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OF THE PARTICULAR EVIDENCE FOR CHRISTIANITY.
The presumptions against Revelation, and objections against the general scheme of Christianity, and particular things relating to it being removed, there remains to be considered what positive evidence we have for its truth; this is considered under two heads.
I. The direct and fundamental evidence for Christianity from Miracles and Prophecy, and various objections answered.
II. The direct and circumstantial evidence considered as making up one argument.
WE proceed to consider what is the positive evidence for the truth of Christianity. We shall, therefore, First, make some observations relating to miracles, and the appearing completions of prophecy, (which are its fundamental proofs), and consider what analogy suggests in answer to the objections brought against this evidence; and, Secondly, We shall endeavor to give some account of a general argument, consisting both of the direct and collateral evidence (for the latter ought never to be urged apart from the former), considered as making up one argument; this being the kind of proof 190 upon which we determine most questions of difficulty concerning common facts, alleged to have happened, or seeming likely to happen, especially questions relating to conduct. The conviction arising from this kind of proof, may be compared to what they call the effect in architecture or other works of art—a result from a great number of things so and so disposed and taken into one view.
I. 1. The Historical Evidence of Miracles.
The Old Testament affords the same historical evidence of the miracles of Moses and of the Prophets, as of the common affairs of the Jewish nation. And the Gospels and Acts afford the same historical evidence of the miracles and of the common facts—because they are alike related in plain, unadorned narratives. Had the authors of these books appeared to aim at an entertaining manner of writing, the case would be different; then it might be said that the miracles were introduced, like poetic descriptions and prodigies, to animate a dull relation—to amuse the reader and engage his attention.
2. Some parts of Scripture, containing an account of miracles fully sufficient to prove the truth of Christianity, are quoted as authentic and genuine from the age in which they are said to be written, down to the present.
3. The miraculous history, in general, is confirmed—by the establishment of the Jewish and Christian 191 religions; events cotemporary with the miracles related to be wrought in attestation of both, or subsequent to them. These miracles are a satisfactory account of those events, of which no other satisfactory account can be given, nor any account at all but what is merely imaginary and invented. Mere guess, supposition, and possibility, when opposed to historical evidence, prove nothing, burt that historical evidence is not demonstrative. There must be something positive alleged against the proof of the genuineness and authenticity of Scripture, before it can be invalidated; either that this evidence may be confronted by historical evidence on the other side, or the general incredibility of the things related, or inconsistency in the general turn of history; none of which can be proved.
4. The Epistles of St. Paul, from the nature of epistolary writing, and moreover, from several of them being written, not to particular individuals, but to Churches, carry in them evidences of their being genuine, beyond what can be in a mere historical narrative, left to the world at large. One Epistle especially, which is chiefly referred to here (the 1st to the Corinthians), has a distinct and particular evidence, from the manner in which it is quoted by Clemens Romanus, in an epistle of his own to that Church. Indeed, the testimony of St. Paul is to be considered as detached from that of the rest of the Apostles, for the author declares, 192 in his Epistles, that he received the Gospel in general, and the institution of the Communion in particular, not from the rest of the Apostles, or jointly together with them, but alone and from Christ himself; and he declares farther, that he was endued with the power of working miracles, as what was publicly known to those very people, in the manner any one would speak to another of a thing which was as familiar, and as much known in common to them both, as any thing in the world.7474Vide Rom., xv., 19; 1 Cor., xii., 8, 9, 10-23, &c., and xii., 1, 2, 8, and the whole of xiv.; 2 Cor., xii., 12, 13; Gal., iii., 25. This evidence, joined with what these Epistles have in common with the rest of the New Testament, does not leave a particular pretence for denying their genuineness: for, as to general doubts concerning it, any single fact, of such kind and antiquity, may have them, from the very nature of human affairs and human testimony.
5. It is an acknowledged historical fact, that Christianity offered itself to the world, and demanded to be received, upon the allegation of miracles, publicly wrought to attest the truth of it, in such an age, and that it was actually received by great numbers in that very age, and upon the professed belief of the reality of these miracles. Now all this is peculiar to the Jewish and Christian dispensations. Mohammedism was not introduced on the 193ground of miracles, i. e., public ones, for as revelation itself is miraculous, all pretence to it must necessarily imply some pretence to miracles.7575This was all that Mohammed pretended to. “The Koran itself is a miracle.” So far was he from claiming to himself the working of public miracles, that he declared he did not work them, since those wrought by others, the Prophets, Apostles, and Jesus Christ, failed to bring conviction with them!—Vide Sale’s Koran, passim. Particular institutions in Paganism or Popery, confirmed by miracles after they were established, or even supposed to be introduced and believed on the ground of miracles, are not parallel instances, for single things of this kind are easily accounted for, after parties are formed, and have power in their hands—when the leaders of them are in veneration with the multitude, and political interests are blended with religious claims and religious distinctions. But even if this be not admitted to be peculiar to Christianity, the fact is admitted that it was professed to be believed on the evidence of miracles. Now, certainly it is not to be supposed that such numbers of men, in the most distant parts of the world should forsake the religion of their country, and embrace another which could not but expose them to much self-denial, and, indeed, must have been a giving up of the world in a great der gree, unless they were really convinced of the truth of these miracles, as they professed, when they became Christians, and this their testimony is the 194 same kind of evidence for those miracles as if they had written it, and their writings had come down to us. And it is real evidence, because it is of facts of which they had capacity and full opportunity to inform themselves. It is also distinct from the direct historical evidence, though of the same kind; for the general belief of any fact at the time in which it is said to have happened, is distinct from the express testimony of the historian. We admit the credulity of mankind; but we should not forget their suspicions, and backwardness even to believe, and greater still to practice, what makes against their interest. So that the conversion of many to Christianity, when education, prejudice and authority were against it, is an undoubted presumption of its Divine origin. It lies with unbelievers to show why such evidence as all this amounts to, is not to be credited.7676If it be objected that it is rather slender ground upon which to stand, merely that we cannot prove the contrary, or the falsehood of the thing, we may answer, that it is not intended to be ground to rest on; it is intended to set us in motion; and the evidence will grow in proportion to the earnestness and sincerity to ascertain the point. Now, is there not a moral fitness in this, that evidence should be progressive, and that in proportion to the singleness of eye and the diligence with which it is sought and investigated?—Wolfe’s Remains. Accordingly, there is
OBJECTED. 1st. “Numberless enthusiastic people, in different ages and countries expose themselves 195 to the same difficulties which the primitive Christians did, and are ready to give up their lives for the most idle follies imaginable.”
ANSWER. Though testimony is no proof of enthusiastic opinions, or of any opinions at all, yet (as is allowed in all other cases) it is a proof of facts. The Apostles’ sufferings proved their belief of the facts; and their belief proved the facts, for they were such as came under the observation of their senses.
2d OBJECTION. “But enthusiasm greatly weakens, if it does not totally and absolutely destroy, the evidence of testimony even for facts, in matters relating to religion.
ANSWER. If great numbers of men, not appearing in any peculiar degree weak or negligent, affirm that they saw and heard such things plainly with their eyes and ears, and are admitted to be in earnest, such testimony is evidence of the strongest kind we can have for any matter of fact. Such an account of their testimony must be admitted, in place of that far-fetched, indirect, and wonderful one of enthusiasm, until some incredibility can be shown in the things thus attested, or contrary testimony produced. The very mention of enthusiasm goes upon this previous supposition, which must be proved before such a charge need be answered; but as the contrary has been proved, an answer to it is much less required. However, as religion is 196 supposed to be peculiarly liable to enthusiasm, we will consider what analogy suggests. Nameless and numberless prejudices, romance, affectation, humor, a desire to engage attention or to surprise, party spirit, custom, little competition, unaccountable likings and dislikings, are to be considered as influences of a like kind to enthusiasm, because they are often scarce known or reflected upon by the persons themselves who are influenced by them. These influence men strongly in common matters, yet human testimony in these matters is naturally and justly believed notwithstanding.
3d OBJECTION. “But the primitive Christians might still, in part, be deceived themselves, and, in part, designedly impose upon others, which is rendered very credible from that mixture of real enthusiasm and real knavery to be met with in the same characters.”
ANSWER. It is a fact that, though endued with reason to distinguish truth from falsehood, and also with regard to truth in what they say, men are all liable to be deceived by prejudice; and there are persons who, from their regard to truth, would not. invent a lie entirely without any foundation at all, but yet would propagate it after it is once invented, with heightened circumstances. And others, though they would not propagate a lie, yet, which is a lower degree of falsehood, will let it pass without contradiction. This is analogical to the ground of the 197 objection; yet, notwithstanding all this, human testimony remains still a natural ground of assent, and this assent a, natural principle of action.
4th OBJECTION. But it is a fact that mankind have, in different ages, been strangely deluded with pretences to miracles and wonders.”
ANSWER. They have been, by no means, oftener, nor are they more liable to be, deceived by these pretences than by others.7777Counterfeit coin supposes that there is such a thing in the world as good money, and no one would pretend outwardly to be virtuous, unless some were really so. In the same manner, false miracles suppose the existence of real ones; and the cheats that have been imposed upon the world, far from furnishing us with reasons to reject all miracles in general, are, on the contrary, a strong proof that some, of which they are imitations, have been genuine.—Douglas on Miracles.
5th OBJECTION. But there is a very considerable degree of historical evidence for miracles acknowledged to be fabulous.”
ANSWER. Is there the like evidence? By no means.7878Vide Paley’s Evidences, Part 2, where this point is satisfactorily proved. But, even admitting that there were, the consequence would not be that the evidence of the latter is not to be admitted; for what would such a conclusion really amount to but this, that evidence confuted by contrary evidence, or any way overbalanced, destroys the credibility of other evidence neither confuted nor overbalanced? If two men, of equally good reputation, had given evidence 198 in different cases no way connected, and one of them had been convicted of perjury, would this confute the testimony of the other?
In addition to all these answers, it may be observed, it can never be sufficient to overthrow direct historical evidence, indolently to say, that there are so many principles from whence men are liable to be deceived themselves, and disposed to deceive others, especially in matters of religion, that one knows not what to believe. It, indeed, weakens the evidence of testimony in all cases, and it will appear to do so in different degrees according to men’s experience or notions of hypocrisy or enthusiasm; but nothing can destroy the evidence of testimony in any case, but a proof or probability that persons are not competent judges of the facts to which they give testimony, or that they are actually under some indirect influence in giving it, in such particular case. Till this be made out, the natural laws of human actions require that testimony be admitted. Now, the first and most obvious presumption is, that they could not be deceived themselves, nor would deceive others; for the importance of Christianity must have engaged the attention of its first converts, so as to have rendered them less liable to be deceived from carelessness, than they would in common matters; and the strong obligations to veracity which their religion laid them inder made them less liable to deceive 199 others. The external evidence for Christianity, unbelievers, who know any thing at all of the matter, must admit; that is, as persons in many cases own they see strong evidence from testimony for the truth of things which yet they can not be convinced are true—supposing that there is contrary testimony, or that the things are incredible. But there is no testimony contrary to that which we have been considering; and it has been fully proved that there is no incredibility in Christianity in general, or in any part of it.
I. 2d. The evidence of Christianity from Prophecy. The obscurity or unintelligibleness of one part of a prophecy, whether it arise from the nature of prophecy or from want of learning or of opportunities of inquiry, or from the deficiencies in civil history, and the different accounts of historians, does not, in any degree, invalidate the proof of foresight arising from the clear fulfillment of those parts which are understood. For the case is evidently the same as if those parts which are not understood were lost, or not written at all, or written in an unknown tongue. Suppose a writing partly in cipher and partly in plain words at length, and that in the part understood there appeared mention of several known facts; it would never come into any man’s thoughts to imagine, that, if he understood the whole, perhaps he might find that those facts were not in reality known by the writer. 200 The fulfillment of the facts known is extensive enough to prove foresight more than human.
1st OBJECTION. “Considering each prophecy distinctly, it does not at all appear that the prophecies were intended of those particular events to which they are applied by Christians; and, therefore, if they mean any thing, they are intended of other events unknown to us, and not of these at all.”
ANSWER. A long series of prophecy being applicable to such and such events, is itself a proof that it referred to them. This appears from analogy; for there are two kinds of writing which bear a great resemblance to prophecy, with respect to the matter before us—the mythological, and satirical where the satire is, to a certain degree, concealed. In the former kind, a man might be assured that he understood what an author intended by a fable or parable, related without any application or moral, merely from seeing it to be easily capable of such application, and that such a moral might naturally be deduced from it. And, in a satirical writing, he might be fully assured that such persons and events were intended, merely from its being applicable to them; and his satisfaction that he understood the intended meaning of these writings would be greater or less, in proportion as he saw the general turn of them and the number of particular things to be capable of such application. 201 In the same way, if a long series of prophecy is applicable to the present state of the Church, and to the political situations of the kingdoms of the world, some thousand years after these prophecies were delivered; and if a long series of prophecy, delivered before the coming of Christ, is applicable to Him, these things are in themselves a proof that the prophetic history was intended of Him, and of those events, in proportion as the general turn of it, and the number and variety of particular prophecies are capable of such application. And although the appearing fulfillment of prophecy is to be allowed to determine its meaning, it may be added that prophecies have been determined beforehand, as they have been fulfilled. The prophecies of a Messiah were applied to Him, by the Jews, before the coming of Christ; and those concerning the state of the Church in the last ages, were applied to it by the primitive Christians, as the event seems to verify.
Farther, even if it could be shown, to a high degree of probability, that the Prophets thought of events different from those which Christians allege to be the completion of their predictions; or that their prophecies are capable of being applied to other events than what Christians apply them to; yet to say that the Scriptures, and the things contained in them, can have no other or farther meaning than those persons thought or had, who first 202 recited or wrote them, is evidently saying that those persons were the original, proper, and sole authors of these books, and not the amanuenses of the Holy Ghost; which is absurd, while the authority of these books is under consideration—it is begging the question. If we knew the whole meaning of the compiler of a book, taken from memoirs, for instance, we would not suppose that we knew, from this, the whole meaning of the author of the memoirs. So that the question is, whether a series of prophecy has been fulfilled, in any real sense of the words: for such completion is equally a proof of foresight, more than human, whether the Prophets are or are not supposed to have understood it in a different sense. For, though it is clear that the Prophets did not understand the full meaning of their predictions, it is another question how far they thought they did, and in what sense they understood them. So that it is useless to show that prophecy is applicable to events of the age in which it was written, or of ages before it. To have proved this, before the completion, might, indeed, have answered some purpose; for it might have prevented the expectation of any such farther completion. For example, if Porphyry could have shown that some principal parts of the book of Daniel, for instance the 7th verse of the 7th chapter, which the Christians interpreted, of the latter ages, was applicable to events which happened before, or about, the age 203of Antiochus Epiphanes,7979It appears that Porphyry did nothing, worth mentioning, in this way. For Jerome, on the passage, says: “Duas posteriores bestias in uno Macedonum regno ponit.” And as to the ten kings, “Decem reges enumerat, qui fuerunt sævissimi: ipsosque reges non unius ponit regni, verbi gratia, Macedoniæ, Syriæ, Asiæ, et Egypti, sed de diversis regnis unum efficit regum ordinem.” And in this way of interpretation any thing may be made of any thing.-Vide Newton on the Prophecies, and Bishop Chandler’s Vindication of Christianity. this might have prevented them from expecting any farther completion of it. But even if he could prove his assertion—which by no means appears—these remarks show it to be of no consequence: and they are remarks which must. be acknowledged, by those of a fair mind, to be just, and the evidence referred to in them real. But it is much more easy, and more falls in with the negligence, presumption, and willfulness of the generality, to determine at once, with a decisive air—there is nothing in them.
II. We shall now endeavor to give some account of the general argument for the truth of Christianity; consisting both of the direct and circumstantial evidence, considered as making up one argument, for three reasons—1st, this is the kind of evidence upon which most questions of difficulty, in common practice, are determined—evidence arising from various coincidences, which support and confirm each other; 2d, this seems to be of the greatest importance, and not duly attended to 204 by every one: 3d, the matters of fact here enumerated, being acknowledged by unbelievers, the weight of the whole, collectively, must be acknowledged to be very important.
(1.) Revelation, whether real or supposed, may be considered as wholly historical—for prophecy is nothing but anticipated history—and doctrines and precepts are matters of fact. The general design of Scripture, containing this revelation, thus considered as historical, may be said to be, to give us an account of the world in one single view as GOD’S WORLD; by which it appears distinguished from all other books. It begins with an account of God’s creation of the world, in order to ascertain by what He has done, the object of our worship, distinct from idols, and the Being of whom the whole volume treats. St. John, perhaps in allusion to this, begins his gospel with an account of Him by whom God created all things. It contains an abridgment of the history of the world, in the view just mentioned, from the first transgression, during the continuance of its apostacy from God, till the times of the restitution of all things;8080Acts, iii., 21. Vide, also Rev., x., 7; Dan., ii., 44, vii., 22; Rev., xxii., 5; Dan., vii., 27. giving a general account of the governments by which religion is, has been, or shall be affected. On this it may be remarked, that the supposed doubtfulness of the evidence for revelation, in place of implying a positive 205 argument that it is NOT true, implies a positive argument that it IS TRUE: for, if any common relation of such antiquity, such extent, and variety could be proposed to the examination of the world, and if it could not be confuted in any age of knowledge and liberty, to the satisfaction of reasonable men, this would be thought a strong presumptive proof of its truth; strong in proportion to the probability that if it were false, it might have been shown to be so. Now Christianity is not said, by any, to have been thus confuted. Farther, the Old Testament, together with the moral system of the world, contains a chronological account of the beginning of it; and, from thence, an unbroken genealogy of mankind for many ages before common history begins. It contains an account of God’s making a covenant with a particular nation—His government of them—His threatenings “that he would scatter them among all people, from one end of the earth unto the other”—and His promise “that he would bring again the captivity of His people Israel, and plant them upon their land—and they should be no more pulled up out of the land.”8181Vide Deut., xxx., 2, 3; Is., xlv., 17, lx., 21; Jer., xxx. 11, xlvi., 28; Amos, ix., 15; Jer. xxxi., 36. It foretells that God would raise them up a particular person—the Messiah—in whom all His promises should be finally fulfilled; and consequently (as profane, as well as sacred, history informs us), 206 there was a general expectation of his appearing at such a particular time, before any one appeared claiming to be that person. It foretells also, that he should be rejected by those to whom he was so long promised,8282Vide Is., viii., 14, 15, xlix., 5, xliii.; Mal., i., 10, 11, and iii. and that he should be the Saviour of the Gentiles.8383Is., xlix., 6, ii., xi., lvi., 7; Mal., i., 11. To which must be added the other prophecies of the like kind, several in the New Testament, and very many in the Old, which describe what shall be the completion of the revealed plan of Providence. The Scripture farther informs us, that at the time the Messiah was expected, a person arose in this nation claiming to be that Messiah, to whom all the prophecies referred. He continued some years working miracles, and endued his disciples with a power of doing the same, to be a proof of the truth of that religion which He commissioned them to publish; that they, accordingly, made numerous converts, and established His religion in the world; to the end of which the Scripture professes to give a prophetic account of the state of this religion among mankind.
(2.) Suppose now a person, quite ignorant of history, to remark these things in Scripture, without knowing but that the whole was a late fiction; then to be informed of the following confessed facts: that the profession and establishment of natural religion is greatly owing to this book, and the supposed 207 revelation which it contains,8484But it is to be remembered, that how much soever the establishment of natural religion in the world is owing to Scripture-revelation, this does not destroy the proof of religion from reason, any more than the proof of Euclid’s Elements is destroyed by a man’s knowing, or thinking, that he should never have seen the truth of the several propositions contained in it, nor had those propositions come into his thoughts, but for that mathematician.—Butler. even in those countries which do not acknowledge the proper authority of Scripture; yet that it is acknowledged by many nations-that religion is highly important (all this, considered together, would make the appearing and receiving of this book seem the most important event in the history of mankind, and would claim for it, as if by a voice from heaven, a serious examination); that the first parts of Scripture are acknowledged to be of the earliest antiquity; that its chronology, and common history, are entirely credible, being confirmed by the natural and civil history of the world, collected from common historians, from the state of the earth, and from the late inventions of arts and sciences; that there appears nothing related as done in any age, not conformable8585There are several objections to passages of Scripture, occasioned by not considering them in reference to the manners of the times. Thus it appears that the things objected to, like many others that are censured in Christianity, and in Scripture, are, in a greater or less degree, actual proofs of their truth and authenticity. to the manners of that age; that there are all the internal marks imaginable of REAL 208 characters; that the miracles are interwoven with the common history—which, therefore, gives some credibility to them—that the Jews, of whom it chiefly treats, are acknowledged to have been an ancient nation, and divided from all others; that they preserved natural religion among them, which can not be said of the Gentile world—(which again adds a credibility to the miracles, for they alone can satisfactorily account for this event); that as there was a national expectation among them,8686Vide Bishop Chandler’s Vindication of Christianity, where it is fully proved that this expectation was general among the Jews and Samaritans. The effects of it may be judged from its extension among the Gentiles. To say nothing of the Arabians and of the appearing of the star to the Magi—Suetonius informs us (Vespasian, cap. iv., 8), “Percrebuerat oriente toto vetus et constans opinio, esse in fatis, ut eo tempore Judæâ profecti rerum potirentur.” And Tacitus, in his history (lib. v., cap. 9), testifies, that “Pluribus persuasio inerat, antiquis sacerdotum literis contineri, eo ipso tempore fore, valesceret oriens, prœfectique Judæâ rerum potirentur.” raised from the prophecies of a Messiah to appear at such a time, so one at this time appeared claiming to be that Messiah; that he was rejected by this nation (as seemed to be foretold), but received by the Gentiles, yet not upon the evidence of prophecy, but of miracles; that the religion he taught supported itself under the greatest difficulties, gained ground, and at length became the religion of the world; that, in the mean time, the Jewish polity was utterly destroyed, and the nation dispersed 209 over the face of the earth; that, notwithstanding this, they have remained a distinct numerous people for so many centuries, even to this day; which, not only appears to be the express completion of several prophecies concerning them, but also renders it, as one may say, a visible and easy possibility that the promises made to them, as a nation, may yet be fulfilled; that there are obvious appearances of the state of the world in other respects, besides what relates to the Jews, and of the Christian Church having so long answered, and still answering to the prophetic history. Let him view these acknowledged facts in connection with what has been before collected from Scripture, and the weight must appear very considerable to any reasonable mind.
OBJECTIONS PRECLUDED: All these things, and the several particulars contained under them, require to be distinctly and most thoroughly examined. This has not been attempted here. However, the things advanced, must be acknowledged by unbelievers; for though they may say that the historical evidence of miracles, wrought in attestation of Christianity, is not sufficient to convince them that such miracles were really wrought, they can not deny that there is such historical evidence, it being a known matter of fact that there is. They object to the appearance of a standing miracle, in the Jews remaining a distinct people in their dispersion, 210 accounting for this fact by their religion forbidding them intermarriages with those of any other, and prescribing them a great many peculiarities in their food, which prevent them being incorporated with any other people. But an event, considered apart from all coincidence, may not appear miraculous, yet the coincidence with prophecy may be so, though the event itself be supposed not. Thus the concurrence of our Saviour’s being born at Bethlehem, with a long series of prophecy and other coincidences, is doubtless miraculous, though the event itself—his birth at that place, appears to have been brought about in a natural way, of which, however, no one can be certain. Men may say, the conformity between the prophecies and events is by accident; but there are many instances in which such conformity itself can not be denied. They may say, with regard to such kind of collateral things as those above mentioned, that any odd accidental events, without meaning, will have a meaning found in them by fanciful people. Men, I say, may talk thus, but no one who is serious can possibly think these things to be nothing, if he considers the importance of collateral things, and even of lesser circumstances, in the evidence of probability, as distinguished in nature from the evidence of demonstration. This general view of evidence may induce serious persons to set down every thing, which they think may be of any 211 real weight at all in proof of it, and particularly the many seeming completions of prophecy. Nor should I dissuade any one from setting down what he thought made for the contrary side; but let him remember that a mistake on one side may be, in its consequences, much more dangerous than a mistake on the other; but is not this prejudice? If suffered to influence the judgment,8787Thus, though it is indeed absurd to talk of the greater merit of assent upon little or no evidence than upon demonstration, yet the strict discharge of our duty with less sensible evidence, does imply in it a better character than the same diligence in the discharge of it upon more sensible evidence. This fully accounts for, and explains, that assertion of our Saviour—“Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed”—have become Christians, and obeyed the Gospel, upon less sensible evidence than that which Thomas, to whom he is speaking, insisted upon.—Butler’s Sermon on the Ignorance of Man. it is so indeed, and, like other prejudices, it operates contrary ways in different men; for some are inclined to believe what they hope, and others what they fear; and it is manifest unreasonableness to apply to men’s passions in order to gain their assent. But, in deliberations concerning conduct, there is nothing which reason more requires to be taken into the account than the importance of it. But the truth of our religion, like the truth of common facts, is to be judged by all the evidence taken together. And, unless the whole series of things which may be alleged in this argument, and every particular 212 thing in it, can reasonably be supposed to have been by accident (for here the stress of the argument for Christianity lies), then is the truth of it proved; in like manner as, if in any common case, numerous events acknowledged were to be alleged in proof of any other event disputed, the truth of this event would be proved, not only if any one of the acknowledged ones did of itself clearly imply it, but though no one of them singly did so, if the whole of the acknowledged events taken together could not, in reason, be supposed to have happened, unless the disputed ones were true.8888The evidences of religion being so exceedingly dissimilar are highly characteristic of its truth. If man’s contrivance, or if the favor of accidents, could have given to Christianity any of its apparent testimonies—either its miracles or its prophecy, its morals or its propagation, or, if I may so speak, its Founder—there could be no room to believe, nor even to imagine, that all these appearances of great credibility could be united together by any such causes. If a successful craft could have contrived its public miracles, or so much as the pretence of them, it required another reach of craft and new resources to provide and adapt its prophecies to the same object. Further, it demanded not only a different art, but a totally opposite character, to conceive and promulgate its admirable morals. Again, the achievement of its propagation in defiance of the powers and terrors of the world—but the hypothesis sinks under its incredibility. For, each of these suppositions of contrivance being arbitrary, as it certainly is, and unsupported, the climax of them is an extravagance; and if the imbecility of art is foiled in the hypothesis, the combinations of accident are too vain to be thought of.—Davison on Prophecy.213
It is obvious how much advantage the nature of this evidence gives to those persons who attack Christianity, especially in conversation. For it is easy to show, in a short and lively manner, that such and such things are liable to objection—that this and another thing is of little weight in itself—but impossible to show, in like manner, the united force of the whole argument in one view.214
1. In what does Butler proceed to consider the positive evidence for the truth of Christianity?
2. Give summarily the five heads under which Butler treats of the historical evidence of miracles.
3. Why must peculiar importance be attached to the testimony afforded by the writings of St. Paul?
4. State the argument which leads to the conclusion that “the conversion of many to Christianity, when education, prejudice, and authority were against it, is an undoubted presumption of its Divine origin.”
5. Answer the objection, that “Enthusiasm greatly weakens, if not destroys, the credibility of evidence given even for facts, in matters relating to religion.”
6. How may we answer the assertion that “there is a considerable degree of historical evidence for miracles acknowledged to be fabulous?”
7. What general answer may be given to all the foregoing objections against evidences of religion, taken from the liability of men to be deceived?
8. In stating the evidence of Christianity derived from prophecies, how does Butler excuse the defects imputed to them, from the alleged obscurity of certain parts in them?
9. Answer the objection, that “Considering each prophecy distinctly, it does not at all appear that the prophecies were intended for those particular events to which they are applied by Christians.”
10. Explain why we may reasonably Assert, that “It is useless (for a person arguing against the truth of prophecy) to show that prophecy is applicable to events of the age in which it was written.” Also give 215 Butler’s remarks in conclusion of this part of the chapter.
11. When considering both the direct and circumstantial evidence for the truth of Christianity, as making up one argument, in what light may Scriptural revelation be looked upon? What is its general design? And how does the supposed doubtfulness of evidence bear upon the question of its genuineness?
12. Give a summary of the acknowledged facts, which, in connection with what is collected from the Old Testament respecting its ancient chronology, the history of Israel, prophecies of Christ; or from the New, respecting the Gospel History or prophecies, ought to have great weight with a reasonable and impartial inquirer.
13. Mention some of the specious reasonings by which unbelievers endeavor to evade the force of the above arguments; and answer them.
14. Prove the reasonableness of the following warning, given to a man noting down every thing which seems to be a proof against religion, “Let him remember that a mistake on one side may be, in its consequences, much more dangerous than a mistake on the other.”
15. Taking it as an admitted principle, that the truth of our religion, as of other common facts, is to be judged by all the evidence taken together, show where the stress of the argument for Christianity lies.
16. Describe the argument given by Davison, to show that the evidences of religion being so exceedingly dissimilar, are highly characteristic.216
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