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ADDITIONAL EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY, AND REFLECTIONS ON THE WHOLE.
—WE HAVE NOT FOLLOWED CUNNINGLY DEVISED FABLES.—
AS I had before proved the books of the New Testament to be genuine, I proceeded in my last discourse to argue thence the certain truth of the Christian revelation; and we have made some considerable progress in the argument.
The matter, in short, stand thus.—The authors of the New Testament certainly knew, whether the facts they asserted were true or false; so that they could not themselves be deceived:—neither can we think they would attempt to deceive others, since they appear, by their manner of writing, to have been persons of great integrity and goodness;—and, it is likewise evident, they could have no temptation to attempt a fraud of this nature:—however, if they had attempted it, we cannot imagine they could have gained credit in the world, if the facts they asserted had not been true:—nevertheless, they did gain credit in a very remarkable manner; whence it plainly follows that those facts were true.—Now I am to shew farther, to complete the proof of our grand proposition,56
6. “That, admitting the facts which they testify concerning Christ to be true, then it was reasonable for their contemporaries, and is reasonable for us, to receive the Gospel, which they have transmitted to us, as a divine revelation.”
The great thing they asserted was, that Jesus was the Christ, and that he was proved to be so,—by prophecies accomplished in him, and by miracles wrought by him, and by others in his name. Let us attend to each of these, and, I am persuaded, we shall find them no contemptible arguments; but must be forced to acknowledge, that, the premises being established, the conclusion most easily and necessarily follows: and this conclusion, that Jesus is the Christ, taken in all its extent, is an abstract of the Gospel-revelation, and, therefore, is sometimes put for the whole of it126126 Acts, viii. 37. ix. 22. xvii. 3. xviii. 5. 1 John, ii. 22. v. 1..
The apostles, especially when disputing with the Jews, did frequently argue from “the prophecies of the Old Testament;” in which, they say, many things were expressly foretold, which were most literally and exactly fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth127127 Acts, ii. 25-31. iii. 18-25. vii. 37. viii. 35. x. 43. xiii. 23, 27, 32-37, 40, 41. xvii, 2, 3. xxvi. 22, 23, 27. xxviii. 23.. Now, greatly to the evidence, confirmation, and advantage of Christianity, so it is that these prophecies are to this day extant in their original language; and this, in the hands of a people most implacably averse to the Gospel: so that an attentive reader may still, in a great measure, satisfy himself, as to the validity of the argument drawn from them.
On searching these ancient and important records, we find, not only in the general, that God intended to raise up for his people an illustrious Deliverer, who, amongst other glorious titles, is sometimes called the 57Messiah, or the Anointed One128128 Dan. ix. 25, 26. Psal. ii. 2.: but we are more particularly told, that this great event should happen before the government ceased in the tribe of Judah129129 Gen. xlix. 10.; while the second temple was standing130130 Hag. ii. 7, 9.; and a little before its destruction, about 490 years after a command given to rebuild Jerusalem131131 Dan. ix. 25-27.; which was probably issued out in the seventh year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, or, at least, within a few years before or after it. It is predicted, that he should be the seed of Abraham132132 Gen. xii. 43. xviii. 18. xxii. 18., born of a virgin of the house of David133133 Isa. vii. 14. xi. 1. Jer. xxiii. 5, 6., in the town of Bethlehem134134 Mic. v. 2.; that he should be anointed with an extraordinary effusion of the Divine Spirit135135 Isa. xliii. 1. lxi. 1., in virtue of which, he should not only be a perfect and illustrious example of universal holiness and goodness136136 Isa. xlii. 1. 4. liii. 9. Psal. xlv. 7., but should also perform many extraordinary and beneficial miracles137137 Isa. xxxv. 5, 6.; nevertheless, that, for want of external pomp and splendour, he should be rejected and insulted by the Jews138138 Isa. liii. 2-4., and, at length, be cut off and slain by them139139 Isa. liii. 7-9. Dan. ix. 26.. It is added, that he should arise from the dead before his body should be corrupted in the grave140140 Psal. xvi. 9, 10. Isa. xxvi. 19. liii. 10-12.; and should be received up to heaven, and there seated at the right hand of God141141 Psal. xvi. 11. cx. 1.; whence he should, in a wonderful manner, pour out his Spirit on his followers142142 Joel. ii. 28, 29.; in consequence of which, though the body of the Jewish people perished in their obstinate opposition to him143143 Isa. vi. 9, 10. xxix. 10. xlix. 4, 5. liii. 1. lxv. 2., yet the Gentiles should be brought to the knowledge of the true God144144 Psal. ii. 8. xxii. 27. lxxxvi. 9. Isa. ii. 2, 3. xi. 10. xlii. 1, 4, 6, 7. xlv. 22. xlix. 6-12. Mal. i. 11., and a kingdom established amongst them, which, from small beginnings, 58should spread itself to the ends of the earth, and continue to the remotest ages145145 Dan. ii. 13, 14, 27..
Besides these most material circumstances, there were several others relating to him, which were either expressly foretold, or, at least, hinted at; all which, with those already mentioned, had so evident an accomplishment in Jesus, (allowing the truth of the facts which the apostles testified concerning him,) that we have no reason to wonder, that they should receive the word with all readiness, who searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so predicted there, as the apostles affirmed146146 Acts, xvii. 11.. For, I am persuaded, that no wise and religious person could imagine, that God would permit an impostor to arise, in whom so great a variety of predictions, delivered by so many different persons, and in so many distant ages, should have an exact accomplishment.
When the apostles were preaching to heathens, it is, indeed, true, that they generally waved the argument from prophecy, because they were not so capable judges of it: but, then, they insist on another, which might as soon captivate their belief, and as justly vindicate it, I mean, “the miracles performed by Christ, and those commissioned and influenced by him.” Many of these were of such a nature as not to admit of any artifice or deceit: especially, that most signal one, of his resurrection from the dead, which I may call a miracle performed by, as well as upon, Christ; because he so expressly declares, that he had himself a power to resume his life at pleasure147147 John, x. 18.. The apostles well knew this was a fact of such a nature, that they who believed this would never doubt of the rest; they, therefore, often single this out, and lay the whole stress of their cause upon it148148 Acts, ii. 24-32. iii. 15. iv. 10. v. 30, 32. x. 40, 41. xiii. 30-39. xvii. 31. xxvi. 23. Rom. x. 9. 1 Cor. xv. 3-8, 12-22.. This they proved to be true, by their own 59testimony miraculously confirmed; and, in proving this, they establish Christianity on an impregnable rock. For, I may safely refer it to any of you to judge, whether it is an imaginable thing, that God should raise the dead body of an impostor; especially, when he had solemnly appealed to such a resurrection as the grand proof of his mission, and had expressly fixed the very day on which it was to happen149149 Matt. xxvii. 63. John, ii. 19, 21..
I persuade myself you are convinced by all this, that they, who on the apostles testimony believed that the prophecies of the Old Testament were accomplished in Jesus, and that God bore witness to him by miracles, and raised him from the dead, had abundant reason to believe that the doctrine which Christ taught was divine, and his Gospel a revelation from heaven. And, if they had reason to admit this conclusion, then, it is plain, that we, who have such satisfactory evidence, on the one hand, that the testimony of the apostles was credible, and, on the other, that this was the substance of it, have reason also to admit this grand inference from it, and to embrace the Gospel as a faithful saying, and as well worthy of all acceptation150150 1 Tim. i. 15.. This is the thing I was attempting to prove; and here I should end the argument, were it not for the confirmation it may receive from some additional considerations, which could not properly be introduced under any of the preceding heads. I add, therefore,
7. In the last place, “that the truth of the Gospel has received farther, and very considerable confirmation, from what has happened in the world since it was first published.”
And here I must desire you more particularly to consider,—on the one hand, what God has 60been doing to establish it;—and, on the other, the methods which its enemies have taken to destroy it.
(1.) Consider “what God has been doing to confirm the Gospel since its first publication,” and you will find it a farther evidence of its divine original.
I might here argue at large, from its surprising propagation in the world;—from the miraculous powers, with which, not only the apostles, but succeeding preachers of the Gospel, and other converts, were endowed;—from the accomplishment of prophecies recorded in the New Testament;—and from the preservation of the Jews as a distinct people, notwithstanding the various difficulties and persecutions through which they have passed.
I might particularly urge, in confirmation of the truth of Christianity, “the wonderful success with which it was attended, and the surprising propagation of the Gospel in the world.”
I have before endeavoured, under a former head, to shew you, that the Gospel met with so favourable a reception in the world, as evidently proved, that its first publishers were capable of producing such evidence of its truth as an imposture could not admit. But, now, I carry the remark farther, and assert, that, considering the circumstances of the case, it is amazing that even truth itself, under so many disadvantages, should have so illustrious a triumph; and that its wonderful success does evidently argue such an extraordinary interposition of God in its favour, as may justly be called a miraculous attestation to it.
There was not only one of a family or two of a city taken, and brought to Zion151151 Jer. iii. 14.; but so did the 61Lord hasten it in its appointed time, that a little one became a thousand, and a small one a strong nation152152 Isa. lx. 22.. And, as the apostles themselves were honoured with very remarkable success, so, this divine seed was propagated so fast in the next age, that Pliny testifies, “he found the heathen temples in Achaia almost deserted153153 Prope jam desolata templa—& sacra solennia diu intermissa. Plin. Epist. x. 97.;” and Tertullian afterwards boasts, “that all places but those temples were filled with Christians; so that, were they only to withdraw, cities and provinces would be depopulated154154 Hesterni sumus, & vestra omnia implevimus, urbes, insula, castella, municipia, conciliabula, castra ipsa, tribus, decurias, palatium, senatum, forum; sola vobis relinquimus templa:—potuimus & inermes, nec rebelles, sed tantummodo discordes, solius divortii adversus vos dimicasse;—suffudisset dominationem vestrum tot amissio civium, & ipsa destitutione punisset. Tertul. Apolog. cap. xxxvii..” [Nor did the Gospel only triumph thus within the boundaries of the Roman empire; for, long before Tertullian was horn, Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, which seems to have been written not much above 100 years after Christ’s death, declares, “that there was no nation of men, whether Greeks or barbarians, not excepting those savages that wandered in clans from one region to another, and had no fixed habitation, who had not learnt to offer prayers and thanksgivings to the Father and Maker of all, in the name of Jesus who was crucified155155 [[Ουδε εν γαρ ολως εστι το γενος ανθρωπων, ειτε Βαρ__αρον, ειτε Ελληνων, ειτε απλως ῳτινιουν ονοματι προσαγορευομενων, η Αμαξοϐιων, η Αοιλων καλουμενων, εη εν σκηναις κτηνοτροφων, εν οις μη, δια του ονοματος του σταυξωθεντος Ιησου ευχαι και ευχαξιστιαι τω ποτρι και ποιητη των ολων γινονται. Justin. Mart. pag. 388, edit. Thirlb..”]
Now, how can we account for such a scene as this, but by saying, that the hand of the Lord was with the first preachers of the Gospel, and, therefore, 62such multitudes believed and turned unto the Lord156156 Acts, xi. 21.? How had it been possible that so small a fountain should presently have swelled into a mighty river, and even have covered the face of the earth, had it not sprung from the sanctuary of God, and been rendered thus triumphant by his almighty arm?
Had this new religion, so directly contrary to all the prejudices of education, been contrived to sooth men’s vices, to assert their errors, to defend superstitions, or to promote their secular interests, we might easily have accounted for its prevalence in the world. Had its preachers been very profound philosophers, or polite and fashionable orators, many might have been charmed, at least for a while, to follow them; or, had the princes and potentates of the earth declared themselves its patrons, and armed their legions for its defence and propagation, multitudes might have been terrified into the profession, though not a soul could, by such means, have been rationally persuaded to the belief of it. But, without some such advantages as these, we can hardly conceive how any new religion should so strangely prevail; even though it had crept into the world in its darkest ages and most barbarous countries, and though it had been gradually proposed in the most artful manner, with the finest veil industriously drawn over every part which might at first have given disgust to the beholder.
But you well know that the very reverie of all this was the case here. You know, from the apparent constitution of Christianity, that the lusts and errors, the superstitions and interests, of carnal men would immediately rise up against it as a most irreconcilable enemy. You know, that the learning and wit of the Greeks and the Romans were early employed to overbear and ridicule it. You know, that, as all the herd of heathen deities were to be 63discarded, the priests, who subsisted on that craft, must in interest find themselves obliged to oppose it. You know, that the princes of the earth drew their swords against it, and armed torments and death for the destruction of its followers. And yet you see that it triumphed over all, though published in ages and places of the greatest learning and refinement; and proposed, not in an ornamental and artificial manner, but with the utmost plainness: the doctrines of the cross being always avowed as its grand fundamentals, though so notorious a stumbling-block both to Jews and Gentiles157157 1 Cor. i. 23.; [and the absolute necessity, not only of embracing Christianity, but also of renouncing all idol-worship, being insisted on immediately, and in the strongest terms, though it must make the Gospel appear the most singular and unsociable religion that had ever been taught in the world.]
Had one of the wits or politicians of these ages seen the apostles, and a few other plain men, whet had been educated amongst the lowest of the people, as most of the first teachers of Christianity were, going out, armed with nothing but faith, truth, and goodness, to encounter the power of princes, the bigotry of priests, the learning of philosophers, the rage of the populace, and the prejudices of all; how would he have derided the attempt, and said, with Sanballat, What will these feeble Jews do158158 Neh. iv. 2.? But, had he seen the event, surely, he must have owned, with the Egyptian magi, in a far less illustrious miracle, that it was the finger of God159159 Exod. viii. 19., and might justly have fallen on his face, even amongst those whom he had insulted, with an humble acknowledgement that God was in them of a truth160160 1 Cor. xiv. 25..
I might here farther urge “those miracles, which were wrought in confirmation of the Christian doctrine, 64for a considerable time after the death of the apostles.”
The most signal and best attested of these was the dispossession of devils; whom God seems to have permitted to rage with an unusual violence about those times, that his Son’s triumph over them might be so much the more remarkable, and that the old serpent might he taken in his own craftiness. I doubt not, but many of you have heard, that, more than two hundred years after the death of Christ, some of the most celebrated defenders of the Gospel, which the church has in any age produced, I mean Tertullian161161 Tertul. Apolog. cap. xxii., and Minutius Fælix162162 Minut. Fæl. cap. xxvii., do not only challenge any of their heathen enemies and persecutors to bring them a demoniac, engaging, at the hazard of their lives, to oblige the evil spirit, in the name and by the authority of Christ, to quit his possessions; but do also appeal to it as a fact publicly known, that those, who were agitated by such spirits, mood terrified and amazed in the pretence of a Christian, and that their pretended gods were compelled then to confess themselves devils.
I wave the testimonies of some later writers of the Christian church, lest the credulity of their temper, joined with the circumstances attending some of the facts they record, should furnish out objections against their testimony; though, I think, we cannot, without great injustice to the character of the learned and pious Augustin, suspect the truth of some amazing facts of this kind, which he has attested as of his own personal and certain knowledge163163 Augustin, de Civit. Dei, lib. xxii. cap. 8..
Nor must I, on this occasion, forget to mention the accomplishment of several prophecies, recorded “in the New Testament,” as a farther confirmation given by God to the Gospel.65
The most eminent and single instance, under this head, is that of our Lord’s prediction concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, as it is recorded by St. Matthew in his twenty-fourth chapter. The tragical history of it is most circumstantially described by Josephus, a Jewish priest, who was an eye-witness of it; and the description he has given of this sad calamity so exactly corresponds to the prophecy, that one would have thought, had we not known the contrary, that it had been written by a Christian on purpose to illustrate it: [and one can never enough admire that series of amazing providences, by which the author was preserved from the most imminent danger; that he might leave us that invaluable treasure which his writings contain164164 Joseph. Bell. Jud. lib. iii. cap. 8..
We have no need of any farther evidence, than we find in him, of the exact accomplishment of what was prophesied concerning the destruction of Jerusalem: but our Lord had also foretold the long continued desolation of their temple165165 Matt. xxiii. 38. xxiv. 2.; and I cannot forbear reminding you of the awful sanction that was given to that part of the prediction: for it is well known, that a heathen historian has assured us, that when Julian, the apostate, in deliberate contempt of that prediction, solemnly and resolutely undertook to rebuild it, his impious design was miraculously frustrated again and again, and the workmen consumed by globes of fire, which broke out from the foundations166166 [Cum itaque fortiter rei instaret Alypius, juvaretque provinciæ rector, metuendi globi flammarum, prope, iundamenta crebris assultibus crumpentes, seccie locum, exustis aliquoties operantibus, inaccessum; hocque modo, elemento destinatius repellente, cessavit inceptum. Ammian. Marcell. lib. xxiii. sub init. I think one might argue the author to have been a heathen, from this cold way of telling a story so glorious to Christianity: “the element repelling them by a kind of obstinate fatality.” The learned reader will easily observe with how different an air Socrates (Hist. lib. iii. cap. 20) and Sozomen (Hist. lib. v. cap. 22) recount, and most reasonably triumph in it.].]66
The prediction of St. Paul concerning the man of sin, and the apostasy of the later times167167 2 Thess. iii. 3-12. 1 Tim. iv. 1-3., is also well worthy of our remark. And, though a great deal of the book of Revelation be still concealed under a dark veil, yet, the division of the Roman empire into ten kingdoms, the usurpation, persecutions, and idolatry, of the Romish church, and the long duration of the papal power, with several other extraordinary events, which no human prudence could have foreseen, and which have happened long since the publication of that book, are so clearly foretold there, that I cannot but look on that part of Scripture as an invaluable treasure168168 [I can, with great pleasure, refer my reader to the learned commentary on this book lately published by the Reverend Mr. Lowman; from which I have received more satisfaction, with respect to many of its difficulties, than I over found elsewhere, or expected to have found at all.]; and think it not at all improbable, that the more visible accomplishment of some of its other prophecies may be a great means of reviving the Christian cause, which is at present so much on the decline169169 Hinc igitur apud nos futurorum quoque fides tuta est, jam scilicet probatorum, quia cum illis quæ quotidie probantur prædicebantnr. Tertul. Apol, cap. xx..
“The preservation of the Jews as a distinct people” is another particular, under this head, which well deserves our attentive regard.
It is plain they are vastly numerous, notwithstanding all the slaughter and destruction of this people in former and in later ages. They are dispersed in various most distant nations, and particularly in those parts of the world where Christianity is professed: and, though they are exposed to great hatred and contempt, on account of their different faith, and in mot places subjected to civil incapacities, if not to unchristian severities; yet they are still most obstinately tenacious of their religion; which is the more wonderful, as their fathers were so prone to 67apostatize from it; and as most of them seem to be utter strangers either to piety or humanity, and pour out the greatest contempt on the moral precepts of their own law, while they are so attached to the ceremonial institutions of it, troublesome and inconvenient as they are. Now seriously reflect what an evident hand of Providence is here; that, by their dispersion, preservation, and adherence to their religion, it should come to pass, that Christians should daily see the accomplishment of many remarkable prophecies concerning this people170170 [This important thought is most excellently illustrated in that incomparable old Book of Dr. Jackson’s, called, The Eternal Truth of the Scriptures, &c. especially Book I. Part I. Sect. III. Chap. 10-13. The whole of the section is very curious.]; and that we should always have amongst us such a crowd of unexceptionable witnesses to the truth of those ancient Hebrew records, on which so much of the evidence of the Gospel depends: records, which are many of them so full to the purpose for which we allege them, that, (as a celebrated writer very well observes171171 Spectat. vol. vii. No. 495.,) “had the whole body of the Jewish nation been converted to Christianity, men would certainly have thought, they had been forged by Christians, and have looked upon them, with the prophecies of the Sybils, as made many years after the events they pretend to foretel.” And, to add no more here, the preservation of the Jews, as a distinct people, evidently leaves room for the accomplishment of those Old and New Testament promises172172 Deut. xxx. 3-5. Isa. xxvii. 12, 13. xlv. 17. xlix. 6. liv. lix. 20, 21. lx. lxi. lxii. lxv. lxvi. Jer. xxiii. 5, 6. xxx. 8-24. xxxi. 31-40. l. 4, 5. Ezek. xi. 17-20. xx. 34-44. xxxiv. 11-31. xxxvi. 21-38. xxxvii. 21, 28. Hos. i. 10, 11. ii. 14-23. iii. 4, 5. Joel, iii. Amos, ix. 11-16. Obad. ver. 17-21. Mic. vii. 14-20. Zech. viii. 7-23. x. 6-12. xii. 10. xiv. 9-21. Rom. xi. 25-27. 2 Cor. iii. 16., which relate to their national conversion and restoration; whereas that would be impossible in itself, or, at least, 68be impossible to be known, if they were promiscuously blended with other people. On the whole, it is such a scene in the conduct of Providence, as I am well assured cannot be paralleled in the history of any other nation on earth, and affords a most obvious and important argument in favour of the Gospel.
Thus has Christianity been farther confirmed, since its first publication, by what God has done to establish it. It only remains that we consider,
(2.) What confirmation it receives, “from the methods which its enemies have taken to destroy it.”
And these have generally been, either persecution, or falsehood, or cavilling at some particulars in the revelation, without entering into the grand argument on which it is built, and fairly debating what is offered in its defence. Now, who would not think the better of a cause for being thus attacked?
At first, you know, that the professors, and especially the preachers, of the Gospel were severely persecuted. In every city, bonds and imprisonments awaited them173173 Acts, xx. 23.. As soon as ever the apostles began to preach Jesus and his resurrection, the Jewish rulers laid hold on them; and, having confined, and scourged them, strictly prohibited their speaking any more in that name174174 Acts, iv. 17. v. 40.. A little while after, Stephen was murdered175175 Acts, vii. 58.; and afterwards James176176 Acts, xii. 2., and some other of the apostles. Now, certainly, such a conduct did evidently shew a consciousness, that they were not able to answer the apostles, and to support their own cause by the fair methods of reason and argument; to which, so far as the history informs us, they made no pretence; but attempted to bear them down by dint of authority, and to silence them by brutal force.69
The time would fail me, should I attempt particularly to shew, how these unrighteous methods were pursued in succeeding ages and distant countries. The savage cruelties of Nero to these innocent and holy men were such as raised the pity even of their enemies177177 [This a haughty and cruel enemy confesses, even while he blasphemes the religion of these glorious confessors:—Quanquam adversus sontes, & novissima exempla meritos, miseratio oriebatur. Tacit. Annal. lib. xv. §. 44.]: yet this was one of the least extensive and destructive of the ten general persecutions, which arose in the Roman empire, besides several others in the neighbouring countries, of which ecclesiastical history informs us.
These early enemies of the Gospel added falsehood and slanders to their inhumanities. They endeavoured to murder the reputations of the Christians as well as their persons, and were not ashamed [to represent them as haters of the whole human species178178 Odio humani generis convicti sunt. Tacit. ubi supra., for no imaginable reason, but because they would not associate themselves in their idolatrous worship, but, with regard to charity and truth, were strongly bearing their testimony against it179179 [This matter is set in the clearest and most beautiful light by the sagacious Mr. Warburton, in his Divine Legation of Moses, (vol. i. pag. 292-295,) to whose labours the learned and the Christian world are indebted beyond expression for as great a number of original thoughts as are, perhaps, any where to be found in an equal compass.]:] nay, they charged them with human sacrifices, incest, idolatry, and all the crimes for which themselves and their foolish gods were indeed justly detestable; but from which the Christians knew how to vindicate themselves, highly to their own honour, and to the everlasting reproach of these malignant and pestilent accusers: and they have not failed to do it in many noble apologies, which, through the divine. Providence, are transmitted to us, and are, incomparably, the most valuable of any ancient uninspired writings.70
Such were the infamous and scandalous methods by which the Gospel was opposed in the earliest ages of the church; and I cannot forbear adding, “that the measures more lately taken to subvert it, especially amongst ourselves, seem to me rather to reflect a glory upon it.” Its unhappy enemies have been told again and again, that we put the proof of it on plain fact. They themselves do not and cannot deny, that it prevailed early in the world, as we have shewn at large. There must have been some man, or body of men, who first introduced it: they generally confess that Christ and his apostles were the persons; and these apostles (on whose testimony what we know of Christ chiefly depends) must have been enthusiasts or impostors, if their testimony was false. Now, which of these schemes will the unbeliever take? It seems, that the deists of the present age fix on neither, as being secretly conscious they can support neither, but they content themselves with cavilling at some circumstances attending the revelation, without daring to encounter its grand evidence; i. e. they have been laboriously attempting to prove it “to be improbable, or absurd, to suppose that to have been, which nevertheless plainly appears to have been, fact.” One most weakly and sophistically pretends to prove, in defiance of the common sense of mankind, that the light of nature is a perfect rule, and, therefore, that all revelation is needless, and indeed impossible. Another disguises the miracles of Christ by false and foolish representations of them, and then sets himself to ridicule them as idle tales. And a third takes a great deal of fruitless pains to shew, that some prophecies referred to in the New Testament are capable of another sense, different from that in which the apostles have taken them. These things have been set in a very artful and fallacious light by persons, whose names will be, perhaps, transmitted to posterity, with the infamous glory of having been leaders in the cause of infidelity: 71but not a man of them undertakes directly to answer, what has been said to ascertain the grand fact. Nay, they generally take no more notice of the positive evidence, by which it is even demonstrated, than if they had never heard it proposed; though they cavil at incidental passages in those books, in which it is most clearly stated. And as for what they have urged, though perhaps some, who were before weary of Christianity, may have taken occasion from their writings to reject it; and others, for want of consulting the answers to them, may have been unwarily ensnared; yet the examination of these points has been greatly to the honour and vindication of the truth, which seems, on this occasion, to have been set in a clearer and stronger light than ever, at least in these later ages.
The cause of Christianity has greatly gained by debate, and the Gospel comes like fine gold out of the furnace, which, the more it is tried, the more it is approved. I own, the defenders of the Gospel have appeared with very different degrees of ability for the work; nor could it be otherwise, amongst such numbers of them; but, on the whole, though the patrons of infidelity have been masters of some wit, humour, and address, as well as of a moderate share of learning, and generally much more than a moderate share of assurance; yet, so great is the force of truth, that (unless we may except those writers, who have unhappily called for the aid of the civil magistrate in the controversy) I cannot recollect, that I have seen any defence of the Gospel, which has not, on the whole, been sufficient to establish it, notwithstanding all the sophistical arguments of its most subtile antagonists.
[This is an observation, which is continually gaining new strength as new assaults are made upon the Gospel. And I cannot forbear saying, that, as if it were by a kind of judicial infatuation, some, who have distinguished themselves in the wretched cause of infidelity, 72have been permitted to fall into such gross misrepresentations, such senseless inconsistencies, and such palpable falsehoods180180 [I mention not here that mean buffoonery and scurrility, that industrious, though awkward, disguise, and monstrous mixture of the sceptic and dogmatist which the learned and ingenious Mr. Warburton has animadverted upon with such justice and spirit, in his fine dedication to the Divine Legation of Moses demonstrated.], and, in a word, into such a various and malignant superfluity of naughtiness; that, to a wise and pious mind, they must appear like those venomous creatures, which are said to carry an antidote in their bowels against their own poison. A virtuous and well-bred deist must turn away from some modern pieces of this kind with scorn and abhorrence: and a Christian might almost be tempted to wish, that the books, with all their scandals about them, might be transmitted to posterity, lest when they come to live, like the writings of some of the ancient heathens, only in those of their learned and pious answerers, it should hardly be credited, that ever the enemies of the Gospel, in such an enlightened age, should be capable of so much impiety and folly.]
Thus I have given you a brief view of the chief arguments in proof of Christianity; and the sum of the whole is this:
The Gospel is probable in theory; as, considering the nature of God and the circumstances of mankind, there was reason to hope a revelation might be given; and, if any were given, we should naturally apprehend its internal evidence would be such as that of the Gospel is, and its external such as it is said to be. But it is also true in fact; for, Christianity was early professed, as it was first introduced by Jesus of Nazareth, whole life and doctrines were published by his immediate attendants; whose books are preserved still in their original language, and, in the main, are faithfully translated into our own: so that the books of the New Testament now 73in your hands may be depended upon, as written by the persons whose names they bear. And, admitting this, the truth of the Gospel follows by a train of very easy consequences; for, the authors certainly knew the truth of the facts they relate; and, considering what appears of their character and circumstances, we can never believe they would have attempted to deceive us; or, if they had, they could not have gained credit in the world: yet they did gain it in a remarkable manner; therefore, the facts they attested are true. And the truth of the Gospel evidently follows from the certainty of those facts, and is much confirmed by what has happened in the world since the first publication of it.
I shall conclude what I have to say on this subject, with a few words by way of reflection.
1. Let us gratefully acknowledge the divine goodness, in favouring us with so excellent a revelation, and confirming it to us by such an ample evidence.
We should be daily adoring the God of nature, for lighting up the sun, that glorious, though imperfect, image of his own unapproachable lustre; and appointing it to gild the earth with its various rays, to cheer us with its benign influences, and to guide and direct us in our journeys and our labours. But how incomparably more valuable is that day-spring from on high which has visited us, that sun of righteousness, which is risen upon us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace181181 Mal. iv. 2. Luke, i. 78, 79.? O Christians, (for, I now address myself to you, whose eyes are so happy as indeed to see and your ears as to hear182182 Matt. xiii. 16.),) what reason have you for daily and 74hourly praise! when your minds are delighted with contemplating the riches of Gospel-grace, when you view with wonder and joy the harmonious contrivance of our redemption, when you feel the burden of your guilt removed, the freedom of your address to the throne of grace encouraged, and see the prospect of a fair inheritance of eternal glory opening upon you; then, in the pleasing transport of your souls, borrow the joyful anthem of the Psalmist, and say, with the humblest gratitude and self-resignation, God is the Lord, who hath given us light! bind the sacrifice with cords, even to the horns of the altar183183 Psal. cxviii. 27.. Adore God, who first commanded the light to shine out of darkness, that, by the discoveries of his word and the operations of his Spirit, he has shined in your hearts, to give you the knowledge of his glory, as reflected from the face of his Son184184 2 Cor. iv. 6.. Let us all adore him, that this revelation hath reached us, who live in an age and country so distant from that in which it first appeared; while there are, to this day, not only dark corners but regions of the earth, which are full of the habitations of idolatry and cruelty185185 Psal. lxxiv. 20..
Let me here particularly address myself to those, whose education and circumstances of life have given them opportunities of a fuller inquiry into the state of those ancient or modern nations, that have been left merely to the light of unassisted reason; even to you, sirs, who are acquainted with the history of their gods, the rites of their priests, the tales, and even the hymns, of their poets, (those beautiful trifles;) nay, I will add, the reasonings of their sagest philosophers, all the precarious and all the erroneous things they have said, where religion and immortality are concerned186186 [The great author I mentioned above (pag. 301, note †) has shewn, in a most convincing manner, that the whole body of the Greek philosophers disbelieved the doctrine of future rewards and punishments, though they popularly taught it as necessary to society; and held no other immortality of the soul, than what was the result of a most atheistical notion, (modernly known by the name of Spinozism,) that the universe was God, (see Dr. Warburton’s Divine Legation of Moles, book iii. sect. 2, 3, 4,) which surely is one of the strongest proofs of the need of a revelation that the world ever saw, and the most affecting comment on the words of the learned apostle, 1 Cor. i. 21. The world by wisdom knew not God; but, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. Rom. i. 22.]. I have sometimes thought, that 75God gave to some of the most celebrated pagan writers that uncommon share of genius and eloquence, that they might, as it were, by their art, embalm the monsters of antiquity: that so succeeding ages might see, in a more affecting view than we could otherwise have done, how weak the human mind is in its best estate, and the need which the greatest as well as the meanest of mankind have of being taught by a revelation from above. Permit me to remind you, that while you are daily conversing with such monuments as these; (as I know some of you are,) and are also surveying the evidences of Christianity, in a larger and more distinct view, are under peculiar obligations to be very thankful for the Gospel yourselves, as well as to companionate the case of those, to whom it has never been offered, or by whom it is slighted. And this leads me to another reflection;
2. What reason have we to pity those, who reject this glorious Gospel, even when they have opportunities of inquiring into its clearest evidences?
Such, undoubtedly, there are in our own age and nation; and surely we should sometimes bestow a compassionate thought upon them, and lift up an humble prayer for them; if God, peradventure, will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are now led captive by him at his pleasure187187 2 Tim. ii. 25, 26.. We should pity heathens and 76Mahometans, under their darkness and errors: but how much more deplorable is the case of these, who, though they dwell in Emmanuel’s land, and in the valley of vision, turn it into the valley of the shadow of death, by closing their eyes against so bright a lustre, and stopping their ears against the voice of the charmer188188 Psal. lviii. 4, 5.? They are, indeed, in their own conceit, the only people, and wisdom will die with them189189 Job. xii. 2.; so that, to be sure, they will scorn our pity: but who can forbear it? Is there a more melancholy thought than this, that the Son of God should have done so much to introduce and establish the Gospel, and his Spirit so much to perpetuate and increase its evidence, and that, after all, it should be contemptuously despised, even by creatures who are perishing without it? That the blessed Jesus, instead of being received with open arms as the great deliverer, should either be treated as an empty name, or, if acknowledged to be a real person, should then be represented as a visionary enthusiast or a wicked impostor? for, there is no other alternative. And this, not only (though, I believe, most frequently) by men of profligate and abandoned lives, but sometimes by persons of external morality and decency, of great humanity and sweetness of temper, (for, such I know are to be found amongst them,) as well as men of wit and genius, of politeness and learning, of human prudence and experience in affairs. I may also add, that it is the case of some, who were the children of pious parents, who were trained up in religious exercises, who once discovered serious impressions, and gave very encouraging hopes. Alas, whither are they fallen! and whither, have we reason to fear, they will at length fall! how shall we shelter those, that were once our brethren, that are, perhaps, still our friends, from the awful sentence, which the Gospel denounces against all that reject, without any exception? 77As to the wretches, that add insult and derision to their infidelity, I tremble to think of that load of guilt which they are bringing on themselves, and how near they approach to the unpardonable sin, if they have not already committed it. For the rest, who behave in a more modest and sober manner, it will, no doubt, be a very difficult talk to convince them; and so much the rather, as some of them, by too easy, a transition, have renounced many of the most important principles of natural religion, nay, I might add, even the whole of it, together with the Christian revelation. But the influences of divine grace are almighty; let us recommend them to these, and omit no other proper method, either of recovering those who are already seduced, or at least of securing those who are not yet infected, but may be (as most of the youth are, especially in the most populous places) in imminent danger of the contagion. To this end let me add,
3. How reasonable is it, that Christians should form a familiar acquaintance with the great evidences of our own common faith!
It is what we so apparently owe to the honour of God, to the interest of Christ, to the peace of our own souls, and the edification of others, that I hope I need not urge it at large; especially considering what was said in the introduction to these discourses. In consequence of all, let it be your care to make the evidences of Christianity the subject of your serious reflections and of your frequent converse: especially, study your Bibles, where there are such marks of truth and divinity to be found, that, I believe, few that have familiarly known them, and have had a relish for them, were ever brought to make shipwreck of the faith as it is in Jesus. Above all, let it be your care to as on the rules which are here laid down; and, then, you will find your faith growing in a happy 78proportion, and will experience the truth of our Saviour’s declaration, that, if any man will resolutely and faithfully do his will, he shall know of the Christian doctrine whether it be of God190190 John, vii. 77.. I verily believe, it is the purity of its precepts which lies at the bottom of most men’s opposition to it; or a natural pride of heart, which gives them an aversion to so humbling a scheme; or a fond affectation of seeming wiser than others, in rejecting what most of their neighbours do at least profess to believe. When these unhappy prejudices and conceptions are, by divine grace, conquered and rooted out, the evidence of truth will daily appear with an increasing lustre; as the light of the sun does, to an eye recovering from a film, with which it had been overgrown, and which before had veiled it with midnight in the midst of noon. Once more,
4. How solicitous should we be to embrace and obey that Gospel, which comes attended with such abundant evidences!
I may undoubtedly address myself to most of you, my friends, and say, as Paul did to king Agrippa, Believest thou the prophets191191 Acts, xxvi. 27.? and I may add, the evangelists and the apostles? Yes, I know that you believe them; yet, let me entreat and charge you not to rest here, but attentively to examine how far your hearts are affected and your lives regulated by such a belief. The Christian revelation is a practical thing; and it is heard, it is believed, it is professed, and even defended, in vain, if it be not obeyed. Therefore, do we so frequently read of obeying the truth, and obeying the Gospel, as a matter of so great importance192192 [Rom. ii. 8. vi. 27. Gal. iii. 1. 2 Thess. i. 8. 1 Pet. i. 22. iv. 17. To which we may add, John, iii. 36. where ο απειθων τω υιω, he, that is disobedient to the Son, is with great propriety opposed to ο πιστευων ες, τον υιον, he that believeth on the Son. See Expositor, vol. i. pag. 163. Note (i).].79
In this Gospel, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men; but it is revealed with redoubled terror against that audacious sinner, who holds the truth in unrighteousness193193 Rom. i. 18.. In this Gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ is exalted, both as a Prince and a Saviour194194 Acts, v. 31.; and it is not with impunity that the impenitent rebel can reject his yoke and trample on his blood; for, if he, that despised Moses’s law, died without mercy, of how much sorer punishment than even a capital execution must they be thought worthy, who have poured contempt on such a sovereign and on such a Redeemer195195 Heb. x. 28, 29.?
Oh let it be most secretly and frequently recollected, that this Gospel is the touch-stone, by which you are another day to be tried; the balance, in which an impartial Judge will weigh you; and must, on the whole, prove your everlasting triumph or your everlasting torment. The blessed God did not introduce it with such solemn notice, such high expectation, such pompous miracles, such awful sanctions, that men might reject or dishonour it at pleasure; but will certainly be found, to the greatest and meanest, of those that hear it, a favour of life unto life or a favour of death unto death196196 2 Cox. ii. 16..
Let it therefore be your immediate care, to inquire which of there it is like to prove to your souls; since it is so far from being a vain thing, that it is really your very life197197 Deut. xxxii. 47.. It has hitherto been despised, and that blessed Redeemer, in whom it so apparently centres, has been neglected; remember, that all, which has been said in confirmation of its truth, does but in effect prove that the hand-writing of God himself is set to the sentence of your eternal condemnation. Oh, therefore, allow not yourselves a moment’s rest, till you have with humble submission 80applied to his throne, while yet there is hope that it may be reversed.
And as for you, my brethren, who have received Christ Jesus the Lord, be exhorted to walk in him198198 Col. ii. 6.; since it is the design of his Gospel to teach us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly199199 Tit. ii. 12.; and this, not only as you have so comfortable an assurance, that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord200200 1 Cor. xv. 38., but as it will be, on the whole, the most effectual method you can take in your respective stations to promote the Gospel. If you indeed honour it and love it, and desire it may be propagated in the world, let it be your care, not only to defend it by your tongues, but to adorn it by your lives: and, in the words of that great champion in this sacred cause, be blameless and harmless, the children of God without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, shining amongst them as lights in the world, and so holding forth the word of life201201 Phil. ii. 15, 16.; and perhaps it may serve not only to entertain their eyes with wonder and glory, but to guide their feet into the way of peace, and may engage them also to join with you in glorifying your Father which is in heaven202202 Matt. v. 6.. Amen.
Printed by H. L. Galabin, Ingram-Court, London.
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