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these days, sit down to write chapters upon the subject, but with the leading rules and principles in each; and, above all, with truth, and with authority.
Lastly, the whole volume of the New Testament is replete with piety; with, what were almost unknown to heathen moralists, devotional virtues, the most profound veneration of the Deity, an habitual sense of his bounty and protection, a firm confidence in the final result of his counsels and dispensations, a disposition to resort, upon all occasions, to his mercy, for the supply of human wants, for assistance in danger, for relief from pain, for the be pardon of sin.
The candour of the writers of the New Testament.
I MAKE this candour to consist, in their putting down many passages, and noticing many circumstances, which no writer whatever was likely to have forged; and which no writer would have chosen to appear in his book, who had been careful to present the story in the most unexceptionable form, or who had thought himself at liberty to carve and mould the particulars of that story, according to his choice, or according to his judgment of the effect.
A strong and well-known example of the fairness it of the evangelists, offers itself in their account of Christ's resurrection, namely, in their unanimously stating, that after he was risen, he appeared to his disciples alone. I do not mean that they have used the exclusive word alone; but that all the instances which they have recorded of his appearance, are instances of appearance to his disciples; that their reasonings upon it, and allusions to it, are confined to this supposition; and that, by one of them, Peter is made to say, "Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he ose from
the dead." The most common understanding must have perceived that the history of the resurrection would have come with more advantage, if they had related that Jesus appeared, after he was risen, to his foes as well as his friends, to the Scribes and Pharisees, the Jewish council, and the Roman governor or even if they had asserted the public appearance of Christ in general unqualified terms, without noticing, as they have done, the presence of his disciples on each occasion, and noticing it in such a manner as to lead their readers to suppose that none but disciples were present. They could have represented it in one way as well as the other, And if their point had been, to have the religion believed, whether true or false; if they had fabricated the story ab initio; or if they had been disposed either to have delivered their testimony as witnesses, or to have worked up their materials and information as historians, in such a manner as to render their narrative as specious and unobjectionable as they could; in a word, if they had thought of any thing but of the truth of the case, as they understood and believed it; they would, in their account of Christ's several appearances after his resurrection, at least have omitted this restriction. At this distance of time, the account, as we have it, is perhaps more credible than it would have been the other way; because this manifestation of the historians' candour, is of more advantage to their testimony, than the difference in the circumstances of the account would have been to the nature of the evidence. But this is an effect which the evangelists would not foresee and I think that it was by no means the case at the time when the books were composed.
Mr. Gibbon has argued for the genuineness of the Koran, from the confessions which it contains, to the apparent disadvantage of the Mahometan cause. The same defence vindicates the genuineness of our Gospels, and without prejudice to the cause at all.
There are some other instances in which the
Acts x. 40, 41.
Vol. ix. c. 50, note 96.
ly looks like undesignedness. I think also that the difficulty arising from the conciseness of Christ'e expression, "This is my body," would have been avoided in a made-up story. I allow that the explication of these words, given by Protestants, is satisfactory; but it is deduced from a diligent comparison of the wrods in question with forms of expression used in Scripture, and especially by Christ upon other occasions. No writer would arbitrarily and unnecessarily have thus cast into his reader's way a difficulty, which, to say the least, it required research and erudition to clear up.
Now it ought to be observed, that the argument which is built upon these examples, extends both to the authenticity of the books and to the truth of the narrative for it is improbable that the forger of a history in the name of another should have inserted such passages into it and it is improbable also, that the persons whose names the books bear should have fabricated such passages; or even have allowed them a place in the work, if they had not believed them to express the truth.
The following observation, therefore, of Dr. Lardner, the most candid of all advocates, and the most cautious of all inquirers, seems to be wellfounded:-" Christians are induced to believe the writers of the Gospel, by observing the evidences of piety and probity that appear in their writings, in which there is no deceit, or artifice, or cunning, or design." "No remarks," as Dr. Beattie hath properly said, are thrown in, to anticipate objections; nothing of that caution, which never fails to distinguish the testimony of those who are conscious of imposture; no endeavour to reconcile the reader's mind to what may be extraordinary in the narrative."
I beg leave to cite also another author,* who has well expressed the reflection which the examples now brought forward were intended to suggest. "It doth not appear that ever it came into the mind of these writers, to consider how this or the other action would appear to mankind, or what objections might be raised upon them. But without
*Duphal, p. 97, 93.
at all attending to this, they lay the facts before you, at no pains to think whether they would appear credible or not. If the reader will not believe their testimony, there is no help for it: they tell the truth, and attend to nothing else. Surely this looks like sincerity, and that they published nothing to the world but what they believed themselves."
As no improper supplement to this chapter, I crave a place here for observing the extreme naturalness of some of the things related in the New Testament.
Mark ix. 23. "Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believ eth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." This struggle in the father's heart, between solicitude for the preservation of his child, and a kind of involuntary distrust of Christ's power to heal him, is here expressed with an air of reality, which could hardly be counterfeited.
Again, (Matt xxi. 9.) the eagerness of the people to introduce Christ into Jerusalem, and their demand, a short time afterward, of his crucifixion, when he did not turn out what they expected him to be, so far from affording matter of objection, represents popular favour in exact agreement with nature and with experience, as the flux and reflux of a wave.
The rulers and Pharisees rejecting Christ, whilst many of the common people received him, was the effect which, in the then state of Jewish prejudices, I should have expected. And the reason with which they who rejected Christ's mission kept themselves in countenance, and with which also they answered the arguments of those who favoured it, is precisely the reason which such men usually give-"Have any of the scribes or Pharisees believed on him? (John vii. 48.)
In our Lord's conversation at the well (John iv. 29.) Christ had surprised the Samaritan woman with an allusion to a single particular in her domestic situation, "Thou hast had five husbands; and he, whom thou now hast, is not thy husband."
The woman, soon after this, ran back to the city, and called out to her neighbours, "Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did." This exaggeration appears to me very natural; especially in the hurried state of the spirits into which the woman may be supposed to have been thrown.
The lawyer's subtilty in running a distinction upon the word neighbour, in the precept, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," was no less natural, than our Saviour's answer was decisive and satisfactory (Luke x. 29.) The lawyer of the New Testament, it must be observed, was a Jewish divine.
The behaviour of Gallio (Acts xviii. 12-17.) and of Festus (xxv. 18, 19.) have been observed upon already.
The consistency of St. Paul's character throughout the whole of his history (viz. the warmth and activity of his zeal, first against, and then for, Christianity,) carries with it very much of the appearance of truth.
There are also some properties, as they may be called, observable in the Gospels: that is, circumstances separately suiting with the situation, character, and intention, of their respective authors.
Saint Matthew, who was an inhabitant of Galilee, and did not join Christ's Society until some time after Christ had come into Galilee to preach, has given us very little of his history prior to that period. Saint John, who had been converted before, and who wrote to supply omissions in the other Gospels, relates some remarkable particulars, which had taken place before Christ left Judea, to go into Galilee.*
Saint Matthew (xv. 1.) has recorded the cavil of the Pharisees against the disciples of Jesus, for eating" with unclean hands." Saint Mark has also (vii. 1.) recorded the same transaction (taken probably from Saint Matthew,) but with this addition; "For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands often, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders: and when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not: and
1 Hartley's Observations, vol. ii. p. 103.