ON THE EVIDENCE OF MIRACLES.
HAVING considered the evidences which prove with so much clearness that the New Testament is the genuine work of some of the apostles and their companions, we may proceed to the examination, and I trust, to the proof, of two additional propositions namely, first, that the history related in it is true. and therefore, secondly, that Christianity is of divine origin.
When we read the history of past transactions, as they have been recorded by Thucydides, Livy, or Tacitus, we do not hesitate in receiving such history as authentic, because we have no reason to doubt the general veracity and accuracy of these authors, and because the events which they relate are for the most part such as frequently take place, and are in themselves easily credible. Neither should we feel any difhculty in receiving the testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, respecting the circumstances which form the subjects of their several narratives, had not many of those circumstances been of a directly miraculous nature, and therefore at variance with the common course of our experience. The question immediately arises, whether the veracity of the sacred historians is so far confirmed by collateral considerations, as to overcome, in the mind of the candid reasoner, the difficulty of which he is sensible, in admitting the truth of a miraculous history?
Before, however, we proceed to discuss this question, it may be proper to observe, that the improbability of the Christian miracles may, by the superficial observer, be very easily overrated. Though miraculous interruptions of the regular order of nature must ever of necessity differ, in one point of view, from usual experience-as such events would otherwise be no longer miracles-it is nevertheless consistent with all experience with the whole known course of nature and providence that God should adapt his means to his end. If then we allow that one great end which God, in the whole of his moral dispensations, has in view, is the virtue and happiness of his creatures; if, further, when we reflect on the gross mo
ral darkness which overspread the world before the coming of Christ, we cannot but admit that, in order to this end, a clear external revelation of the divine will was desirable and even necessary; and if, lastly, we confess that miracles were a fit and proper test (beyond any other indeed which we are able to conceive) by which the divine authority of such revelation might be tried and determined ;—we cannot refuse to acknowledge that, under these particular circumstances, the miraculous events recorded in the New Testament were far from being really improbable; that, on the contrary, they truly coincided with the analogy of God's moral government, and, therefore, with the experience of mankind, in the most comprehensive sense of those expressions.
Having considered this point, we shall be the more ready to listen to the evidences which may be brought forward, to prove the absolute credibility of the apostles and evangelists; and, if we find these evidences strong, various, and harmonious, and therefore satisfactory, our natural reluctance against the belief of supernatural events will, I trust, (as far as relates to the present case) be entirely subdued, and will yield to a full and settled persuasion, that the history of the New Testament is true. I may now proceed concisely to state those evidences, in the order which strikes me as the most clear and natural.
I. "That which was from the beginning," says the apostle John, "which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life.....that which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you:" 1 John i, 1. 3. The doctrines which the apostles promulgated had been imparted to them by the very lips of their divine Master, and of the wonderful events which they commemorated, in their preaching or in their writing, they had themselves been eye-witnesses. Among the writers of the historical parts of the New Testament, Matthew and John were actually present when the greater part occurred of those circumstances which form the subject of their narrations; and Luke writes as an eye and ear-witness in that simple, but highly descriptive, history-the book of Acts. This circumstance invests their testimony with a peculiar efficacy and value, and gives rise to a feeling of satisfaction respecting the authenticity of their narratives, similar to that which must ever attach (for example) to the perusal of Xenophon's Anabasis, of Cæsar's Commentaries, and of Lord Clarendon's Memoirs. Nor is it a much lower degree of confidence which we may justly feel in perusing the Gospels of Mark and Luke, since it was from apostles and eye-witnesses that these authors
derived that "perfect understanding of all things from the very first," by which they were so well prepared for the office of evangelists: see Luke i, 1-4.
II. In the Gospels we possess, in the second place, the harmonious testimony of four cotemporary, yet independent, historians to the same facts. Numerous indeed are the circumstances connected with the birth, life, discourses, death, and resurrection, of Jesus, of which we find corresponding details in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The greater part of these circumstances are also narrated by Mark; and John, who wrote some time after the other evangelists, while he furnishes the addition of some facts and of many large discourses, explicitly confirms the general history, as well as many of the minor particulars, related by his predecessors. Between the Gospel of John and the three preceding Gospels, there may, moreover, be observed a variety of incidental accordances, which afford a conclusive evidence of the veracity of the respective historians. To mention a single example, among the many instances so ably stated by Paley; the first three evangelists, in describing our Lord's prayer and agony in the garden, advert to his earnest supplication, that "this cup might pass" from him; and Matthew adds his words, "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done;" ch. xxvi, 42. John is silent on this point of the history; but in describing the scene which immediately followed, he relates in perfect, though apparently undesigned, analogy with the account given by the other evangelists of the preceding circumstances, that, when Peter would have defended Jesus on the approach of his enemies, our Lord (whose mind must have continued to dwell on the same pious sentiment) expressed himself as follows: "Put up thy sword into the sheath the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it ?" ch. xviii, 11: see Paley's Ev. vol, ii, ch. 4.
But, accordant and harmonious as are the testimonies borne by the four evangelists to the facts of the Gospel history, they proceed from separate and independent witnesses, as is satisfactorily evinced by the apparent differences which exist among their several narrations of certain minor circumstances. These lifferences are just such as would naturally arise in the true relations made by four credible persons, of the same series of facts; and, while they may be generally accounted for, on the principle that the different parts of the same thing were impressed with different degrees of force on the respective witnesses-that some things were uppermost in the mind of one witness, and others in that of another-they afford an in