« הקודםהמשך »
The prospect of the fame evils drew from our Saviour, upon another occasion, the following affecting expressions of concern, which are preserved by St. Luke (xix. 41): “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace ; but now they are hid from thine eyes ; for the days shall come upon theé, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every fide, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee, and shall not leave in
another, because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” These passages are direct and explicit predictions. References to the fame event, some plain, some parabolical, or otherwise figurative, are found in divers other difcourses of our Lord.a
The general agreement of the descriptions with the event, viz. with the ruin of the Jewish nation, and the capture of Jerufalem under Vefpafian, thirty-six years after Christ's death, most evident: and the accordancy in various articles of detail and circumstance has been shewn by many learned writers. It is also an advantage to the inquiry, and to the argument built upon it, that we have received a copious account of the transaction from Jofephus, a Jewish and contemporary historian. This part of the case is perfectly free from doubt. The only queftion which, in my opinion, can be raised upon the subject, is, whether the prophecy was really delivered before the event. I fhall apply, therefore, my obfervations to this point folely.
1. The judgment of antiquity, though varying in the precife year of the publication of the three gofpels, concurs in adlagning them a date prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.)
2. This judgment is confirmed by a strong probability arising from the course of human life. The deftruction of Jerusalem took place in the seventieth year after the birth of Christ. The three evangelists, one of whom was his immediate companion, and the other two affociated with his companions, were, it is probable, not much younger than he was. They mult, confequently, have been far advanced in life when Jerufalem was taken ; and no reason has been given why they thould defec writing their histories so long.
a Mat. xxi. 33-46. xxii, 1–7 Mark xii, 1–126 Luke xüi. In 9. xx9--20. xxi. 5-13.
b Lardner, vol. XIL
3.a If the evangelists, at the time of writing the gospels, had known of the destruction of Jerusalem, by which catastrophe the prophecies were plainly fulfilled, it is most probable, that; in recording the predictions, they would have dropped some word or other about the completion ; in like manner as Luke, after relating the denunciation of a dearth by Agabus, adds, “ which came to pass in the days of Claudius Cæsar :" whereas the prophecies are given distinctly in one chapter of each of the three first gospels, and referred to in several different passages of each, and, in none of all these places, does there appear the smallest intimation that the things spoken of were come to pass. I do admit that it would have been the part of an impoitor, who wilhed his readers to believe that his book was written before the event, when in truth it was written after it, to have fuppreffed any such intimation carefully. But this was not the character of the authors of the gospel. Cunning was no quality of their’s. Of all writers in the world, they thought the least of providing against objections. Moreover, there is no elause in any one of them, that makes a profesion of having written prior to the Jewish wars, which a fraudulent purpose would have led them to pretend. They have done neither one thing nor the other. They have neither inserted any words, which might signify to the reader that their accounts were written before the destruction of Jerusalem, which a fophist would have done ; nor have they dropped a hint of the conpletion of the prophecies recorded by them, which an undesigning writer, writing after the event, could hardly, on some or other of the many occasions that presented themselves, have missed of doing.
4. The admonitions which Christ is reprefented to have given to his followers to save themselves by flight, are not eafily accounted for upon the supposition of the prophecy being a Le Clerc. Diff. III. de quat. ev. Num. VII. p. 541.
bAds xi. 28. c Luke xxi. 20, 21.
ye Ihall see Jerusalem compaffed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh; then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let them which are 1 the midnt of it depart out, and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto,"
Matt. xiv. 18. « When ye shall fee Jerusalem compassed with armies, then let them which be in Judea flee' unto the mountains ; lec him which is on the house top, not come down to take any thing out of his house, neither let him which is in the field, return back to take His clothes."
fabricated after the event. Either the Christians, when the siege approached, did make their escape from Jerusalem, or they did not : if they did, they must have had the prophecy amongst them : if they did not know of any such prediction at the time of the siege ; if they did not take notice of any such warning, it was an improbable fiction, in a writer publishing his work near to that time (which, upon any even the lowest and most disadvantageous supposition, was the case with the gospels now in our hands) and addressing his works to Jews and to Jewish converts ( which Matthew certainly did) to state that the followers of Christ had received admonitions, of which they made no use when the occafion arrived, and of which, experience then recent proved, that those, who were most con. cerned to know and regard them, were ignorant or negligent. Even if the prophecies came to the hands of the evangelists through no better vehicle than tradition, it must have been by a tradition which subsisted prior to the event. And to suppose, that, without any authority whatever, without so much as even any tradition to guide them, they had forged these passages, is to impute to them a degree of fraud and imposture, from every appearance of which their compositions are as far removed as possible.
5. I think that, if the prophecies had been composed after the event, there would have been more specification. The names or descriptions of the enemy, the general, the emperor would have been found in them. The designation of the time would have been more determinate. And I am fortified in this opinion by observing, that the counterfeited prophecies of the Sybilline oracles, of the twelve patriarchs, and, I am inclined to believe, most others of the kind; are mere transcripts of the history moulded into a prophetic form.
It is objected that the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem is mixed, or connected with expressions which relate to the final judgment of the world ; and fo connected, as to lead an ordinary reader to expect, that these two events would not be far distant from each other. To which I answer, that the objection does not concern our present argument. If our Saviour actually foretold the dellruction of Jerusalem, it is sufficient; even although we should allow, that the narration of the proph. ecy had combined together what had been said by him upon kindred subjects, without accurately preserving the order, er always noticing the transition of the discourse.
CHA P. II.
The Morality of the Gospel. In Nating the morality of the gospel as an argument of its truth, I am willing to admit two points, first, that the teaching of morality was not the primary design of the million ; seconda ly, that morality, neither in the gospel, nor in any other book, can be a subject, properly speaking, of discovery.
If I were to describe in a very few words the scope of Chriftianity, as a revelation, a I should say, that it was to influence the conduct of human life, by establishing the proof of a future state of reward and punishment—" to bring life and immortality to light.” The direct object, therefore, of the deGgn is to fupply motives and not rules, sanctions and not precepts. And these were what mankind stood most in need of. The members of civilized society can, in all ordinary cases, judge tolerably well how they ought to act ; but without a future state, or, which is the same thing, without credited evidence of that state, they want a motive to their duty ; they want at least strength of motive sufficient to bear up against the force of passion, and the temptation of the present advantage. Their rules want authority. The most important service that can be rendered to human life, and that, confequently, which, one might expect beforehand would be the great end and office of a revelation from God, is to convey to the world authorised assurances of the reality of a future existence. And although, in doing this, or by the ministry of the same person by which this is done, moral precepts or examples, or illustrations of moral precepts may be occasionally given, and be highly valuable, yet still they do not form the original purpose of the mission.
Secondly, morality, neither in the gospel, nor in any other book, can be a subject of discovery, properly so called. By which proposition, I mean that there cannot, in morality, be any thing similar to what are called discoveries in natural philosophy, in the arts of life, and in some sciences ; as the system
a Great, and ine timably beneficial purposes, may be attained by Christ's mission, and especially by his death, which do not belong to Christianity as a revelation, that is, they might have existed, and they might have been accomplished, though we had pever, in this life, have been made acquainted with them.
of the universe, the circulation of the blood, the polarity of the magnet, the laws of gravitation, alphabetical writing, decimal arithmetic, and some other things of the fame fort ; facts, or proofs, or contrivances, before totally unknown and unthought of, Whoever therefore expects, in reading the New Testament, to be. Itruck with discoveries in morals, in the manner in which his mind was affected, when he first came to the knowledge of the discoveries above-mentioned ; or rather in the manner in which the world was affected by them, when they were first published ; expects what, as I apprehend, the nature of the fubject renders it impoffible he should meet with. And the foundation of my opinion is this, that the qualities of actions depend entirely upon their effects, which effects must all along have been the subje&t of human experience.
When it is once settled, no matter upon what principle, that to do good is virtue, the rest is calculation. But since the calculation cannot be inftitated concerning each particular action, we establish intermediate rules : by which proceeding the busi. ness of morality is much facilitated, for then, it is concerning our rules alone that we need inquire, whether in their tendency they be beneficial ; concerning our actions we have only to ask, whether they be agreeable to the rules. We refer actions to rules, and rules to public happiness. Now in the formation of these rules, there is no place for discovery properly so called, but there is ample room for the exercise of wisdom, judgment, and prudence.
As I wish to deliver argument rather than panegyric, 1 Mall treat of the morality of the gospel, in fubjection to these observations. And after all, I think it fuch a morality, as, confidering from whom it caine, is most extraordinary; and fuch, as, without allowing fome degree of reality to the character and pretensions of the religion, it is difficult to account for ; or to place the argument somewhat lower in the scale, it is such a morality, as completely repels the supposition of its being the tradition of a barbarous age or of a barbarous people, of the religion being founded in folly, or of its being the production of craft ; and it repeis alfo, in a great degree, the fupposition of its having been the effufion of an enthulaltic miod.
The division, under which the subject may be niot conveniently treated of, is that of the things taughi, and the Huner of teaching