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and genius of the people they hope to prevail upon, as Mahomet did, in encouraging war and lasciviousness. 3. If they lay the scene of their story at a mighty distance from themselves, at such an age wherein it is impossible to prove or disprove, which is the case of the Brachmans as to their Brahma and their Veda ; and was of the heathens as to their fabulous deities. 4. If there be any thing contained in the story which is repugnant to the most authentic histories of those times; by which means the impostures of Annius have been discovered. 5. If there be evident contradiction in the story itself, or any thing repugnant to, or unbecoming the majesty, holiness, sincerity, and consistency of a Divine revelation; on which account we reject fanatic pretences to revelations. If there were any thing of this nature in the writings of the New Testament, we might then allow there were some ground to suspect the truth of what is contained therein: but I shall undertake, by the grace of God, to defend that there is not any foundation for suspicion as to any one of these.
1. As to the persons, such who go about to deceive others, must be men that are versed in business, and know how to deal with men; and that have some interest already that they have gained by other means. before they can carry on such a design as to abuse mankind, by lies and impostures in religion. Therefore the Atheists lay the deceiving the world by religion to the charge of politicians and lawgivers, to men versed in the practice of fraud, such as Numa, or Lycurgus, or Xaca, or Mahomet, such as understood the ways of cajoling the people; or to subtle priests, that know how to suit the hopes and fears of the superstitious multitude; whence came the multitude of frauds in the heathen temples and oracles. But would any man in the world haye pitched upon a few fishermen, and illi
terate persons, to carry on such an intrigue as this? Men that were rude and unexperienced in the world, and uncapable of dealing in the way of artifice with one of the common citizens of Jerusalem. When was it ever heard that such men made such an alteration in the religion of the world, as the primitive Christians did, against the most violent persecutions ? And when they prevailed so much, the common charge still against them was, that they were a company of rude, mean, obscure, illiterate, simple men; and yet, in spite of all the cunning, and malice, and learning, and strength of their adversaries, they gained ground upon them, and prevailed over the obstinacy of the Jews, and wisdom of the Greeks. If the Christian religion had been a mere design of the Apostles to make themselves heads of a new sect, what had this been but to have set the cunning of twelve or thirteen men, of no interest or reputation, against the wisdom and power of the whole world ? If they had any wisdom, they would never have undertaken such an impossible design as this must appear to them at first view; and if they had none, how could they ever hope to manage it? If their aim were only at reputation, they might have thought of thousands of ways more probable and more advantageous than this. If we suppose men should be willing to hazard their lives for their reputations, we may suppose withal such men to have so much cunning as not to do it till they cannot help it; but if they can have reputation and ease together, they had rather have it. I will therefore put the case concerning the only person that had the advantage of a learned education among the Apostles, viz. St. Paul, and whom you seem to strike at more than the rest. Is it reasonable to believe, that, when he was in favour with the Sanhedrin, and was likely to advance himself by his opposition to Christianity, and had a
fair prospect of ease and honour together, he should quit all this, to join with such an inconsiderable and hated company as the Christians were, only to be one of the heads of a very small number of men, and to purchase it at so dear a rate as the loss of his friends and interest, and running on continual troubles and persecutions, to the hazard of his life? Is it possible for men that are deceived, and mean honestly, to do this ? But it is scarce supposable of a man in his senses, that should know and believe all this to be a cheat, and yet own and embrace it to so great disadvantage to himself, when he could not make himself so considerable by it as he might have been without it. Men must love cheating the world at a strange rate, that will let go fair hopes of preferment and ease, and lead a life of perpetual trouble, and expose themselves to the utmost hazards, only for the sake of deluding others. If the Apostles knew all they said to be false, and made it so necessary for all men to believe what they said to be true, they were some of the greatest deceivers which the world had ever known. But men that take pleasure in deceiving make use of many artifices on purpose to catch the silly multitude. They have all the arts of insinuation and fawning speeches, fit to draw in the weakest, and such as love to be flattered. But what is there tending this way in all the Apostles' writings ? How sharply do they speak to the Jewish Sanhedrin upon the murder of Christ! With what plainness and simplicity do they go about to persuade men to be Christians! They barely tell the matters of fact concerning the resurrection of Christ, and say they were eye-witnesses of it; and upon the credit of this testimony of theirs, they preach faith and repentance to Jews and Gentiles. Was ever any thing farther from the appearance of artifice than this was ? So that if they were deceivers, they were
STILLINGFLEET, VOL. II. Kk
some of the subtlest that ever were in the world, because there seems to be so little ground for any suspicion of fraud; and we cannot easily imagine persons of their education capable of so profound dissimulation and so artificial a cheat. Besides all this, we are to consider how far such persons do allow the liberty of dissimulation and artificial jugglings, especially in religion. We see the Papists could not practise these things without being forced to defend them, by shewing how convenient it is for the people to be told strange stories of saints, on purpose to nourish devotion in them: to which end, they say, it signifies not much whether they were true or no. And withal they assert the lawfulness of equivocations, and mental reservations, and doing things not otherwise justifiable, for the honour of their church and religion. And I shall freely confess to you, if I found any countenance to such things as these, from the doctrine or practice of the Apostles, it would give me too just a ground for suspicion as to what they delivered. For if they allowed equivocations or mental reservations, how could I possibly know what they meant by any thing they said ? For that which was necessary to make the proposition true, lay without my reach in the mind of another; and while they so firmly attested that Christ was risen from the dead, they might understand it of a spiritual or mystical resurrection ; but if they should be found to allow lying or cheating for the cause of religion, their credit would be gone with me; for how could I be any longer sure of the truth of one word they said ? I should be so far from thinking them infallible, that I could not but suspect them to have a design to deceive me. The first thing therefore we are to look at in persons who require our belief, is the strictest veracity; if they falter in this, they expose themselves to the suspicion of all but credulous fools. But we nowhere find greater plainness and sincerity required, nowhere more strict and severe prohibitions of dissimulation in religion, nor more general precepts about speaking truth, than in the writings of the New Testament. But might not all this be done with the greater artifice, to prevent suspicion? Suspicion is a thing, which he that set bounds to the sea, can set no bounds to: if men will give way to it without reason, there can be no end of it; for the most effectual ways to prevent it will still afford new matter and occasion for it. If men do use the utmost means that are possible to assure others of their sincerity, and they will not believe them, but still suspect the design to be so much deeper laid, there is no way left possible to satisfy such men; their suspicion is a disease incurable by rational means, and such persons deserve to be given over as past all remedy. If men act like prudent men, they will judge according to the reason of things ; but if they entertain a jealousy of all mankind, and the most of those who give them the greatest assurance they have no intention to deceive them, it is to no purpose to go about to satisfy such persons; for that very undertaking makes them more suspicious. If the Apostles therefore gave as much ground as ever any persons did, or could do, that they had no design to impose upon the world, but proceeding with all the fairness and openness, with the greatest evidence of their sincerity, there can be no reason to fasten upon them the imputation of cunning men, who made it their business to deceive others.