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foundation on which Jesus and his apostles established it, can afford no distinct evidence, nor ever was intended to give a clear and distinct light on the case, what must the consequence be of Jesus and his followers appealing to its evidence, and building on a foundation so prerarious ? for no superstructure can possibly be stronger than the foundation ; for if Jesus be clearly revealed in the prophecies, then must the application of them to him be evident. If this be the case, then cannot the prophecies be dark and obscure; but if, on the contrary, they be not clearly and evidently applicable to him as the Messiah, then is all their trouble and pretension vain and ineffectual; for clear proofs never can be had from dark and obscure passages ; neither can the conclusion be stronger than the premises.
The events concerning the Messiah, his kingdom, and great glory, as well as that of the Jews, is foretold with such particularity and plainness by all the prophets, as cannot be surpassed by any one description that ever was made. To suppose that the Almighty God should, in an affair of the utmost importance, (an affair that concerned both learned and ignorant,) deliver himself in such terms or words as must convey to our minds ideas the most opposite and contrary to what his goodness intended to reveal and describe, is to suppose him capable of deceiving those whom he condescended to instruct and enlighten; and, “it is irrational and impious to suppose that the almighty, good, and merciful God, would give to his creatures instructions, commands, and advice, which were puzzling, obscure, and uncertain, when their eternal salvation was depending upon their conceiving or applying them aright.”* Can any thing more unjust be imputed to God than to pretend he reveals one thing and means another ? yet this is the deplorable case. How many are the endeavours to make out this very thing! Learning, art, cunning, industry, power, and every human invention is made use of for this purpose. The words which, as coming from God, are infallible, they reject, set at naught, and do away, with their own senseless jargon, and set up themselves and their explanations as such; as if they were neither fallible, interested, nor liable to error, deception, and imposition.
(To be continued.)
(Continued from page 219.) I am now arrived at the consideration of that important question; perhaps the most essential to the ......ian faith; namely, Whether the books which con'ain an exposition of the doctrines which your followers profess, were written by the persons whose names they bear; and, if so, whether these persons were inspired by the Divinity to promulgate his will to mankind ? On the solution of this two-fold question, it appears to me the whole system of the prevailing religion depends; for if its votaries are unable to demonstrate the authenticity of their sacred books, and to show that they were dictated by the Supreme Being, it necessarily follows that the doctrines which they are at so much pains to promulgate, may be founded in imposition or error.
Now, on the most careful perusal of the books called the “ New Testament,” (which, for the sake of argument, are here referred to,) there is not a single sentence to be found from which it can be inferred that Jesus of Nazareth either committed his tenets to writing, or, instructed his followers to do so. There is, indeed, reason for believing that neither of them were capable of this. Jesus himself is admitted to have been bred a carpenter, and his disciples fishermen, and of other professions, which did not require even an ordinary education. With them the “ wisdom of the world was foolishness;" science was held in contempt; and every man of sense was despised, merely because he would not give up his reason and adopt, without examination, the most absurd and revolting dogmas which they announced.
The words put in the mouth of Jesus, that “ he came not to destroy the law but to fulfil it ;*" his admitted observance of that law even to the hour of his death; and his uniforın recognition of its precepts, are facts and circumstances, of themselves, sufficient to convince every unprejudiced mind, that he never intended our sacred books should be set aside,* and others substituted in their place. He was well aware that they had been written by the express command of God, as everlasting memorials for the guidance of his people, and that every attempt to question their divine authority and binding nature throughout all ages, would be nothing short of blasphemy. Hence the extreme caution which Jesus is acknowledged to have shown on this subject; and hence the lesson which he thereby gave his followers, constantly to regard the law as promulgated on the Mount, as the only“ light to their feet, and lamp to their paths." It is no doubt written in the gospels,” that those divine precepts had been violated, a'd many false interpretations put on them by some of our nation. But, granting this to have been the case, it no where appears that this was assigned as a reason by Jesus, for abrogating the law in toto. On the contrary, he most explicitly declared, that the only object he had in view was a reformation in the conduct of its professors. The law itself was “holy, just, and true," which he came not to destroy, but to “fulfil,” hy calling the attention of those who had departed from it, to its true spirit and meaning, and not to any project he had in view of establishing a new religion by the substitute of another code.
* Matthew y, y. 17-19. Luxe xvi, v. 18.
The obvious deduction from these facts is, that the books now in the hands of ......ians are not of divine authority, and never could have been written by the immediate followers of Jesus. This, indeed, is put beyond all dispute by ecclesiastical history, from which it clearly appears that the gospels were the production of persons who lived many years after the days of the apostles, and who, in consequence of the numerous sects and parties into whieh the new religion was then divided, found it necessary to fabricate books, and to palm them on one or other of these apostles, for the purpose of supporting their own particular creed. St. Augustinet admits that Faustus had good reason for charging the early ......ians with practising this deceit, when he asserted, that “the gospels and epistles were not written by the apostles, but a long time after them, by certain obscure persons, who, lest no credit should be given to their stories, did prefix to their writings the names of the apostles, and partly of those who succeeded the apostles; affirming that what
* Matt, v. v. 19.
Augustine Contra Faustus, lib. 32. c. 2.
they wrote themselves was written by these." Iræneus* also complained of these pious frauds. He says “ that in order to amaze the simple, and such as are ignorant of the scriptures of truth, they obtrude on them an inexpressible multitude of apocryphal and spurious scriptures, of their own devising.t I might quote a host of ancient writers in support of the same fact, were it not that it is put beyond all dispute by the admissions of modern writers on church history. Such, however, as are curious to know more of this matter, will find detailed accounts of the frauds practised in the early periods of ......ianity, by the framers of gospels, epistles, &c. in the writings of Origin, Tillemont, Epiphanius, Clemens Romanus, Ignatius, Justin, and Clemens of Alexandria, all of whom are ranked among the fathers; and (among the moderns) similar accounts may be seen in Dodwell's Dissertations on Iræneus; in the work of the profound Freret, entitled “ Examen Critique des Apologistes de la Religious Chretienne;" in the “Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamenti,” published at Hamburgh in 1719; in the elaborate and learned writings of Toland, particularly his “Defence of the Life of Milton;" and in a variety of other celebrated works on ecclesiastical history.
These spurious gospels and epistles were the natural consequence of the religion, intended to be established, being without any solid foundation. Had Jesus possessed authority to give a new revelation to mankind, or had that power been conferred on any of his disciples after his decease, the revelation itself would have carried with it evidence of its divine authority; it would have had the seal
* Træneus Adversus Hæres, lib. iii. chap. 17.
+ I have now before me a list of these books, amounting to upwards of seventy, which a celebrated author of the last century ascertained to have once existed, by the evidence of the Nazarene fathers, who frequently quoted them in their writings, but which are now destroyed. Among these early writings, I find a gospel attributed to each of the following Nazarenes: Peter, Andrew, James, Bartholomew, Philip, Thomas, Thaddeus, Matthias, Paul, and Barnabas; another gospel of John, and of Mark, with numerous epistles, books of the nativity, doctrines, preachings, liturgies, itineraries, judgments, acts, memorials, traditions, passions, visions, narratives, precepts, and revelations. In this curious list, there are no less than eight books attributed to Mary, one of which is entitled, “ The Book of the Virgin Mary and her Midwife,” and another, “ The Book of Mary, concerning the Miracles of and the Ring of King Solomon.”--Jesus, also, was believed to have been the author of seven books or tracts, one of which, it is said, he “ dropt down from heaven."
Toland's Life of Millon. 34
of the Almighty stamped on it; uniformity and consistency would have run through all its pages; and not a line nor a word could have been corrupted or counterfeited by impious man. But what do we find, even only a few years remote from the period in which Jesus and his apostles are said to have lived ? Not one uniform, clear, and consistent code, such as that which God gave to our fathers; but an almost incalculable number of gospels,' epistles, acts, liturgies, creeds, revelations, and oracles of Sybils, every one of which containing doctrines opposed to, and subversive of the others. Had the gospel attributed to Matthew been the true history of Jesus, where was the use of the other gospels? The Almighty was surely capable of revealing bimself sufficiently in one history; “but in those days there existed not only four but fifty gospels,”'* all of them pretending to fidelity, and to have been the works of apostles, or disciples, who were inspired by heaven to proclaim the true faith. If these gospels had been written in as many different languages as there were different people on the earth, and corresponded in all their parts, the reason for having so many might have been apparent. But this is not pretended; while it is an undeniable fact, that the four books afterward selected from this incomprehensible mass of writings, and now received as authentic, contradict each other in the narration given of the most prominent parts of the life and sayings of Jesus. Had they been really inspired by God it would have been impossible they could have varied, far less contradicted each other. Even were the question of inspiration abandoned, these contradictions would still prove fatal to their authenticity, because if the writers of these books were really eye witnesses, as is asserted, of the events they have recorded, they would have been uniform in their narratives, especially in a case where the faith of future generations depended so much on the accuracy, consistency, and intrinsic value of their testimony. We know of no rule by which the statements of four witnesses, disagreeing as to facts, can be received in any ordinary question. Much less ought such doubtful evidence to be admitted in a case where it is brought forward to subvert the acknowledged laws of God, which he has given for an " everlasting covenant,” and on the faithful observance of which alone the happiness of his people depends.
* Collins' Grounds and Reasons, p. 44.