« הקודםהמשך »
L'AVING in the preceding Lecture 11 taken a short comprehensive view of the several books of the sacred volume, I now proceed to the Gospel of St. Matthew; and shall in this Lecture confine myself to the two first chapters of that book*.
The history of our Saviour's birth, life, doctrines, precepts, and miracles, is contained in four books or narratives called Gospels, written at different times, and by four different persons, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, who were among the first converts to Christianity, and perfectly well acquainted with the facts they relate; to which two of them were
* For some very valuable observations in some parts of this and the third and thirteenth Lecture, I am indebted to my late excellent friend and patron, Archbishop Secker.
eye. eye-witnesses, and the other two constant companions of those who were so, from whom they received immediately every thing they relate. This is better authority for the truth of these histories than we have for the greater part of the histories now extant, the fidelity of which we do not in the least question. For few of our best-histories, either ancient or modern, were written by persons who were eye-witnesses of all the transactions which they relate; and there is scarce any instance of the history of the same person being written by four different contemporary historians, all perfectly agreeing in the main articles, and differing only in a few minute particulars of no moment, This however we find actually done in the le of Jesus, which has been written by each of the four evangelists, and it is a very strong proof of their veracity. For let us consider what the case is, at this very day, in the affairs of common life. When four different persons are called upon in a court of justice to prove the reality of any particular fact that happened twenty or thirty years ago, what is the sort of evidence which they usually give? Why, in all the great leading circum? stances which tend to establish the fact in question, they in general perfectly agree. In a few other points perhaps they differ. But then these are points which do not at all affect the main question, which were too trifling to make much impression at the time on the memory of the observers, and which therefore they would all relate with some little variation in their account. This is precisely the case with the writers of the four Gospels; and this substantial coincidence and accidental variation has much more the air and garb of truth, than where there is a perfect agreement in every the minutest article; which has too much the appearance of a concerted story.
That the books which we now have under the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were written by the persons whose names they bear, cannot admit the smallest doubt with any unprejudiced mind. They have been acknowledged as such by everyChristian church in every age, from the time of our Saviour to this moment. There are allusions to them, or quotations from them, in the earliest writers, as far back as the age of the apostles, and. continued down in a regular succession to the
present present hour; a proof of authenticity, which scarce any other ancient book in the world can produce. They were received as genuine histories, not only by the first Christians, but by the first enemies of Christianity, and their authority was never questioned either by the ancient heathens or Jews *. . · The first of these Gospels is that of St. Matthew. It was written probably at the latest not more than fifteen years, some think only eight years, after our Lord's ascension. The author of it was an apostle and constant companion of Jesus, and of course an eyewitness of every thing he relates. He was called by our blessed Lord from a most lucrative occupation, that of a collector of the public revenue, to be one of his disciples and friends; a call which he immediately obeyed, relinquishing every thing that was dear and valuable to him in the present life. This is a sacrifice which few people have made for the gake of religion, and had St. Matthew's object been the applause of men, he might have displayed the merits of this sacrifice in a light very favourable to himself. But the apostle, conscious of much nobler views, describes this transaction in the simplest and most artless words. “ As Jesus,” says he, “passed forth from thence, he saw a man named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom, and he saith unto him, Follow me: and he arose and followed him." '
*Whoever wishes for further satisfaction on this most. important fubject, will not fail of finding it in Dr. Lardper's learned work, The Credibility of the Gospel History, where this question has been very ably treated, and the authenticity of the Gospels established on the most solid grounds,
The first thing that occurs in the Gospel of St. Matthew, is the genealogy of Christ, in order to prove that he was descended from the house and family of David, as the prophets foretold he should be. · In this genealogy there are confessedly some difficulties, at which we cannot be much surprised, when we consider of what prodigious antiquity this genealogy is, going back some thousand of years; and when we know too that several Jewish persons had the same name, and that the same person had different names, (especially under the Babylonish captivity,) which is still the case in India, and other parts of Asia. This must necessarily