« VorigeDoorgaan »
In my Ecclesiastical Researches, published some years ago, I have shown that Philo and Josephus were believers in Christ, and even Christian apologists. The facts recorded by these men respecting the Christian religion and its advocates, are in the highest degree important; and I flattered myself they would make their way, if not to the conviction, at least to the notice, of the Christian world. Yet the volume has received little encouragement, and scarcely any notice; the Reviewers, who are the only channels of literary information, having left it, with one exception, in the shade, as either above or below criticism. But I am not dismayed at this apparent neglect. I confide in the solidity and importance of the facts therein developed; and if the jealousy, the indolence, or the incompetence of literary censors will continue to refuse me a hearing at the bar of the public, I leave the inquiry to posterity, being assured that the providence of God will bring all things to light in the season most proper for their reception.
I have long been convinced that a great mass of evidence in favour of Christianity hitherto unknown may be elicited from ancient records; and I feel it my duty, whenever a fair opportunity offers, to direct the attention of mankind to those records, as the most effectual means of checking the triumph of unbelievers. The Christian world seems at this time alive to the interests of Christianity, and promises a respectful attention to those who have new matter to offer in its support. The present small publication has originated in this flattering aspect of the times; and I hope that, with this favourable predilection, the friends of the Gospel will not turn aside from facts calculated, with irresistible force, to demonstrate its truth. With this view, I have taken the leading facts from my Ecclesiastical Researches, exhibited them in rapid succession and condensed brevity, unincumbered with learned quotations, or an ambitious display of references to ancient and modern authors; and then applied them to elucidate and prove the reality of the miracles ascribed to Jesus Christ in the New Testament. From beginning to end the reader will find himself treading on new ground; and he will, I trust, have no reason to doubt its solidity, excepting that, as he advances, the transactions which arise in succession to his view are without the sanction of modern writers. I am not, indeed, so vain as to imagine that my reasonings will always be deemed conclusive, especially as they stand opposed to the authority of learned men; but I trust that the field of inquiry I have opened, is such as to merit investigation: my end is gained if I obtain a public hearing. In many minor points I may be mistaken or fanciful; but the leading events which I have developed will be found to stand on the rock of truth.
I have seen it lately asserted in a weekly journal, that the literati of Europe are all, or nearly all, unbelievers in Revelation. This assertion was made, it is said, by a Barrister, in presence of the Chancellor of England, and that without contradiction. The assertion, if true, implies that they who disbelieve Christianity, disbelieve it because they are
learned; while they, on the contrary, who believe it, do this through the want of learning. The men who thus modestly presume, seem to have forgotten the literati of the past century: they either do not know that such men as Newton, Locke, Hartley, Lardner, Priestley, Johnson, Sir W. Jones, Paley, Watson, and Parr, are among the advocates of Revelation; or, knowing this, they will not allow them to class with themselves in genius and learning.
To the gentlemen who held forth these extravagant pretensions I take the liberty to recommend this small volume, and beg them carefully to peruse it. In the contents of it they will have a deep interest; for they will have reason to conclude from it, that they who reject Christianity, reject it not because they possess, but because they want, superior learning: that their brethren in the first and second centuries had indeed all the requisite information to become convinced of its truth, yet preferred to stand forth as liars and wilful deceivers, rather than acknowledge the validity of its claims; and that those modern sceptics who tread in their steps, however wise and able on other subjects, are safe from a similar imputation, only because they are shielded by profound ignorance with regard to Christianity.
The judgement which I have passed on the character of the antichristian writers in ancient times is, I am aware, liable to suspicion: but I have judged of these authors by their own works; and these works are too clear and unequivocal to mistake their motives. If I am mistaken, let me be corrected. To rip open, as it were, the bosoms of the venerable dead, and to profane with the foulest imputation those whom we have hitherto regarded with reverence for their virtues as well as for their talents, must, indeed, if unwarranted by conclusive evidence, be deemed an act of unhallowed temerity. The wise and the candid, whether believers in Revelation or not, will be disposed to resent it as an insult to truth and virtue. If found guilty of this act, without full evidence, let me pay the penalty of my folly. I will not implore mercy from him who may refute me; but offer myself as a willing victim on that altar which I raised to consume the enemies of the Gospel
It was my intention to annex a few animadversions on the inquiry which Mr. Gibbon, in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, thought fit to institute respecting the rise and
progress of Christianity; but these remarks I reserve for a future publication. The events which I have brought to light, stand in direct opposition to the conclusions of that historian. If true, they will enable me to obtain an easy and signal victory over the most formidable enemy Christianity encountered either in modern or ancient times. The letters of Dr. Watson, indeed, have supplied a powerful antidote to the poison of that insidious author; but, in most instances, the misrepresentations and false colouring alleged by him, to the prejudice of our holy faith, still demand a more complete exposure; and I will at least attempt a work of this kind, if my labours should appear likely to receive the countenance of the Public.