« PreviousContinue »
have been already enumerated; and this is a species of written evidence, as far as it goes, in the highest degree satisfactory, and in point of time perhaps the first. But for our more circumstantial information, we have, in the next place, five direct histories, bearing the names of persons acquainted, by their situation, with the truth of what they relate, and three of them purporting, in the very body of the narrative, to be written by such persons; of which books we know, that some were in the hands of those who were contemporaries of the apostles, and that, in the age immediately posterior to that, they were in the hands, we may say, of every one, and received by Christians with so much respect and deference, as to be constantly quoted and referred to by them, without any doubt of the truth of their accounts. They were treated as such histories, proceeding from such authorities, might expect to be treated. In the preface to one of our histories, we have intimations left us of the existence of some ancient accounts which are now lost. There is nothing in this circumstance that can surprise us. It was to be ex
pected, from the magnitude and novelty of the occasion, that such accounts would
When better accounts came forth, these died away.
. Our present histories superseded others. They soon acquired a character and established a reputation which does not appear to have belonged to any other : that, at least can be proved concerning them, which cannot be proved concerning any other.
But to return to the point which led to these reflections. By considering our records in either of the two views in which we have represented them, we shall
perceive that we possess a collection of proofs, and not a naked or solitary testimony; and that the written evidence is of such a kind, and comes to us in such a state, as the natural order and progress of things, in the infancy of the institution, might be expected to produce.
Thirdly: The genuineness of the histori, cal books of the New Testament is undoubtedly a point of importance, because the strength of their evidence is augmented by our knowledge of the situation of their authors, their relation to the subject, and the part which they sustained in the transaction; and the testimonies which we are able to produce, compose a firm ground of persuasion, that the Gospels were wrilten by the persons whose names they bear. Nevertheless, I must be allowed to state, that to the argument which I am endeavouring to maintain, this point is not essential; I inean, so essential as that the fate of the argument depends upon it. The question before us is, whether the Gospels exhibit the story which the apostles and first emissaries of the religion published, and for which they acted and suffered in the manner in which, for some miraculous story or other, they did act and suffer? Now let us suppose that we possessed no other information concerning tliese books than that they were written by early disciples of Christianity; that they were known and read during the time, or near the time, of the original apostles of the religion ; that by Christians whoin the apostles instructed, by societies of Christians which the apostles founded, these books were received (by
which term “ received," I mean that they were believed to contain authentic accounts of the transaction upon which the religion rested, and accounts which were accordingly used, repeated, and relied upon), this reception would be a valid proof that these books, whoever were the authors of them, must have accorded with what the apostles taught. reception by the first race of Christians, is evidence that they agreed with what the first teachers of the religion delivered. In particular, if they had not agreed with what the apostles themselves preached, how could they have gained credit in churches and societies which the apostles established ?
Now the fact of their early existence, and not only of their existence but their tepulation, is made out by some ancient testimonies which do not happen to specify the names of the writers; add to which, what hath been already hintéd, that two out of the four Gospels contain averments in the body of the history, which, though they do not disclose the names, fix the time and situation of the authors, viz. that one was written by an eye-witness of the sufferings of Christ, the other by a contemporary of the apostles. In the Gospel of Saint John (xix. 35.), after describing the crucifixion, with the particular circumstance of piercing Christ's side with a spear, the historian adds, as for himself, “ and he that saw it bare record, and his record is true, and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.” Again (xxi. 24.), after relating a conversation which passed between Peter and “ the disciple," as it is there expressed,
whom Jesus loved,” it is added, “ this is the disciple which testifieth, of these things, and wrote these things.” This testimony, let it be remarked, is not the less worthy of regard, because it is, in one view, imperfect. The name is not mentioned; which, if a fraudulent purpose had been intended, would have been done. The third of our present Gospels purports to have been written by the person
who wrote the Acts of the Apostles; in which latter history, or rather latter part of the same history, the author, by using in various places the first person