« הקודםהמשך »
ing the cause of one, who had been crucified as a deceiver. In all other. things they appeared simple, upright, holy men : yet, if in this they deceived, the world never yet produced such a company of artful and wicked impostors! Yet they evidently proposed no advantage to themselves from their deep laid and well conducted schemes ! They spent all the rest of their lives in promoting the religion of Jesus ; renouncing every earthly interest ; facing all kinds of opposition and persecution; prepared habitually to seal their testimony with their blood; and most of them actually dying martyrs in the cause, recommending it with their latest breath. Moreover, when they went forth to preach Christ as risen from the dead, they were manifestly changed, in almost every respect, from what they had before been: their timidity gave place to the most undaunted courage; their carnal prejudices vanished; their ambitious contests ceased; their narrow views were immensely expanded, and zeal for the honour of their Lord, with love to the souls of men, seem to have engrossed and elevated all the powers of their minds. There were also many other competent witnesses to the same great event, even to the number of five hundred: these too concurred in the same testimony to the end of their lives; and neither fear, hope, nor dissention among themselves induced so much as one of them to vary from the testimony of the rest: nay, the apostates from Christianity never openly charged the apostles with any imposition in this respect. A more complete human testimony to any event cannot even be imagined: for if our Lord had shown himself “ openly to all the people of the Jews, and their rulers had persisted in rejecting him, it would have rather weakened than confirmed the evidence; and if they had unanimously received him as the Messiah, it might have excited in others a suspicion, that it was a plan concerted for aggrandizing the nation.
But God himself was also pleased to add his own testimony to that of his servants ; conferring on them the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enabling them to impart the same miraculous powers to others, by the laying on of their hands. Thus the number of witnesses continually increased, the testimony was more widely diffused, and no enemy could deny, that they, who attested Christ's resurrection, performed most stupendous miracles (Acts iv. 13—16.) In consequence of this, the unlettered, unarmed, and despised preachers of a crucified and risen Saviour prevailed against all the combined power, learning, wealth, superstition, and wickedness of the world, till Christianity was completely established upon the ruins of Judaism and Pagan idolatry! Here again, it may be demanded, when could the belief of such facts have been obtruded on mankind, if they had never happened ? Surely not in the age, when they were said to have been witnessed by tens of thousands, who were publicly challenged to deny them if they could ! Not in any subsequent age; for the origin of Christianity was ascribed to them, and millions must have been persuaded, that they had always believed those things, which they had never to that time so much as heard of! We may then venture to assert, that no past event was ever so fully proved as our Lord's resurrection; and that it would not be half so preposterous to doubt, whether such a man as Julius Cæsar ever existed, as it would be to question, whether Jesus actually arose from the dead. What then do they mean, who oppose some little apparent variations, in the account given of this event by the four Evangelists (which have repeatedly been shown capable of an easy reconciliation,) to such an unparalleled complication of evidence, that it did actually take place?
IV. The prophecies contained in the Sacred Scriptures, and fulfilling to this day, prove them to be divinely inspired. These form a species of perpetual miracles, which challenge the investigation of men in every age; and which, though overlooked by the careless and prejudiced, cannot fail of producing conviction proportioned to the attention paid to them. The prophecies of the Messiah, which are to be found in almost all the books of the Old Testament, when compared with the exact accomplishment of them, as recorded in the authentic writings of the Evangelists, abundantly prove them to have been penned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit: whilst the existence of the Jews, as a people differing from all others upon the face of the earth, and their regard to them, as the sacred oracles handed down from their progenitors, suficiently vouch for their antiquity (though further proof in abundance is at hand, did brevity admit of it). According to the predictions of these books, Nineveh hath been desolated (Nahum i, ii, iii); Babylon swept with the besom of destruction (Isaiah xiii, xiv); Tyre become a place to dry nets in (Ezek. xxvi. 4, 5); Egypt the basest of the kingdoms, &c. (Ezek. xxix. 14, 15). These and many other events fulfilling ancient prophecies, so many ages after they were delivered, can never be accounted for, except by allowing that he, who sees the end from the beginning, thus revealed his secret purposes; that the accomplishment of them might prove the Scriptures to be his word of instruction to mankind.
In like manner, there are evident predictions interwoven almost with the writings of every penman of the New Testament, as a divine attestation to their doctrine. The destruction of Jerusalem, with all the circumstances predicted in the Evangelists (an account of which may be seen in Josephus's History of the Jewish Wars); the series of ages during which that city hath been « trodden under foot of the Gentiles ;" the long continued dispersion of the Jews, and the conversion of the nations to Christianity; the many antichristian corruptions of the gospel ; the superstition, uncommanded austerities, idolatry, tyranny, and persecution of the Roman hierarchy; the division of the empire into ten kingdoms; their concurrence during many ages to support the usurpations of the Church of Rome; and the existence of Christianity to this day, amidst so many enemies, who have used every possible method to destroy it; when compared with the predictions of the New Testament, do not come short of the fullest demonstration which the case will admit of, that the books that contain them are the unerring word of God.
V. Only the Scriptures (and such books as make them their basis) introduce the infinite God as speaking in a manner worthy of himself; with simplicity, majesty, and authority. His character, as there delineated, comprises all possible excellency, without any intermixture ; his laws and ordinances accord to his perfections ; his works and dispensations exhibit them, and all his dealings with his creatures bear the stamp of infinite wisdom, justice, purity, truth, goodness, and mercy, harmoniously displayed. The description there given of the state of the world, and of human nature, widely differs from our ideas of them; yet the facts unanswerably prove it to be exactly true. The records of every nation, the events of every age, and the history of every individual, confute men's self-flattery in this respect ; and prove, that the penmen of the Bible knew the human character better than any philosopher, ancient or modern, ever did. Their account teaches us what men are about, and what may be expected from them; whilst all, who form a different estimate of it, find their principles inapplicable to facts, their theories incapable of being reduced to practice, and their expectations strangely disappointed. The Bible, well understood, enables us to account for those events which have appeared inexplicable to men in every age: and the more carefully any one watches and scrutinizes all the motives, intentions, imaginations, and desires of his heart, for a length of time ; the clearer will it appear to him, that the penmen of the Scriptures give a far more just account of his disposition and character, than he could have done of himself. In short, man is such a being, and the world is in such a state, as they have described : yet multiplied facts, constant observation, and reiterated experience are insufficient to convince us of it, till we first learn it from the Bible : and then comparing all that passes within and around us, with what we there read, we become more and more acquainted with our own hearts, and established in the belief of its divine original.
The mysteries contained in Scripture rather confirm than invalidate this conclusion: for a pretended revelation without mystery would confute itself.
Incomprehensibility is inseparable from God, and all his works, even as low
as the growth of a blade of grass; the mysteries of the Scriptures are su, blime, interesting, and useful: they display the divine perfections, lay a
foundation for our hope, and inculcate humility, reverence, love, and gratitude. What is incomprehensible must be mysterious; but it may be intelligible as far as revealed ; and though it connect with things above our reason, it may imply nothing contrary to it. So that, in all respects, the contents of the Bible are suited to convince the serious inquirer, that it is the word of God.
VI. The tendency of the Scripture constitutes another proof of this. Put the case, that all men believed and obeyed the Bible, as a divine revelation ; to what conduct would it lead them, and what would be the effect on society? Surely repentance, and renunciation of all vice and immorality, when connected with the spiritual worship of God in his ordinances, faith in his mercy and truth, through the mediation of his Son, and all the fruits of the Holy Spirit, as visible in the lives of every true believer, would form such characters, and produce such effects, as the world hath never yet witnessed! Men would then universally do justice, speak truth, show mercy, exercise mutual forgiveness, follow after peace, bridle their appetites and passions, and lead a sober, righteous, and godly life. Murders, wars, bitter contentions, cruel oppressions, and unrestrained licentiousness, would no more desolate the world, and fill it with misery; but righteousness, goodness, and truth, would bless the earth with a felicity exceeding all our present conceptions. This is, no doubt, the direct tendency of the Scripture doctrines, precepts, motives, and promises; nothing is wanting to remedy the state of the world, and fit men for the worship and felicity of heaven, but that they should believe and obey the Scriptures: and if many enormous crimes have been committed under colour of zeal for Christianity, that only proves the depravity of man's heart: for the Scripture, soberly understood, most expressly forbids such practices; and men do not act thus because they duly regard it, but because they will not believe and obey it.
The tendency of these principles is exhibited in the characters there delineated, whilst the consistency between the truths and precepts of Scripture, and the actions of men recorded in it, implies another argument of its divine original. Ungodly men are characterized, and their actions are recited, according to the abstract account given of human nature; and believers are represented as conducting themselves exactly in that manner, which the principles of the Bible might have led us to expect. They had like passions with other men; but they were habitually restrained and regulated by the fear and love of God, and other holy affections: their general conduct was good, but not perfect; and sometimes their natural proneness to evil broke out, and made way for bitter repentance and deeper humiliation: so that they appear constantly to have perceived their need of forgiveness and divine assistance; to have expected their felicity from the rich mercy of God; and instead of abusing that consideration, to have thence deduced motives for gratitude, zeal, patience, meekness, and love to mankind.
But one character is exhibited in the simplest and most unaffected manner, which is perfection itself. Philosophers, orators, and poets, in their several ways, have bestowed immense pains to describe the character of some man, in such a manner, that no fault could be found in it: and they have given us complete models of their own estimate of excellency, and sufficient proof that they laboured the point to the utmost of their ability. But the four evangelists, whose divine inspiration is now frequently doubted on the most frivolous pretences, without seeming to think of it, have done that which all other writers have failed in. They have shown us a perfect character, by simply relating the words and actions of Christ ; without making any comment on them, or showing the least ingenuity in the arrangement of them. This is a fact which cannot be denied; no perfect character is
elsewhere delineated ; and probably no mere man could have drawn one ; no person would have thought of such a character as that of Jesus, yet no flaw or fault can be found in it: this alone, I apprehend, and their entire consistency in this respect with each other, proves, that they wrote under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
It hath often been observed, that Satan would never have influenced men to write the Bible ; for then he would have been divided against himself: wicked men would not have penned a book, which so awfully condemned their whole conduct; and good men would never have ascribed their own inventions to divine inspiration; especially as such forgeries are most severely reprobated in every part of it. But indeed, it is a work as much exceeding every effort of mere man, as the sun surpasses those scanty illuminations by which his splendour is imitated, or his absence supplied.
VII. The actual effects produced by the Scriptures, evince their divine original. These are indeed far from being equal to their tendency ; because, through human depravity, the gospel is not generally believed and obeyed; yet they are very considerable; and we may assert, that even at present, there are many thousands, who have been reclaimed from a profane and immoral life, to sobriety, equity, truth, and piety, and a good behaviour in relative life, by attending to the sacred Scriptures. Having been “ made free from sin, and become the servants of God, they have their fruit unto holiness ;” and after patiently continuing in well-doing, and cheerfully bearing various afflictions, they joyfully meet death, being supported by the hope of eternal life “ as the gift of God through Jesus Christ :” whilst they, who best know them, are most convinced, that they have been rendered wiser, holier, and happier, by believing the Bible ; and that there is a reality in religion, though various interests and passions keep them from duly embracing it. There are indeed enthusiasts also ; but they become so, by forsaking the old rule of faith and duty, for some new fancy : and there are hypocrites; but they attest the reality and excellency of religion, by deeming it worth their while to counterfeit it.
VIII. Brevity is so connected with fulness in the scriptures, that they are a treasure of divine knowledge, which can never be exhausted. The things that are absolutely necessary to salvation, are few, simple, and obvious to the meanest capacity, provided it be attended by an humble, teachable disposition : but the most learned, acute, and diligent student, cannot in the longest life obtain an entire knowledge of this one volume. The deeper he works the mine, the richer and more abundant he finds the ore; new light continually beams from this source of heavenly knowledge, to direct his conduct, and illustrate the works of God, and the ways of men; and he will at last leave the world confessing, that the more he studied the Scriptures, the greater sense he had of his own ignorance and of their inestimable value.
Lastly.. “He that believeth hath the witness in himself.” The discoveries which he hath made by the light of the Scripture; the experience he hath had that the Lord fulfils its promises to those who trust in them; the abiding effects produced by attending to it, on his judgment, dispositions, and affections; and the earnests of heaven enjoyed by him in communion with God, according to the way revealed in it, put the matter beyond all doubt: and though many believers are not qualified to dispute against infidels, they are enabled, through this inward testimony, to obey and suffer for the gospel; and they can no more be convinced by reasonings and objections, that men invented the Bible, than they can be persuaded that men created the sun, whose light they behold, and by whose beams they are cheered.
And now, if an objector could fully invalidate one half, or two thirds of these arguments (to which many more might easily be added), the remainder would be abundantly sufficient; nay, perhaps, any one of them so far decides the question, that were there no more proof of the Bible’s being the word of God, a man could not reject it, without acting contrary to those dictates of common sense, which direct his conduct in his secular affairs.
But, in reality, I have a confidence that not one of them can be fairly answered ; at least it has never yet been done: and the combined force of the whole is so great, that the objections by which men cavil against the truth, only resemble the foaming waves dashing against the deep rooted rock, which hath for ages defied their unavailing fury. But though these can effect nothing more, they may beat off the poor shipwrecked mariner, who was about to ascend it, in hopes of deliverance from impending destruction.
The consequences of our present conduct, according to the Scriptures, are so vast, that if there were only a bare possibility of their truth, it would be madness to run the risk of rejecting them, for the sake of gaining the whole world. What then is it, when we have such unanswerable demonstrations, that they are the word of God, and cannot reasonably doubt of it for a moment, to disobey the commands, and neglect the salvation revealed in it, for the veriest trifle that can be proposed to us ? Especially as it may be shown, that (besides the eternal consequences) the firm belief of, and conscientious obedience to the Scriptures, will render a man happier in this present life, even amidst trials and self-denying services, than any other man can be made, by all the pomp, pleasure, wealth, power, and honour, which the world can bestow on him!
On the Importance of Revealed Truth; the duty of Reading the Scriptures, and the
manner in which it should be performed.
As the Bible may be unanswerably proved to be the word of God, we should reason from it as from self-evident principles, or demonstrated axioms; for “his testimony is sure, and giveth wisdom to the simple.”
Many parts of Scripture accord so well with the conclusions of our rational powers, when duly exercised, that either they might have been known without revelation, or else men have mistaken the capacity of perceiving truth, for that of discovering it. Hence various controversies have arisen about “ natural religion, which many suppose to be rather taken for granted, than made known by revelation. But the term is ambiguous : for the word natural includes the propensities of our hearts, as well as the powers of our understandings ; and the same truths which accord to the latter, are often totally opposite to the former: the Gentiles might have known many things concerning God and his will, if they had “ liked to retain Him in their knowledge.' So that, “ the religion of reason" would express the idea much more intelligibly, if any such distinction be deemed necessary.
This, however, is obvious, that many truths and precepts which are found in the Bible, have been maintained by persons who were ignorant of, or rejected that divine revelation, or who chose not to own their obligations to it: and many others, professing to receive the Scriptures as the word of God, assent to some truths contained in them, not so much because they are revealed, as because they think that they may be proved by other arguments : whereas they reject, neglect, or explain away those doctrines which are not thus evident to their own reason, or level with their capacities. So that at last it comes to this, that they discard all that is deemed peculiar to revelation; and refuse to believe the testimony of God, if reason will not vouch for the truth of wbat he says.
It may indeed be questioned, whether those opinions which men so confidently magnify as the oracles of reason, were not originally, without exception, borrowed from revelation, as far as there is any truth in them: and it is evident, that they cannot possess sufficient certainty, clearness, and authority to render them efficacious principles of action, except as they are en