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and some of them, especially the second, from the Old; yet it is certain, that the grand basis and foundation of them all is what we read in the history of Christ and his apostles. There we are informed of the miracles which they wrought, of the character they maintained, and of the system of religion which they published to the world; and the application of the Old Testament prophecies to Jesus of Nazareth is beyond all controversy to be justified chiefly from what we find there.
These books do in the most authentic manner, as we have demonstrated elsewhere, shew us, who Jesus of Nazareth was, and what he professed himself to be. They give us an account of the very high pretensions he made to an immediate mission from God, and to a most intimate relation to him, as his Son in a peculiar and appropriate sense not communicable to any other. They give us also, as in this connection it is very fit they should, a very large and circumstantial narration of a variety of miracles which he wrought. Their number appears to be very great; so that a late writer, who has considered them very accurately, reckons up sixty-nine relating to particular persons, besides twenty other instances, in all of which several, and in most of them multitudes, yea frequently greut multitudes, are mentioned, not merely as the spectators, but as the objects of his miraculous power, which must on the most moderate compution arise to many hundreds; not to mention those yet more numerous miracles which were performed by his apostles in his name, wherever they came, especially after the descent of the Holy Ghost upon them; or the variety of supernatural gifts and powers with which they were endowed, and which in many thousands of instances they communicated to others.
It is farther to be recollected here, that these miracles were not of such a kind as to leave any room for a doubt, whether they lay within the natural efficacy of second causes, or not; since the most hopeless and inveterate diseases gave way, not merely to some trivial application of means, whether internal or external, but to a touch, or a word; and death itself obeyed the voice of Jesus and of his servants speaking by his authority.
Now I could wish that any one who feels himself inclined to scepticism with regard to christianity, would sit down and read over any one of the evangelists in this particular view: That he would take the stories of the several miracles in their succession, and after having attentively weighed them, would ask his own heart, whether, if he had seen such facts as these, he would not immediately have been convinced in his own conscience, that this was indeed the seal of heaven set to the commission of the person who performed them; and consequently, whether if these things were really done by Jesus and his missionaries, in his name, he must not be compelled to acknowledge, that christianity is true. Let any impartial and rational man in the world judge, whether if an impostor had arisen, falsely and blasphemously arrogating to himself the high titles of the Son of God, and Saviour of men, God would have honoured his lips with this wonderful power over diseases and death, or his dead body after a public execution with a resurrection: that is, in one word, whether he would have interposed to give such credit to him, as it is not pretended he hath ever given, in any other instance, to the best of men in the best of causes. Every man's heart will surely tell him, with the circumstances of such facts full in his view,that the only question is, whether they be themselves credible; and that, if this be allowed the divine attestation to the authority of such a teacher follows, by a connection which can never be broken, and which probably few men living will have an inveteracy of prejudice sufficient to gainsay.
The historical books of the New Testament do also admirably illustrate that argument in favour of christianity, which is drawn from the accomplishment of prophecies; and this, in a variety of respects. Many very important passages
of this kind are expressly quoted; not merely by way of allusion, but by a literal and exact application of them, according to their genuine sense, and agreeably to the connection in which they stand. The application of some others, in themselves more dubious, will upon strict examination appear just, and may prove a key to the sense of many more, on the truest principles of analogy; as many writers have shewn, and perhaps no one, since Eusebius wrote nis Demonstratio Evangelica, more judiciously than Mr. Jeffery in his controversy with Mr. Collins. Nay, the texts quoted by way of allusion and accommodation, of which there are such numerous instances, have consequently tended to the establishment of the argument from prophecies, however under injudicious management they may seem to have perplexed it; as they have had their share in recommending the Jewish scriptures to the perusal of christians, and so in guarding them more surely against any possibility of corruption, if the Jews themselves could have been wicked enought to attempt it. But, besides these various views in which the citations may be considered under this head, I must farther observe, that when not this or that particular passage of the evangelical history alone, but the whole series of it comes to be compared with correspondent representations in the Old Testament, it fixes upon the mind the strongest impression that can well be imagined, of the reference of the prophets to Jesus as the Messiah. The ingenious Earl of Rochester, whose story is so celebrated, was deeply sensible of this with regard to the lui. of Isaiah, as illustrated by all the story of our Lord's passion; and there are many other sections of that prophet, and of several others, to which the remark may be applied; which indeed extends to all the general representations of the Messiah's character, conduct, and circumstances.
The account which the New Testament gives us of the temper and character of our divine Redeemer, is a topic of argument on this head by no means to be forgotten. We do not indeed there meet with any studied encomiums upon the subject. The authors deal not in such sort of productions; but, which is a thousand times better, they shew us the character itself. The sight of what is great and beautiful has another kind of effect, than the most eloquent description of it. And here we behold the actions of Christ; we attend his discourses, and have a plain and open view of his behaviour. In consequence of this, we see in him every thing venerable, every thing amiable. We see a perfection of goodness no where else in the world to be seen or to be heard: and numberless arguments plead at once, to persuade the heart, that it is absolutely impossible such a person should be engaged in a design founded in known falsehood, and tending only to inislead and ruin his followers.
And though, it is true, the character of his apostles does not fully come up to the standard of their master, nor is entirely free from some small blemishes; yet we see so little of that kind in them, and on the contrary such an assemblage of the human, divine, and social virtues, that we cannot, if we thoroughly know them, if we form an intimate acquaintance with them, entertain with patience the least suspicion that they were capable of a part so detestable as theirs must have been, if they knew Jesus to have been an impostor, and the gospel a fable; with which they must be chargeable, if Christianity were not indeed authentic and divine.
The series of sufferings which they endured, the gentle, humble patience with which they bore them, the steady perseverance and invincible fortitude with which they pursued their scheme, in the midst of them all, and with no earthly prospect but that of a continued hardship and persecution, till it should end in death, furnish out an important branch of this argument, which the book of Acts, especially taken in connection with the Epistles, does almost continually illustrate, in the most artless, and therefore the most forcible manner.
To conclude this head, the history before us represents, in the most clear and A 2
convincing light, the genius of that doctrine which Christ taught, and of the religion which he came to settle in the world. When we view it as exhibited in human writings, we may mistake; for it is too often tinctured with the channel through which it has passed. Men of bad dispositions have warped it, to make it comply with the corruption of their own hearts, and to subserve, in many instances, the schemes of their ambitious and worldly interests. Good men, insensibly influenced by a variety of prejudices, which under fair and plausible forms have insinuated themselves into their breasts, have frequently mistaken, not the essentials of Christianity, (for no good man can mistake them,) but the circumstantials of it; and have propagated their various, and frequently contradictory mistakes, with a zeal which nothing but an apprehension that they were its fundamentals could have inspired: and thus its original purity and beauty have been debased and obscured: But here we drink this water of life at its fountain-head, untainted and unmixed, and with that peculiar spirit which at a distance from it is so apt to evaporate. Here we plainly perceive there is nothing in the scheme but what is most worthy of God to reveal, and of his Son to publish to the world: Here we see not as in the heathen writers, some detached sentiment, finely heightened with the beauty of expression and pomp of words, like a scattered fragment, with the partial traces of impaired elegance and magnificence; but the elevation of a complete temple, worthy of the Deity to whom it is consecrated: so harmonious a system of unmingled truth, so complete a plan of universal duty, so amiable a representation of true morality in all its parts, without redundancy, and without defect, that the more capable we are of judging of real excellence, the more we shall be prepossessed in its favour: And if we have a capacity and opportunity of examining together with it, the books which the followers of other religions have esteemed sacred, and the systems of doctrines and manners which their respective founders have published to the world, we shall find how much the gospel is credited by the comparison; we shall indeed find the difference much like that of a coarse picture of sunshine, from the original beams of that celestial luminary. This I have so deeply felt in mine own heart while reading these books, and especially while commenting upon them, that it has been matter of astonishment as well as of grief to me, that there should be any mind capable of resisting evidence so various, so powerful, and so sweet.
But this leads me to the other branch of the argument; in which I shall remind my reader,
Secondly, That these books are admirably adapted to make those good impres sions on the heart which may prepare it for eternal life, through the name of the Redeemer, of whose divine mission they contain such incontestible proofs.
Now the most effectual demonstration of this would be, an attentive perusal of these books, not so much with a view to criticise upon them, as to give up the soul to their genuine influences, and to leave the heart to be (if I may so express my self) carried away with the torrent whither it will; and the impulse cannot fail of being in some happy direction, and, amidst all its varieties, will undoubtedly bear us forward towards that perfection of goodness and of happiness which is the great end of all our pursuits.
For surely the breast of every well-disposed reader, under the influences of that blessed Spirit which guided the sacred penmen in these lively and well-chosen narrations, must by every page of them be inflamed with some devout passion; and his progress must often be interrupted with tears of holy delight, or with warm and perhaps rapturous aspirations of soul. Surely this adorable Saviour cannot be heard, cannot be seen, without admiration and love. Surely the heart must often, as it were, go out to meet him, with its cheerful hosannahs to him that cometh in the name of the Lord. Often must it rise in affectionate praises
to the God and Father of all, who blessed this earth of ours with such a visitant, who enriched it with such an unspeakable, such an inestimable gift. A thousand times must it congratulate, and almost envy, the happy lot of those, who dwelling on earth, though in the meanest cottages, when it was blessed with the presence of such a teacher, of such a friend, had daily opportunities of conversing with him; and as often may it exult to think, that he is still near by his spiritual presence, carrying on the kind purposes of his appearance in mortal flesh, and waiting, by the dictates of his divine philosophy, to train up the immortal spirits of men for their proper and complete happiness. Under the impression of that thought, how strongly must the soul be disposed to inquire after Christ, to form an acquaintance with him, to commit itself to his discipline and guardianship, to trace his steps and as far as possible to imbibe his Spirit. What will ap pear so desirable, as to secure his friendship, to be honoured with his high appro bation, and enriched with the blessings of his patronage and care? Receiving the divine oracles from his lips, what incomparable advantages have we for learning every thing truly great and lovely? What powerful inducements diligently to labour, ardently to pray, liberally to dispense good, calmly to endure injuries, patiently to support the heaviest afflictions, and resolutely to meet the most dreadful death, if called out to encounter it in the way of our duty?
Among many other good affections which the perusal of this history may natu. rally inspire, and which I have endeavoured often to suggest in the improvements which conclude each section, I cannot forbear mentioning one more; I mean, a generous and cordial love to our fellow Christians of every rank and denomination. I never reflect upon the New Testament in this view, but I find it difficult to conceive, how so much of a contrary temper should ever have prevailed among such multitudes, who have professed religiously to receive it, yea, whose office hath been to interpret and inforce it. To have listed under the banner of Jesus, to have felt his love, to have espoused his interest, to labour to serve him, to aspire after the enjoyment of him, should methinks appear to every one; even on the slightest reflection, a bond of union too strong to be broken by the different apprehensions that one or another of us may entertain, (perhaps too after diligent inquiry,) concerning the exact sense of some of the doctrines he taught, or the circumstantial forms of some of his institutions. An humble sense of our own weakness, and of the many imperfections of our character, which will never be more deeply felt than when we consider ourselves as standing before our divine Master, will dispose us to mutual candour, will guard us against the indecency of contending in his presence, and will, as St. Paul with admirable spirit expresses it, dispose us to receive one another as Christ hath receiv ed us. Yea our hearts will be so eagerly desirous of employing our life in serving him to the best purpose we can, that we shall dread the thought of mis spending, in our mutual animosities, accusations, and complaints, the time that was given us for ends so much nobler, and which is capable of being em ployed to the honour of our common Lord, and for the benefit of the church and the world.
I hope, I have not forgot, in the ensuing work, this lesson which I have on every occasion been so solicitous to inculcate on others. It would have been almost impossible, on some texts which have fallen before me, especially in this third volume, not to have shewn my sentiments on some points of discipline, in which, if they were not different from those which generally prevail, my known conduct in continuing among the Protestant Dissenters would be equally foolish and wicked. Yet, in handling these texts, I have not only conscientiously abstained from all reproaches, to which indeed I am on no occasion inclined, and which I should esteem peculiarly indecent where the religious establishment of my country is in question, and above all where a body of men would be affect
ed, many of whom have been, and are, among the ablest advocates and brighest ornaments of our common Christianity: but I have also been careful to adjust my expressions with as much tenderness and respect, as integrity and that reverence which an honest man would owe to the judgment of his own conscience, were it much more singular than mine, would admit. On these principles I have chosen to content myself, with giving what I take to be the true and genuine sense of the scripture in question, rather than to point out any society or body of men that seem to have mistaken it.
I have also been obliged, in many of my interpretations, to differ from writers of various countries, and of various denominations in our own, whom I greatly esteem, and from whom on other passages I have received much light; but I have in such cases been careful not to drop any severe word: as indeed I think, where we have reason to believe that a writer sincerely intends to illustrate Scripture, and to inform the world, he has so far at least a title to our candour and respect; though we may imagine him to be much mistaken in his judgment, and may think it our duty to endeavour to point out his mistake, and to guard others against it. I hope, such a conduct will need no apology to the living writers with whom I have taken such a liberty; nor shall I take it amiss to be animadverted upon by any of them, with the same spirit: and, if I may by this means be led to rectify any mistakes into which I may have unwarily fallen, I hope I shall be duely sensible of the obligation: For I esteem an endeavour to set a man right in religious opinions, which we ourselves apprehend to be important, the second office of Christian friendship, as that of attempting to reform his morals is undoubtedly the first.
No offence will, I hope, be taken at the method I have thought myself obliged in honour and conscience to have recourse to, for solving some of the difficulties which have occurred, and which I knew not how to account for candidly any other way, than by supposing, that here and there our received reading hath varied from the original. I believe, it will be allowed by every competent judge, that there is no one manuscript now in the world unexceptionably exact. And it is some satisfaction to me to reflect, that critics of the first character for modesty, piety, and orthodoxy, have not only made use of this expedient, but have abundantly justified it in their writings: among whom I cannot forbear mentioning those two justly celebrated critics, as well as accurate divines, Calvin and Beza; the latter of which has expressed his sentiments on this head in so judicious, correct, and elegant a manner, that I cannot forbear inserting his own words at the bottom of the page, though I have had obvious reasons in this work for taking care not to load the margin with quotations from the learned languages *.
*Beza in his note on Acts vii. 14, when he proposes the conjectural emendation of navleg instead of mile, adds, Neque verò hujus erroris observatio quenquam debet offendere, vel in dubium revocare verbi divini auctoritatem; quum et ex Hebræû veritate, ut diximus, emendetur, & salva nihilominus, tum doctrinæ, tum etiam historiæ ipsius, fides permaneat: & res ipsa clamat, non uno loco, temporis injuria, persecutionum acerbitate, adversariorum veritatis fraude, hæreticorum audacia, pastorum denique inscitiâ & oscitantiâ, numerorum notus labefactari, & alia periculosiora in sacros libros invebi potuisse: Quæ tamen eruditi & sancti homines, tum ex aliorum locorum collatione, tum ex fidei analogiâ, partim animadverterunt, & emendarunt; partim etiam posteris observanda, & corrigenda reliquerunt: Sic prospicicnte suæ ecclesiæ Domino, ut quamvis integri non pauci libri interciderint, & errata de quibus dixi irrepserint, tamen salutis doctrinam totam his ipsis libris certissime & verissime comprehensam habeat ecclesia, et ad finem usque sæculorum sit habitura."
Calvin on Matt. xxvii. 9. Harm. Evang. p. 354, speaking of the insertion of Jeremiah's