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ON THE CREDIBILITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, AND ON THE EVIDENCE
Having considered the evidences which evince 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 propositionsnamely, 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 doabt 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 difficulty 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
PROBABILITY OF THE CHRISTIAN MIRACLES.
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 moral 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.
THE EVANGELISTS EYE-WITNESSES, &c.
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:" I 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 eyewitnesses. 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, yet 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
THEIR TESTIMONY HARMONIOUS,
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, ana
logy 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 differences 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 scene 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 incontrovertible evidence that the narrators did not borrow their statements from one another, but that every one told his tale according to his own apprehension of the circumstances which he related. Thus then is the authenticity of the four Gospel histories manifested by a striking, natural, and characteristic, variety, in the midst of a wonderfully comprehensive harmony.
I have already found occasion to notice, as affording an evidence of the genuineness of the epistles of Paul, and of the book of Acts, the coincidences subsisting between the history and the letters. These