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MOST of the writers, who have undertaken to prove the divine origin of the Christian Religion, have had recourse to arguments drawn from these three heads: the prophecies extant in the Old Testament, the miracles recorded in the New, or the internal 2evidence arising from that excellence, and those clear marks of supernatural interposition, which are so conspicuous in the religion itself: The two former have been sufficiently explained and enforced by the ablest pens; but the last, which seems to carry with it the greatest degree of conviction, has never, I think, been considered with that attention, which it deserves.
I mean not here to depreciate the proofs arising from either prophecies or miracles: they both have or ought to have their proper weight; prophecies are permanent miracles, whose authority is sufficiently confirmed by their completion, and are therefore solid proofs of the supernatural origin of a religion, whose truth they were intended to testify; 3such are those to be found in various parts of the Scriptures relative to the coming of the Messiah, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the unexampled state in which the Jews have ever since continued, all so circumstantially descriptive of the events, that they seem rather histories of past, than predictions of future transactions; and whoever will seriously consider the immense distance of time between some of them and the events which they foretel, the uninterrupted chain by which they are connected for many thousand years, how exactly they correspond with those events, and how totally unapplicable they are to all others in the history of mankind; I say, whoever considers these circumstances, he will scarcely be persuaded to believe, that 4they can be the productions of preceding artifice, or posterior application, or can entertain the least doubt of their being derived from supernatural inspiration.
The miracles, recorded in the New Testament to have been performed by Christ and his Apostles, were certainly convincing proofs of their divine commission to those who saw them; and as they were seen by such numbers, and are as well attested as other historical facts, and above all, as they were wrought on so great and so wonderful an occasion, they must still be admitted as evidence of no inconsiderable force; but, I think, they must now depend for much of their credibility on the truth of that religion, whose credibility they were at first intended to support. 5To prove therefore the truth of the Christian Religion we should begin by shewing the internal marks of Divinity which are stamped upon it; because, on this the credibility of the prophecies and miracles in a great measure depends: for if we have once reason to be convinced, that this religion is derived from a supernatural origin; prophecies and miracles will become so far from being incredible, that it will be highly probable, that a supernatural revelation should be foretotd, and inforced by supernatural means.
What pure Christianity is, divested of all its ornaments, appendages, and corruption, I pretend not to say; but what it is not, I will venture to affirm, which is, that it is not the offspring of fraud or fiction: such, on a 6superficial view, I know it must appear to every man of good sense, whose sense has been altogether employed on other subjects; but if any one will, give himself the trouble to examine it with accuracy and candour, he will, plainly see that however fraud and fiction may have grown up with it, yet it never could have been grafted on the same stock, nor planted by the same hand.
To ascertain the true system and genuine doctrines of this religion, after the undecided controversies of above seventeen centuries, and to remove all the rubbish, which, artifice and ignorance have been heaping upon it during all that. time, would indeed be an arduous talk, which I shall by no means undertake; but to shew, that it cannot possibly be derived 7from human wisdom, or human imposture, is a work, I think, attended with no great difficulty, and requiring no extraordinary abilities, and therefore I shall attempt that, and that alone, by stating, and then explaining, the following plain and undeniable propositions.
First, that there is now extant a book intitled the New Testament.
Secondly, that from this book may be extracted a system of religion intirely new, both with regard to the object and the doctrines, not only infinitely superior to, but unlike every thing, which had ever before entered into the mind of man.
Thirdly, that from this book may likewise be collected a system of ethicks, in which every moral precept, founded on reason, is carried to 8a higher degree of purity and perfection, than in any other of the wisest philosophers of preceding ages; every moral precept founded on false principles is totally omitted, and many new precepts added, peculiarly corresponding with the new object of this religion.
Lastly, that such a system of religion and morality could not possibly have been the work of any man, or set of men; much less of those obscure, ignorant, and illiterate persons, who actually did discover and publish it to the world; and that therefore it must undoubtedly have been effected by the interposition of divine power, that is, that it must derive its origin from God.9
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