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2. There is, from the light of nature, considerable encouragement to hope, that God would favor his creatures with so desirable a thing as a revelation appears to be.
That a revelation is in itself a possible thing is evident beyond all shadow of doubt. Shall not He that " made man's mouth,” who has given us this wonderful faculty of discovering our sentiments, and communicating our ideas to each other : shall not He be able to converse with his rational creatures, and, by sensible manifestations, or inward impressions, to convey the knowledge of things which lie beyond the discernment of their natural faculties, and yet may be highly conducive to their advantage? To own a God, and to deny him such a power would be a notorious contradiction. But it may appear much more dubious, whether he will please to confer such a favor on sinful creatures.
Now it must be acknowledged, that he would not certainly conclude he would never do it; considering, on the one hand, how justly they stood exposed to his final displeasure : and, on the other, what provision he had made by the frame of the human mind, and of nature around us, for giving us such notices of himself, as would leave us inexcusable, if we either failed to know him, or to glorify him as God, as the apostle argues at large. ,
(Rom. i. 20, &c.) Nevertheless, we should have something of this kind to hope from considering God as the indulgent father of his creatures; from observing the tender care he takes of us, and the liberal supply which he grants for the support of the animal life; especially from the provision he has made for man, considered as a guilty and calamitous creature, by the medicinal and healing virtues. he has given to the productions of nature, which man in a perfect state of rectitude and happiness, never would have needed.
This is a circumstance which seems strongly to intimate, that he would some time or other, graciously provide an adequate remedy to heal the minds of the children of men; and that he would interpose to instruct them in his own nature, in the manner in which he is to be served, and in the final treatment which they may expect from him. And certainly such an apprehension seems very congruous to the sentiments of the generality of mankind, a sufficient proof that men naturally expect some such kind of interposition of the Almighty.
3. It is natural to conclude, that if a revelation were given, it would be introduced, and transmitted in such a manner as the Evangelists shew us Christianity was.
It is, for instance, highly probable that it should be taught either by some illustrious person, sent down from a superior world, or at least by a man of eminent wisdom and piety, who should himself have been not only a teacher, but an example of righteousness. In order to this, it seems probable, that he should be led through a series of calamities and distress; since, otherwise he could not have been a pattern of that resignation, which adorns adversity, and is peculiar to it. And it might also have been expected that, in the extremity of his distress, the Almighty, whose messenger he was, shouid, in some extraordinary manner, have interposed either to preserve or to recover him from death.
It is, moreover, exceedingly probable, that such a person, and perhaps also those who were at first employed as his messengers to the world, should be endowed with a power of working miracles, both to awaken men's attention, and to prove his divine mission, and the consequent truth of his doctrines, some of which might perhaps be capable of no other proof; or if they were, it is certain that no method of arguing is so short, so plain, and so forcible, and on the whole so well suited to conviction, and probably, to the reformation of mankind, as a course of evident, repeated, and uncontrolled miracles. And such a method of proof is especially adapted to the populace, who are incomparably the greater part of mankind, and for whose benefit we may assure ourselves a revelation would be chiefly designed. It might be added, that it was no way improbable, though not in itself certain, that a dispensation should open gradually to the world ; and that the most illustrious messenger of God to men should be ushered in by some predictions which should raise a great expectation of his appearance, and have an evident accomplishment in him.
As to the propagation of a religion so introduced, it seems no way improbable, that having been thus established in its first age, it should be transmitted to future generations by credible testimony, as other important facts are. It is certain, that affairs of the utmost moment, transacted among men, depend on testimony ; on this, voyages are undertaken, settlements made, and controversies decided; controversies on which not only the estates but the lives of men depend. Though it must be owned, that such an historical evidence is not equally convincing with miracles which are wrought before our own eyes; yet it is certain it may rise to such a degree as to exclude all reasonable doubt. We know not why we should expect, that the evidence of a revelation should be such as universally to compel the immediate acquiescence of all to whom it is offered. It appears much more probable, that it should be so adjusted as to be a kind of touchstone to the tempers and characters of men, capable, indeed, of giving ample satisfaction to the diligent and candid inquirer, yet attended with some circumstances, from whence the captious and perverse might take occasion to cavil and object. Such we might reasonably suppose a revelation would be, and such we maintain Christianity is. The teachers of it undertake to prove that it was thus introduced, thus established, and thus transmitted ; and we trust that this is a strong presumption in its favor, especially as we can add,
4. That the principal doctrines contained in the Gospel are of such a nature, that we might in general suppose a divine revelation would be-rational, practical, and sublime.
It is natural to imagine, that in a revelation of a religion from God, the great principles of natural religion should be clearly asserted, and strongly maintained : such as the existence, the unity, the perfection, and the providence of God; the essential and immutable difference between moral good and evil; the obligations we are under to the various branches of virtue, whether human, social, or divine; the value and immortality of the soul; and the rewards and punishments of a future state. All these particulars every rational person would conclude were contained in it; and that upon the whole it should appear calculated to form men's minds to a proper temper, rather than to amuse them with curious speculations.
It might, indeed, be farther supposed, that such a revelation would contain some things which could not have been learned from the highest improvements of natural light: such as, that God would pardon the sins of the most flagrant oflender, on account of the satisfaction made by his dear Son, the Redeemer of the world ; that he would work holy desires in the hearts of his people, by the power of his divine grace, and form them for happiness hereafter by implanting in them a principle of holiness.
In short, the Christian system is undoubtedly worthy of God, nor is it possible to imagine from whom else it could have proceeded. *
Thus have we considered the first branch of the argument, and shewn, we hope satisfactorily, that, taking the Christian system only in theory, it appears highly probable. The truth is, that to embrace the Gospel is so safe, and upon the whole so comfortable a thing, that a wise man would deliberately venture bis all upon it, though nothing more could be offered for its confirmation. But, blessed be God, we have a great deal more to offer in this important cause; and can add, with still greater confidence, that it it is not only probable in theory, but,
Secondly, That it is in fact certain, that Christianity is, indeed, a divine revelation.
* From what has been said, it sufficiently appears, that a revelation was absolutely necessary to instruct mavkind in the most important principles of religion ; and consequently all the fallacious arguments of deistical writers, against the necessity of an extraordinary revelation, fall to the ground like a mighty structure wben the foundation is destroyed.
On this it must be confessed the chief stress is to be laid; and therefore we shall insist more largely on this branch of the argument, and endeavor, by the divine assistance, to prove the certainty of this great, this important fact. And in order to this, it will be necessary to shew,
I. That the books in the New Testament, now extant, may be depended upon as written by the first preachers and publishers of Christianity. And,
II. That from hence it will certainly follow that what they assert is true, and that the religion they teach brings with it such evidences of a divine authority, as may justly recommend it to our acceptance.
Each of these beads would furnish matter for several volumes; but as we are writing only a Dissertation, it is our business to strike at the most obvious and important particulars, by which they may be briefly illustrated and confirmed.
We are to prove, that the books of the New Testament, now extant, were written by the first preachers and publishers of Christianity.
We shall now confine ourselves to the books of the New Testament, as that particular part of the sacred oracles has engrossed our present attention, though we propose, in another place, to lay down some solid arguments in defence of the authenticity of the Old, which is an invaluable treasure, being the very foundation of the New, and demands our daily pleasing and grateful perusal, and is capable of being defended in a manner we are persuaded its most subtle enemies will never be able to answer.
After premising these particulars ; we shall go on to the argument, and advance it by the following degrees: We shall prove that Christianity is an ancient religion ;- That there was such a person as Jesus of Nazareth crucified above seventeen hundred years ago, at Jerusalem ;-—That the first preachers of his religion wrote books, which went by the name of those that now make up the volume of the New Testament;- And that the English translation of them, pow publicly used, is in the main faithful, and may be depended upon.
1. It is certain that Christianity is not a new religion, but one that was maintained by great multitudes soon after the time in which the Gospels tell us Jesus appeared.
That there was, considerably more than seventeen hundred years ago, a body of men that went by the name of Christians, is full as evident as that a race of men was then subsisting in the world ; nor do we know that any enemy to the religion of Jesus has ever been vile and confident enough to dispute it. Indeed, there are such numbers, both of Christian and Heathen writers, who attest this fact, that it would be madness to deny
it, and therefore superfluous for us to prove it. But we cannot help observing, that Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny, Marcus Antoninus, and others, not only attest the existence of such a body of men, but also inform us of the extreme persecutions they underwent in the very infancy of their religion; a strong evidence that they were firmly persuaded that their religion was from on high.
2. That there was such a person as Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified at Jerusalem, when Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor there.
It can never be imagined, that multitudes of people should take their names from Christ, and sacrifice their lives for their adherence to him, even in the same age in which he lived, if they had not been well assured that there was such a person. Nay, Tacitus himself tells us that he was put to death under Pontius Pilate, who was procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius. And it is well known that the primitive Christian apologists often appeal to the acts of Pilate, or the memoirs of his government, which he, according to the customs of all other procurators, transmitted to Rome, as containing an account of these transactions; and as the appeal was made to those who had the command of the public records, we may assure ourselves such testimonies were then extant. But it is a fact which our enemies never denied. They owned it; they even gloried in it, and upbraided the Christians with the infamous death of him whom they called their Saviour. Thus it sufficiently appears that there was at the time, commonly supposed, such a person as our blessed Saviour Christ, who was a divine teacher, and who gathered many disciples, by whom his religion was afterwards published in the world.
3. It is also certain, that the first publishers of this religion wrote books, which contained an account of the life and doctrines of Jesus their Master, and which went by the names of those that now make up our New Testament.
It was in the nature of things highly probable, that they would declare and publish to the world, in writing, the things they had seen and heard, considering how common books were in the age and countries in which they taught; and of how great importance an acquaintance with the history and doctrine of Christ was to the purposes which they so strenously pursued: but we have much more than such a presumptive evidence.
The most inveterate adversaries to Christianity must grant that we have books of great antiquity, written some fourteen, some fifteen, and some more than sixteen hundred years ago; in which mention is made of the life of Christ, as written by many, and especially by four of his disciples, who, by way