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error, as an impeachment of the whole Christian system. Yet with how little justice such a conclusion would have been drawn, or rather such a presumption taken up,
the information which we happen to possess enables us now to perceive. To those who think that the Scriptures lead us to believe, that the early Christians, and even the apostles, expected the approach of the day of judgment in their own times, the same reflection will occur, as that which we have made with respect to the more partial, perhaps, and temporary, but still no less ancient, error concerning the duration of St. John's life. It was an error, it may be likewise said, which would effectually hinder those who entertained it from acting the part of impostors.
The difficulty which attends the subject of the present chapter is contained in this question: If we once admit the fallibility of the apostolic judgment, where are we to stop, or in what can we rely upon it? To which question, as arguing with unbelievers, and as arguing for the substantial truth of the Christian history, and for that alone, it is competent to the advocate of Christianity to reply, Give me the apostles' testimony, and I do not stand in need of their judgment; give me the facts, and I have complete security for every
conclusion I want.
But, although I think that it is competent to the Christian apologist to return this answer, I do not think that it is the only answer which the objection is capable of receiving. The two following cautions, founded, I apprehend, in the most reasonable distinctions, will exclude all uncertainty upon this head which can be attended with danger.
First, to separate what was the object of the apostolic mission, and declared by them to be so, from what was
extraneous to it, or only incidentally connected with it. Of points clearly extraneous to the religion, nothing need be said. Of points incidentally connected with it, something may be added. Demoniacal possession is one of these points : concerning the reality of which, as this place will not admit the examination, nor even the production of the argument on either side of the question, it would be arrogance in me to deliver any judgment. And it is unnecessary. For what I am concerned to observe is, that even they who think it was a general but erroneous opinion of those times, and that the writers of the New Testament, in common with other Jewish writers of that age, fell into the manner of speaking and of thinking upon the subject which then universally prevailed, need not be alarmed by the concession, as though they had any thing to fear from it, for the truth of Christianity. The doctrine was not what Christ brought into the world. It appears in the Christian records, incidentally and accidentally, as being the subsisting opinion of the age and country in which his ministry was exercised. It was no part of the object of his revelation, to regulate men's opinions concerning the action of spiritual substances upon animal bodies. At any rate, it is unconnected with testimony. If a dumb person was by a word restored to the use of his speech, it signifies little to what cause the dumbness was ascribed; and the like of every other cure wrought upon those who are said to have been possessed. The malady was real, the cure was real, whether the popular explication of the cause was well founded or not. The matter of fact, the change, so far as it was an object of sense, or of testimony, was in either case the same.
Secondly, that, in reading the apostolic writings, we distinguish between their doctrines and their arguments. Their doctrines came to them by revelation, properly so called; yet in propounding these doctrines in their writings or discourses, they were wont to illustrate, support, and enforce them, by such analogies, arguments, and considerations as their own thoughts suggested. Thus the call of the Gentiles, that is, the admission of the Gentiles to the Christian profession without a previous subjection to the law of Moses, was imparted to the apostles by revelation, and was attested by the miracles which attended the Christian ministry among them. The apostles' own assurance of the matter rested upon this foundation.
Nevertheless, St. Paul, when treating of the subject, offers a great variety of topics in its proof and vindication. The doctrine itself must be received: but it is not necessary, in order to defend Christianity, to defend the propriety of every comparison, or the validity of every argument, which the apostle has brought into the discussion. The same observation applies to some other instances; and is, in my opinion, very well founded: “When divine writers argue upon any point, we are always bound to believe the conclusions that their reasonings end in, as parts of divine revelation : but we are not bound to be able to make out, or even to assent to, all the premisses made use of by them, in their whole extent, unless it appear plainly, that they affirm the premisses as expressly as they do the conclusions proved by them.”*
CHAPTER III. The Connexion of Christianity with the Jewish History. UNDOUBTEDLY our Saviour assumes the divine origin of the Mosaic institution : and, independently of his
* Burnet's Expos. art. 6.
authority, I conceive it to be very difficult to assign any other cause for the commencement or existence of that institution ; especially for the singular circumstance of the Jews' adhering to the unity, when every other people slid into polytheism ; for their being men in religion, children in every thing else; behind other nations in the arts of peace and war, superior to the most improved in their sentiments and doctrines relating to the Deity.* Undoubtedly, also, our Saviour recognises the prophetic character of many of their ancient writers. So far, therefore, we are bound as Christians to go. But to make Christianity answerable with its life, for the circumstantial truth of each separate passage of the Old Testament, the genuineness of every book, the information, fidelity, and judgment of every writer in it, is to bring, I will not say great, but unnecessary difficulties into the whole system. These books were universally read and received by the Jews of our Saviour's time. He and his apostles, in common with all other Jews, referred to them, alluded to them, used them. Yet, except where he expressly ascribes a divine
* “In the doctrine, for example, of the unity, the eternity, the omnipotence, the omniscience, the omnipresence, the wisdom, and the goodness of God; in their opinions concerning providence, and the creation, preservation, and government of the world." Campbell on Miracles, p. 207. To which we may add, in the acts of their religion not being accompanied either with cruelties or impurities : in the religion itself being free from a species of superstition which prevailed universally in the popular religions of the ancient world, and which is to be found perhaps in all religions that have their origin in human artifice and credulity, viz. fanciful connexions between certain appearances and actions, and the destiny of nations or individuals. Upon these conceits rested the whole train of auguries and auspices which formed so much even of the serious part of the religions of Greece and Rome, and of the charms and incantations which were practised in those countries by the common people. From every thing of this sort the religion of the Jews, and of the Jews alone, was free. Vide Priestley's Lectures on the Truth of the Jewish and Christian Revelation, edit. 1794.
authority to particular predictions, I do not know that we can strictly draw any conclusion from the books being so used and applied, beside the proof, which it unquestionably is, of their notoriety and reception at that time. In this view, our Scriptures afford a valuable testimony to those of the Jews. But the nature of this testimony ought to be understood. It is surely very different from, what it is sometimes represented to be, a specific ratification of each particular fact and opinion; and not only of each particular fact, but of the motives assigned for every action, together with the judgment of praise or dispraise bestowed upon them. St. James, in his Epistle, * says, “ Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord.” Notwithstanding this text, the reality of Job's history, and even the existence of such a person, has been always deemed a fair subject of inquiry and discussion amongst Christian divines. St. James's authority is considered as good evidence of the existence of the book of Job at that time, and of its reception by the Jews; and of nothing more. St. Paul, in his Second Epistle to Timothy,t has this similitude : “Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth.” These names are not found in the Old Testament. And it is uncertain whether St. Paul took them from some apocryphal writing then extant, or from tradition. But no one ever imagined that St. Paul is here asserting the authority of the writing, if it was a written account which he quoted, or making himself answerable for the authenticity of the tradition ; much
! less, that he so involves himself with either of these questions, as that the credit of his own history and mission should depend upon the fact, whether Jannes and * Chap. v. 11.
+ Chap. iii. 8.