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The first and greatest object that should most materially engage the attention of Mankind is, the pursuit of that knowledge which tends to promote their welfare while on this transitory stage of life, and their eternal happiness in that which is to come. No measures wbatever can be taken to effect this, but the most earnest endeavors to make themselves perfectly acquainted with, and strictly to follow the example of Our Blessed Redeemer, the great Captain of our sufferings—the preserver of our souls from death to life everlasting-the grand pattern of sanctity, humility, meekness, and charity—the King of Glory-the guiding star to righteousness—and who, as himself expresses it, is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life."
As, therefore, in Our Blessed Redeemer only, rests the whole of our eternal salvation, let Him only engross our most serious attention : and let the examples of his Holy Apostles, who have sealed their faith with their blood, inspire us with resolution to make us emulous to be accounted voluntary servants of Christ, who condescended to suffer an ignominious and painful death, to clear us from our sins, and the punishment due to our manifold offences.
In seriously perusing the Life and Transactions of the Great Redeemer of Mankind, we shall there find those balmy sweets, those solid comforts, which, if properly attended to, will promote onr felicity here, and secure to us eternal happiness hereafter. If we endeavor to pursue the divine system laid down by Our Blessed Saviour, there is no reason to doubt but our obedience will be crowned with that reward which he had been pleased to promise
to all those who imitate his glorious example. Our Blessed Lord himself tells us, that if we are poor in spirit, we shall gain the kingdom of heaven-if we mourn here, we shall be comfortedif we hunger and thirst after righteousness, we shall be filled. It is from these assurances that St Augustine says, “ the happiness of this life consists in the Holy Ghost, without which we cannot come to the knowledge of God.” All true knowledge, virtue and perfection, that a Christian can desire, or attain to, are contained in the doctrines and transactions of Our Glorious Redeemer; who teaches us, that righteousness and holiness consist in the inward purity and integrity of the mind, and not in the outward show of works-in a conscience void of offence, not in the pompous applause of men—in humility, not in ostentation—in contempt, not in pursuit of worldly honors—and he farther teaches us to love our enemies as well as our friends. Have we read of the nature of true faith; of trusting in Christ alone; and how we ought not to glory but in Him. Here we read, also, of the certainty of salvation, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and of life eternal.
We most sincerely hope, that the perusal of this work will produce that effect for which it is so happily adapted, namely, the promotion of the cause of Christianity, and making mankind wise unto salvation. A serious attention to the divine transactions contained in this history, will fill the mind with awful, though pleasing ideas ; banish every doubt; confirm the reader in the most sublime truths, and fill his soul with divine ecstacies.
We shall only further observe, that in the execution of this pious work, we have endeavored to improve the understanding and warm the heart, to inspire the mind with gratitude for the astonishing love of a dying Saviour, and to excite the soul to embrace his kind invitations of forgiveness, of happiness, and peace.
THE EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY ARE FAIRLY STATED, THE NEW TESTAMENT PROVED TO BE GENUINE, AND THE RELIGION OF JESUS TRULY DIVINE,
It is a well-attested truth, that immorality ever grow's with infidelity, and to the prevalence of vice must certainly be imputed that scorn and derision in which too many in the present day hold the sacred oracles of God, the revealed will of the Great Creator of Heaven and Earth.
From hence, therefore, it is reasonable to ask, what cause ean produce so strange a deviation from the ways of God ? Doubtless from that uphappy disregard, either to the Gospel in general, or to his peculiar and essential truths so visible in the world, and which appear to be continually increasing: It is too evident that multitudes among us, like those of old, who thought and professed themselves the wisest of mankind, or, in other words, the free-thinkers of the age, have been desirous of banishing God and his truths from their knowledge; and it is therefore the less to be wondered at, if “God has given them up to a reprobate mind; to the most infamous lusts and enormities; and to a depth of degeneracy, which, while it is in part the natural consequence, it is in part also the just, but dreadful punishment of their apostacy from the faith. And we are persuaded that those who wish well to the cause of Christ, as every true Christian most certainly does, cannot serve it more effectually, than by endeavoring to establish men in their belief of the Gospel in general, and to build them up in the most holy faith. The latter, we flatter ourselves, we bave sufficiently done in the following lives of the blessed Jesus, and his Apostles and followers; and propose in this Dissertation, to prove that the Christian Religion is true, and owes its origin to God himself.
It will be needless to observe, that this is a matter of the highest importance, as every one will apprehend that this is the foundation of all our hopes. It is absolutely necessary in this age of libertinism, that every Christian should be able " to give a reason for the hope that is in bim,” and to put to silence the tongues of those men that have “ evil will at Zion.” And may the Almighty enable us to plead his cause with success! May the divine Spirit accompany these arguments, that the faith of our readers being more and more established, it
may appear that the tree is watered at the roots, by all the other graces growing and flourishing in an equal proportion!
God has made ample provision for the honor and support of bis Gospel, by furnishing it with a variety of proofs, which may, with undiminished, and indeed, with growing conviction, be displayed in the eyes of the whole world: and we should be greatly wanting in gratitude to him, in zeal for a Redeemer's kingdom, and in charitable concern for the conversion of those who reject the Gospel, as well as for the edification of those w o embrace it, should we wholly overlook those arguments, or neglect to acquaint ourselves with them. This is the evidence we propose, and beg our readers would peruse it with becoming attention.
In prosecution of this great design, we shall endeavor more particularly to shew, that if we take the matter on a general survey, it will appear highly probable, that such a system of doctrines and precepts, as we find Christianity to be, should indeed have been a " divine Revelation;" and then, that if we examine into the external evidence of it, we shall find it certain in fact that it was so, and that it had its origin from ou high.
First then, we are to shew, that taking the maiter merely in theory, it will appear bighly probable, that such a system as the Gospel, should be indeed, a divine revelation.
To prove this, we shall endeavor to shew, That the state of mankind was such as greatly to need a revelation ; That there seems, from the light of nature, encouragement to hope that God would grant one; That it is reasonable to believe, that if any were made, it should be introduced and transmitted as Christianity was; and, That its general nature and substance should be such as we find that of the Gospel is. If we satisfactorily prove these particulars, there will be a strong presumptive evidence that the " Gospel is from God," and a fair way will be opened for that more divine proof which is principally intended.
1. The case of mankind is naturally such as to need a divine revelation.
We would not be understood to speak here of a man in his original state, though even then, some instruction from above seemed necessary to inform him of many particulars, which it was highly proper for him then to know ; but we speak of bim in the degenerate condition in which he now so evidently lies, by whatever means he fell into it. It is very easy to make florid encomiums on the perfection of natural light, and to deceive unwary readers by an ambiguous term, as a late author has done in his deistical writings; a fallacy beneath an ingenuous reasoner, and which alone ought to have exposed his book to the contempt of every serious reader. Truth needs no disguise; a candid advocate scorns such subterfuges ; let facts speak for themselves, and controversy will soon be decided. We appeal to every intelligent reader, who is acquainted with the records of antiquity, or that has any knowledge of the present state of those countries where Christianity is unknown, whether it is not too obvious a truth, that the whole heathen world has lain, and still lies in a state of wickedness. Have not the greater part of them been perpetually bewildered in their religious notions and practices, very different from each other, and almost equally differing on all sides from the appearances of truth and reason? Is any thing so wild as not to have been believed ; any thing so infamous as not to have been practised by them, while they not only pretended to justify it by reason, but to have consecrated it as a part of their religion ? To this very day, what are the discoveries of new nations in the American or African world ; but generally speaking, the opening of new scenes of enormity ? Rapine, lust, cruelty, human sacrifices, and the most stupid idolatries, are, and always have been, the morality and religion of almost all the Pagan nations under heaven ; and if they have discovered a dawn of reason, it has only sufficed to convince them of the want of an abler guide, to direct them in pursuit of real happiness.
But perhaps some of our readers have only heard these things by uncertain reports. If this be the case, look around you within the sphere of your owu observation, and remark the temper and character of the generality of those who have been educated in a Christian, and even in a Protestant country. Observe their ignorance and forgetfulness of the Divine Being, their impieties, their debaucheries, their fraud, their oppression, their pride, their avarice, their ambition, their unnatural insensibility of the wants, sorrows, and interest of each other
; and when you see how bad they generally are in the midst of so many advantages, judge by that of ihe probable state of those that want them. When the candid reader has well weighed these particulars, let him judge whether a revelation be an unnecessary thing.