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it is exceedingly probable, that a divine revelation should be calculated to bumble the fallen creature, and bring it to a sense of its guilt and weakness; and the more evidently that tendency appears, other things being equal, the greater reason there is to believe, that the original of such a scheme is from above.
a Your own thoughts have undoubtedly prevented me in the application of these characters to the Christian Revelation. The justice of that application I must not now illustrate at large. But I must beg leave to advance one remark, which will conclude what I have to say on this general: Which is, that as the Christian system is undoubtedly worthy of God, so, considering the manner in which it is said to have been introduced, (separate from the evidence of these facts, which is afterwards to be considered,) it is extremely difficult to imagine from whom else it could have proceeded.
I will readily allow, that neither the reasonableness of its doctrines, nor the purity of its morals, will alone prove its divine original; since it is possible, the reason of one man may discover that, which the reason of another approves, as being, in itself considered, either true in theory, or useful in practice. But this is not all; for in the present case it is evident, that the first teachers of Christianity professed, that they were taught it by divine revelation, and that they were empowered by God with miraculous endowments for the confirmation of it. Now, if it were not indeed so as they professed, how can we account for so strange a phenomenon, as such a doctrine introduced with such pretences? If it were not from God, whence was it? from good, or from
evil angels, or men ? Wicked creatures, as our Lord strongly intimates, would never contrive and propagate so excellent a scheme; nor can we imagine that holy angels, or righteous men, would thus be found false witnesses of God, or have attempted to support the cause of religion and truth, by such impious and notorious falsehoods, as their pretensions must have been, if they were falsehoods at all.
And thus much for the first branch of the argument: If you consider the Christian scheme only in theory, it appears highly probable; since a revelation was so much needed, might so reasonably be expected, and if it were even given, would, so far as we can judge, be thus introduced, and be in the main attended with such internal characters. And though we have not as yet expressly proved, that the gospel was introduced in such a manner, as the defenders of it assert; yet it would be strangely unaccountable, that so admirable a system of truth and duty should be advanced by the prince of darkness, and the children of wickedness; as it must have been, if the persons first employed in the propagation of it were not endowed with power from on high. To embrace the Gospel is so safe, and, on the whole, so comfortable a thing, that I think a wise man would deliberately and resolutely venture his 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 is not only in theory thus probable; but,
Secondly, That it is in fact certain, that Christianity is indeed a divine revelation.--Here, I confess,
the chief stress is to be laid; and therefore I shall insist more largely on this branch of the argument, and endeavour, by the divine assistance, to prove the certainty of this great fact. You will naturally apprehend, that I speak only of what is commonly called a moral certainty: which, though it amount not to strict demonstration, is such kind of evidence as suits past matters of fact, and is sufficient to make a candid and rational inquirer easy in his assent. But I need speak of no more; for, in many cases, such kind of evidence gives the mind as ample, and as rational a satisfaction, as it may find even in some supposed mathematical demonstration ; since there it is possible, at least in a long deduction of particulars, for the most sagacious of mankind to fall into a mistake.
Now, in order to settle this graud point as clearly as I can, I think it may be proper to prove,
I. That the books of the New Testament, as they are now in your hands, 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 along with it such evidences of a divine authority, as may most justly recommend it to our acceptance.
Each of these heads might furnish out matter for many volumes; but it is my business to hint at the most obvious and important thoughts, by which they may be illustrated and confirmed.
I. I am to prove to you, that the books of the
New Testament, now in your hands, were written by the first preachers and publishers of Christianity.-I confine the present proof, to the books of the New Testament. Not that I think the authority of the Old to be suspected, or the use of it by any means to be despised. God forbid ! It is an invaluable treasure, which demands our daily, delightful, and thankful perusal, and is capable of being defended in a manner in which I am persuaded its subtilest enemies will never be able to answer.
I now proceed to the argument, and shall advance in it by the following degrees. I shall prove,-
, that Christianity is an ancient religion ;-that there was such a person as Jesus of Nazareth, crucified at Jerusalem about eighteen hundred years ago ;-that the first preachers of his religion wrote books, which went by the name of those that now make
the volume of our New Testament;—that they are preserved in the original to the present time ;-and that the translation of them, which you have, is in the main such as may be depended upon as faithful. And then I shall have clearly made out what I proposed in this first part.
1. It is certain, that Christianity is not a new religion, but that it was maintained by great multitudes, quickly after the time in which Jesus is said to have appeared.
That there was, considerably more than sixteen hundred
years ago, a body of men who went by the name of Christians, is as evident, as that a race of men was then existing in the world ; nor do I know that any have been wild and confident enough to dispute it. If any should, for argument sąke, question it, they might quickly be convinced, by a considerable number of Christian writers, who lived in the same, or the next age, and mention it as a thing notoriously certain, that Christianity was then of some standing in the world; some of them giving directions and exhortations to their brethren, and others forming apologies to their enemies, for which there could not otherwise have been the least foundation. We might have acquiesced in their testimony had it been alone; but it is confirmed by that of Jews and Heathens, who, by their early invectives against the Christians, do most evidently prove, that there was such a body of men in the world. The most considerable Roman historians, who lived in this age, and wrote of it, are Tacitus and Suetonius, who published their writings above sixteen hundred years ago; and they are always, and very justly, appealed to, as pregnant witnesses upon this occasion. For Tacitus assures us,
6 that in Nero's days,” who begun his reign about twenty years after the death of Christ, “ there was a vast multitude of Christians, not only in Judea, but at Rome too; against whom Nero raised a persecution, attended with such circumstances of ignominy and cruelty, as moved the compassion even of their enemies; of which number this historian evidently was. Nay, he plainly intimates, that this was not the first attempt which had been made to crush them; though this attempt was so early as we have heard.
His contemporary, Suetonius, in his more concise manner, attests the same. And Pliny, the intimate friend and correspondent of both, being employed in Trajan's time to persecute the Christians, writes an