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HISTORY OF THE EVANGELISTS AND APOSTLES. 143
we know but the whole is a pious fraud, concocted by the Catholic priesthood, in the dark days of popery, and foisted upon mankind as a revelation from heaven, to serve their own sinister ends ?” And some have actually gone so far as to affirm confidently that the fact is so. Now, as I would not intentionally evade any one difficulty in relation to this important enquiry, in this course of Lectures, I trust I shall have your excuse for detaining you while we examine into the grounds of this matter, and endeavour to obviate these idle cavils. The Gospels, as books of history, are supported by their early publication by the character of their authors—by the authenticity of the present copies—by the wonderful success of the gospel in every part of the then known world—by the institutions of the Kingdom of Christ, or Christian church, particularly the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper—and by the fulfilment of prophecies, among which I may instance those that relate to the destruction of Jerusalem. These are direct proofs, because they establish the truth of all the matters contained in the evangelic history. But to go into a critical examination of each of the particulars now mentioned, and to illustrate them as they deserve, would unavoidably carry me beyond the limits of many Lectures ; for, in truth, they form the basis of Dr. Paley's two volumes on the Evidences of Christianity; a work which is now in almost every one's hand, and to which I beg to refer you, as supplying whatever deficiencies may be found in the present Lecture. Some notice I am bound to take of the subject : but I shall compress what I have to say into as short a space as is consistent with perspicuity. :. Although the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the setting up of his kingdom in this world, were the subject of a long train of prophecies which commenced at a very early period, extending their course down the stream of time during nearly four thousand years, until the “fulness of time” arrived when these predictions began to meet their accomplishment in the coming and kingdom of the promised seed--the desire of all nations--it is not necessary for us to dwell on this at present. Christianity is beyond all doubt the perfection of Judaism--for the testimony concerning Jesus is the spirit, scope, end, or design of the prophetic dispensation. It will, however, be sufficient for my present purpose to take up the subject where the New Testament takes it up-to examine its claims to credibility as we there find it--and to show that, whether we regard its external or internal evidences, it is entitled to our most cordial acceptation.
The history of the life, character, and actions of Jesus Christ is given us by four distinct writers who are termed Evangelists ---namely, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And here let me observe that the whole series of Christian writers, from the first age of Christianity down to the present time, in their discussions, apologies, arguments, and controversies, proceed upon the general story which these four gospels contain and upon no other. The main facts, the principal agents are alike in all. This argument will appear to be of great force, when it is known that we are able to trace back the series of writers to a contact with the historical books of the New Testament, and to the age of the first emissaries of the Christian religion, and to deduce it by an unbroken continuation from that time to the present.
These four evangelists take up the subject from the beginning ; they inform us of the descent and family of the person whose history they undertake to write—the time and place and circumstances attending his birth-they speak of his exalted nature and complex person, as Emmanuel, God with us, or the incarnate Word-the peculiar design of his mission into this world, viz. to save his people from their sins--they mention his circumcision when eight days old, and his baptism at the age of thirty, when he entered upon his public ministry—they record the choice and calling of his twelve, apostles—his ministry and miracles, which were all acts of beneficence and mercy towards the children of men---they tell us of his transfiguration, with the attestations then given to his divine mission by a voice from the excellent glory, declaring him to be the beloved Son of God in whom the Father is well-pleased---they narrate his life of opposition and suffering---the meekness and gentleness with which he bore them, and his patience and resignation under them--they describe his agony in the garden of Gethsemane when no human hand was upon him—we read of the confession which he made concerning his kingdom before Pontius Pilate-his stripes, crucifixion, death, and burial---his resurrection on the third day
CREDIBILITY OF THE EVANGELISTS.
---his appearance after it, first to Peter, then to the rest of his apostles—the commission which he gave to the latter to preach his gospel in all the world and baptize such as believed in his name, with a promise that he would be with his servants alway, even to the end of time--his ascension into heaven, where he took his seat at the right hand of God—and lastly his designation to be the future judge of mankind : and here their narrative ends. It is true that all these particulars are not noticed by each evangelist; but that fact or doctrine which is omitted by one is supplied by another.
The book called the Acts of the Apostles was written by the evangelist Luke, as must be obvious to every one who will take the trouble to compare Luke i. 3 with Acts i. 1, and it is demonstrably a continuation of the same subject, commencing with the downpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, which was the fulfilment of a promise that Jesus had made before he left the world, and the setting up of his kingdom, agreeably to ancient prophecy. The subject is continued throughout the book, which contains the history of Christianity from the year of our Lord 33 to A. D. 63 of our present chronology—a period of thirty years. Of the precise time in which the four evangelists wrote the history of their Lord's life and ministry, with the order in which the gospels appeared, as well as some particulars of the writers, I shall have occasion to speak presently: in the mean time it is not unimportant to observe, in this place, that many heathen writers mention, either as matter of fact or of controversy, various circumstances of the life and death of Christ, which have been remarked and collected by the ancient fathers and historians. Amongst these writers are Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny, Phlegon, Marcus Aurelius, Lucian, Lampridius, Porphyry, Celsus, Numenius, and Julian. A few testimonies are also drawn from the Talmudists, who throw some light upon the Gospel history. Extracts from them have been made and are found in the writings of several eminent authors : but there are many fables and falsities interwoven with them concerning Christ.
We have, however, a more credible witness than any of these, in Josephus, the Jewish historian, who confirms many parts of the Gospel history. For instance, he corroborates the history of John the Baptist, the harbinger of Jesus. He mentions his
sanctity, his calling the people to repentance, his baptism, the concourse of his hearers, his imprisonment and death by Herod. He also furnishes a clear testimony in favour of Christ. I know, indeed, that a shade of doubt has been cast upon this testimony, arising from numerous instances of pious fraud-the style—variation of manuscripts—the silence of Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Origen---the splendid eulogy which the Jewish historian is supposed to pass upon our Lord, with the acknowledgment of his divinity, miracles, and resurrection. Hence, not only the Jews think these passages spurious, but some Christian writers also are of the same opinion. On the other hand some very strong arguments are produced to prove these passages to be genuine. They have obtained the suffrages of such respectable authors as Eusebius, Ruffinus, Jerome, Sozomen, Whiston, and other's, and have been esteemed genuine by many eminent divines-among whom are Suidas, Trithemius, Galatinus, Gaudentius, Baronius, Bellarmine, Casaubon, archbishop Usher, J. and G. Vossius, Reinesius, &c.* There is also
* To such of my readers as are disposed to doubt the authenticity of this testimony of Josephus, I would particularly recommend the candid perusal of a pamphlet under the following title : “ Vindicice Flaviana ; a Tract on the much disputed testimony of Josephus to Christ," Lond. 1789, 8vo., 'by JACOB BRYANT, an author of uncommon learning and research. As the pamphlet is very scarce, I subjoin an extract for my reader's information. After examining, with his usual critical acumen, the evidence pro and con, relating to this controverted point, Mr. Bryant thus concludes the argument :
“ It was never presumed that any external proof existed in opposition to this memorable passage. For the space of nearly 1500 years, it was transmitted unimpeached ; and so far were writers from imagining that there was any deceit, that they esteemed it of the greatest consequence. From the time of Eusebius to that of Platina and Trithemius, it was quoted at large, and justly valued : nor was there a single writer in all that space, or before, who afforded the least hint to its disadvantage. And, when the people began in the sixteenth century to entertain suspicions, these were not warranted by any real evidence; but proceeded merely from doubts and surmises, which were unjustly entertained. They raised imaginary difficulties, and suffered themselves to be too easily disquieted. They presumed that the whole was an interpolation, founding their notion on the internal evidence; it being to them inconceivable that a Jewish writer could afford a testimony iso much in favour of Christianity. This internal evidence I have abundantly examined ; and to'me it appears manifest that thousands of the Jews, at that time, believed every thing which is there said, and would have afforded the same evidence if required. In consequence of this I am persuaded that our hesitation and diffidence arises from prejudice, and that we have formed wrong ideas both of the people and the times. TESTIMONY OF FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS.
to be considered the dispersion of the manuscripts when this addition is said to have been made, the substance of which is notwithstanding to be found in them all-add to which that there is no conviction of any other fraud in the text of Josephus. Besides, the candour, fidelity, and care of Josephus in writing the history--the fitness of the place for introducing the mention of Jesus of Nazareth-the nature of the testimony, being only such as might be expected from an impartial historian, though no friend to Christianity--are all circumstances in favour of its authenticity.
With respect to the writers of the Evangelical history, and the order of time in which their narratives appeared, it is by the consent of almost all antiquity that that of Matthew takes the lead. He was one of the twelve apostles, and is mentioned both by Mark and Luke under the name of Levi (Mark ii. 14, and Luke v. 27, 29). The time when this Gospel was composed is not fully ascertained by the learned. Some contend that it was written only eight years after our Lord's ascension, while others say it was not written until fifteen years after. That he wrote it in the Hebrew, and for the use of the Jews, are points generally admitted, as they are strongly supported by the testimony of some of the earliest Christian Fathers, and also by internal evidence. It is quoted or referred to in the epistle of Barnabas, the companion of Paul, by Clement of Rome, and by Hermas, all writers of the first century. By Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, in
We do not seem to admit of any medium between a zealous disciple and a deter: mined adversary. But in this we do not make ajust estimate of persons and things, and dwell too much on the extremes. There was, doubtless, an interval of many degrees, in which might be perceived a gradual descent from full conviction to a partial and limited belief; from thence to a state of suspended wonder and admiration; and so on to doubt, indifference, and coldness; and finally to disaffection, bitterness, and obdurate hatred. I do not mention disbelief of the miracles; for that could not in those times have happened. They were allowed long after, even by Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian. Those then, who saw them must have believed them, and must have attested what they knew, though their inferences may have been different. In consequence of this, we may allow the truth to be sometimes witnessed by people who are not perfectly attached to it. We are told that the very Devils believe and tremble. We must not, therefore, expect even infidelity to be uniform, nor apostacy consistent. We find that scoffers have their scruples: Rousseau reveres the Mass, and Voltaire has his Confessor.”