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To those whose interest is already so much awakened
upon the subject of the divine origin of Christianity,
that they feel the necessity of arriving at some certain
conclusion, more than they fear any possible results to
which such inquiries may lead, this attempt to contri-
bute to the solution of the difficult question is offered.

The hypothesis, that there is a mixture of truth and
fable in the four Gospels, has been admitted, in different
degrees, by many critics bearing the Christian name.
The same method of free investigation which led
Priestley and Belsham to throw doubt upon the truth
of the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke, may
allow other inquirers to make further excisions from
the Gospel history. The reasons given by those emi-
nent critics for proceeding so far may appear more valid
than

any which can be urged for stopping where they did. The right of private judgment in the separation of truth from fiction being once accorded, the precise limits which ought to be assigned to the credible portion of the miraculous narratives are far from being obvious ; and the ascertaining of these limits becomes a matter of interesting research to all who wish to know

what they are to believe or disbelieve on the subject of the Christian religion.

The following pages are the result of an investigation undertaken with this view, and pursued for some time with the expectation that, at least, the principal miraculous facts supposed to lie at the foundation of Christianity would be found to be impregnable ; but it was continued with a gradually increasing conviction that the true account of the life of Jesus Christ, and of the spread of his religion, would be found to contain no deviation from the known laws of nature, nor to require, for their explanation, more than the operation of human motives and feelings, acted upon by the peculiar circumstances of the age and country whence the religion originated.

The analysis of the four Gospels, proceeding on the admission that they may contain a mixture of truth and error, is a very complicated but not impracticable task. It is necessary to form an opinion as to the date of each writing, the general character of each author, and his peculiarities as a writer; to institute continual comparisons between the events or discourses which he relates, and the opinions and controversies which arose subsequently to his own time; to weigh the probability in favour of the realoccurrence of a fact, considered in reference to the ascertained history of the time, with that in favour of its invention by the author or some intermediate narrator; to consider what greater degree of weight is due to the testimony from the accordance of all, or of several of the writers ; and to ascertain whether they wrote independently, or copied from each other. By this labo

rious method of sifting and examining, it must be admitted that it would be possible to obtain a tolerably correct history from a collection of records acknowledged to be of a very mixed character.

The doctrine of the divine inspiration, or of the unquestionable veracity, of the Gospel writers, has hitherto hindered the full application of this free method of investigation to the New Testament, on the part of believers in Christianity; and unbelievers seem generally to have been more intent upon raising objections and cavils to the narratives as they stand, than in searching out the real truth. Hence it has frequently been observed, that no clear and intelligible account has been given of the life of Jesus Christ on simply natural grounds; whence it has been argued, that no alternative remains but to regard him as the miraculous endowed personage presented to us in the four Gospels.

The first two chapters of this work give a sketch of conclusions formed in the manner above stated, from the study of the Old and New Testament, and of Josephus. It is admitted that some parts of this sketch cannot claim a higher character than that of plausible conjecture. The authority of the main sources of information being shaken, it is evident that conjecture is, in many cases, all to which the utmost research can attain. The whole is, however, expressed in the historical style, for the sake of simplicity ; consequently, when the reader meets with some assertions not sufficiently supported by the notes, his patience is entreated until he arrives at the chapters which follow.

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