« PreviousContinue »
ferred, that at marriage entertainments it was usual for all the guests to get drunk, far lefs that the guests were fo at this entertainment. To conclude: he who in the firft creation made fuch liberal provifion for the neceffities of men, might on a particular occafion, when he was forming nourishment for the natural life of his friends, with all decency do it plentifully: because thus the favour was enhanced; and by the quantity furnished he both fhewed his own exuberant goodness, and gave fuch magnificence to the miracle, as removed it beyond all poffibility, and even fufpicion of fraud.
5. The refurrection of Lazarus is spoken againft, on account of a circumftance taken notice of in the hiftory of that miracle, John xi. 44. "And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave cloaths." Here the question is, How a man could come out of a grave, who was bound hand and foot? Yet to this puzzling queftion, I do not defpair of returning a fatisfactory answer. From the writings of Jofephus, and of fuch travellers as have vifited Paleftine, we learn that the Jewish fepulchres were generally caves or rooms hewn out of rocks. Wherefore, as the Jews did not make use of coffins in burying the dead, they placed the bodies generally in niches, cut into the fides of these caves or rooms. (See Maundrel's defcription of the fepulchres of the kings. Travels, p. 76.) This form of the Jewish fepulchres fuggefts an eafy folution of the difficulty under confideration. The Evangelift does not mean to fay, that Lazarus walked out of the fepulchre; but that, lying on his back in a nich, he raised himself into a fitting pofture; then putting his legs over the edge of his nich or cell, flid down, and stood upright upon the floor. All this he might do, notwithstanding his arms were close bound to his body, and his legs were tied ftrait together with the shroud and rollers, wherewith, after the manner of the Jews, he was fwathed. Accordingly, when he thus came forth, it is faid, Jefus ordered them to loose him and let him go; a circumftance plainly importing, that the Evangelift knew Lazarus could not walk till he was unbound.
The Actions afcribed in the Gospels to the Apoflles, are probable.
I. THE apoftles are thought to have fhewed too much precipitancy in their attachment to their Mafter. This feeming impropriety was taken notice of anciently by Porphyry and Julian, who offered it as a perfonal objection against Matthew's character, but not against the hiftory itself. In either view, however, the objection is frivolous and incompetent, arifing merely from the brevity of the narration. I acknowledge that three of the Evangelifts do not mention our Lord's having had any previous interviews with the perfons whom he afterwards called to be his apoftles. Yet from this circumftance to infer, that they had neither feen nor heard of one another before, would be very abfurd. John in his Gofpel affures us, that Peter, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael, all of whom afterwards became
Chrift's apoftles, waited upon him, and conversed with him at Jor dan, when he came to be baptized of John. They were therefore no ftrangers to his character and pretenfions; but had a favourable opinion of both, long before they joined themselves to him as his difciples. How then can it be thought ftrange, that, when Jefus called them to follow him, they readily obeyed? The cenfure indeed is levelled chiefly againft Matthew, whom Jefus called from the receipt of cuftom. Yet he likewife may be vindicated by the apology juft now offered. The receipt of cuftom, from which he was called to follow Jefus, was near Capernaum, the place of our Lord's ordinary refidence. Wherefore, if this publican, as is probable, was an inhabitant of Capernaum, he could be no ftranger to our Lord's character, doctrine, and miracles. He may not only have heard him often preach, but he may have feen him perform miracles; and from both may have formed a juft notion of his pretenfions. In fuch circumftances, could Matthew be blamed for inftantly obeying the call of one whom he believed to be Meffiah, and who in calling him conferred a favour upon him? The fame account may be given of James and John the fons of Zebedee, and of all the reft; who, befides the perfonal knowledge which they had of Jefus, were no doubt acquainted with the Baptift's teftimony concerning him, and with the auguft character which the voice from heaven had given him, when, in the hearing of the multitude, it declared him to be "the beloved
Son of God, in whom he was well-pleafed."
2. It is thought, that if our Lord's character and miracles had been really fuch as in the Gofpels they are faid to have been, it is not probable that any of his difciples would have betrayed him. The expectation which they had of being raised to the chief places in his fuppofed kingdom, would have attached even the molt covetous of them to his perfon; and the confideration of his knowledge and power as the Son of God would have deterred the moft daring among them from attempting any thing to his difadvantage. The fum which the traitor received for giving up his Mafter, in value did not exceed three pounds ten fhillings fterling. It was therefore a trifle, which the moft covetous wretch cannot be supposed to have taken as an equivalent for the life of a friend, from whom he had any expectations of gain at all. To fuppofe that he betrayed his Mafter in refentment of the rebuke which he gave him for blaming the woman who came with the precious ointment, is attributing too much to the force of fuch a paffion. That rebuke was not levelled against him fingly. It was directed also to the reft. Befides, it fhould be confidered, that though he ftruck the bargain with the chief priests about betraying his master, a few hours after he was rebuked, almost two days paffed before he fulfilled his bargain; fo that he had time enough to think deliberately of what he was going to do. From all this our adverfaries infer, that the treachery of Judas, as we were pleafed to call it, was occafioned by fome fufpicion which he entertained of his Mafter's character. His eyes, it feems, were at length opened. He found that Jefus was not the Meffiah; and he delivered him into the hands
of the fupreme court of juftice, in a fit of defpair, for having been fo beguiled by him. But to this I reply, that though no probable account could be given of the motives which induced Judas to betray his Mafter, there are, in the hiftory itself, circumftances which demonftrate that his treachery did not proceed from any fufpicion which he entertained of his Master's character. For, in the first place, if this difciple had thought his Mafter an impoftor, and propofed nothing by his treachery but the price he put on his life, how came he to fell him for fuch a trifle, when he well knew the pricfts would have given him any fum, rather than not have gotten him into their hands? In the fecond place, if Judas believed Jefus to be an impoftor, he must have obferved fomething in his behaviour which led him to form fuch an opinion of him. And, in that cafe, he certainly would have mentioned the matter to the chief priests and elders at the time he made the bargain with them. It is plain, however, that he made then no difcovery tending to the prejudice of his Mafter's character; otherwife the priests would have urged it against Jesus in the course of his trial, when they were at fuch a lofs for evidence to prove him a deceiver. For, even in the eye of impartiality itself, the teftimony of a conftant attendant is the best evidence for detecting an impoftor. Moreover, they would have urged the difcoveries made by Judas against the Apostles after their Mafter's death, when they reproved them for preaching in his name; Acts. iv. 24. and v. 27. Nay, they would have upbraided Judas himself with it, when he told them he had finned in betraying innocent blood," and not have answered coldly, "What is that to us? fee thou to it." Thirdly, if Judas thought his Mafter an impoftor, how came he, before he hanged himfelf, folemnly to declare to the chief priests the innocence of the man, and his remorfe for having betrayed him? If Judas knew Jefus to be an impoftor, he could have no remorfe for what he had done. He had only put him into the hands of a court, whofe province it was to judge of his pretenfions. Jefus deferved the fentence which his judges had paffed upon him. When his fentence was executed, what occafion was there for the perfon who had brought it about to have any remorfe? Or why fhould he have fled to a halter, for relief from his own tormenting thoughts?
Having thus fhewn, from all the circumftances of this tranfaction, that no argument can be drawn to our Lord's difadvantage from the conduct of Judas; I now go on to propose what in my opinion were the motives determining him to an action, which will render his memory odious, while the human fpecies fubfifts. He was fo Covetous, we are told, as to fteal money out of the common bag. It is therefore more than probable, that he first followed Jefus with a view to the riches and other temporal advantages which he expected Meffiah's friends would enjoy. And, as hitherto he had reaped none of thofe advantages, he grew impatient under the delay; and the more fo, that Jefus towards the end of his miniftry had exprefsly dif couraged all ambitious views among his difciples, and had rejected the opportunity of erecting his kingdom, offered him by the multitude, who accompanied him with Hofannas into Jerufalem. Judas's
impatience therefore becoming exceffive, put him upon the scheme of delivering his Mafter into the hands of the fenate, thinking it the moft proper method of obliging him to affume the dignity of Meffiah, and confequently of enabling him to reward his followers. For as this court was compofed of the chief priests, elders, and fcribes, that is, the principal perfons of the nation, Judas did not doubt but that Jefus, when before fuch an affembly, would prove his pretenfions to their full conviction, gain them over to his interests, and enter forthwith on his regal dignity. And though he must have been fenfible, that the method he took to bring this about would be very offenfive to his Mafter, he might think the fuccefs of it would procure his pardon, and even recommend him to favour. In the mean time, his project, however plaufible it might appear, was far from being free of difficulty; and, therefore, while he revolved it in his mind, many things no doubt occurred to ftagger his refolution. At length an incident happened which urged him on. Thinking himself affronted by the rebuke which Jefus had given him in the matter of the laft anointing, and that rebuke fitting heavier on him, as he had procured a former mark of his Mafter's displeasure, by an imprudence of the fame kind, he was provoked. And though his refentment was not fuch as could infpire him with the horrid design of putting his Mafter to death, it impelled him to execute the refolution he had formed, of making him alter his measures, by putting him into the hands of the grandees. Thus the devil, laying hold on the various paffions which agitated the traitor's breaft, tempted him by them all. It is evident, therefore, that Judas was not moved to betray Jefus, by any thing fufpicious in his character. His perfidy, inftead of implying that he entertained doubts of his Master's integrity, plainly proves, that he had the fulleft conviction of his being the Meffiah. And, to fay the truth, it was not poffible for any one, intimately acquainted with our Lord as Judas was, to judge otherwife of him; having feen his miracles, which were great and true beyond exception, and having experienced his divine power in the ability of working miracles, which along with the rest of the apoftles he had received from him, and no doubt exercised with extraordinary pleasure. No objection, therefore, lies against the Gospels on account of the treachery of Judas, of which fo plaufible an explication can be given; an explication which is not only conformable to the known character of the man, but honourable alfo for our Lord, against whofe pretenfions it seems to bear hard at firft view.
Shewing that the actions of our Lord's enemies are probable.
IN the Gospels, Herod King of Judea, and his fon of the fame name, who was tetrarch of Galilee, Pontius Pilate the Roman governor, with Annas and Caiaphas Jewish high priests, are all mentioned by name, and reprefented as unfriendly to our Lord. The Scribes, Bharifees, Elders, and Chief Priests, that is, the persons of greatest
diftinction in the Jewish nation, are fet forth in the fame light. They perfecuted Jefus through the whole course of his ministry, and at laft put him to death as a malefactor in the public place of execution near Jerufalem. To examine the particular actions afcribed in the Gospels to the perfons juft now named, would be tedious and needlefs. I fhall only obferve, in general, that all the evil things faid by the Evangelifts to have been done by thofe perfons, and among the reft the flaughter of the infants of Bethlehem, the horrid action of Herod, are rendered fufficiently probable by the accounts which profane hiftorians have given of them; efpecially Jofephus, who has written fully of those perfons and times. See Dr. Lardner's Credibility, Vol. i. ii.
On reviewing the matters mentioned in the feveral fections of this chapter, it appears, that all the actions, without exception, which the Evangelifts have recorded, are of a probable nature; whether they be thofe afcribed to Jefus himself, or to his difciples, or to his enemies. For they are all, not only things poffible in themselves, but they are perfectly fuitable to the characters of the perfons to whom they are afcribed. And if any particular action has been objected to, upon a more perfect knowledge of the action itself and of its circumstances, every fhadow of blame vanishes. Wherefore, upon the narrowest fearch that it is poffible for us to make, we muft acknowledge, that the Gospels cannot be found fault with as books of hiftory, on account of the impropriety or improbability of any of the actions, whether ordinary or extraordinary, therein recorded.
Of the Argument arifing from the Converfion of the World to Chriftianity.
E come now to the moft fhining of all the proofs, whereby the Gospels are established ; a proof taken from an event the grandeft undoubtedly that ever happened on earth; an event too, of which we are as certain as we are of the prefent existence of mankind, and that is, the converfion of the world from heathenifm to Chriftianity, by means of the publication of the Gospel-history. The perfons to whom the things concerning the Lord Jefus were first preached, entertained no doubt of them. Their forfaking the religion in which they had been educated, and their embracing the Chriftian faith, is fuch a demonftration of their belief of the history of Jefus, that to demand farther proof of their belief, were idle and impertinent. But if great numbers of fenfible people every where believed the hiftory of Jefus, immediately upon its being preached to them, when it was in their power to have detected whatever 0 4