« PreviousContinue »
by the natural effect of conquest, but that they were constantly represented, both to his friends and enemies, as divine declarations in his favour. Success was evidence. Prosperity carried with it not only influence but proof. “ Ye have already,' says he, after the battle of Bedr, " had a miracle shown you, in two armies which attacked each other; one army fought for God's true religion, but the other were infidels."* Again, “ Ye slew not those who were slain at Bedr, but God slew them. If ye desire a decision of the matter between us, now hath a decision come unto you."
Many more passages might be collected out of the Koran to the same effect. But they are unnecessary.
The succes of Mahometanism during this, and indeed every future period of its history, bears so little resemblance to the early propagation of Christianity, that no inference whatever can justly be drawn from it to the prejudice of the Christian argument. For what are we comparing? A Galilean peasant, accompanied by a few fishermen, with a conqueror at the head of his army. We compare Jesus, without force, without power, without support, without one external circumstance of attraction, or influence, prevailing against the prejudices, the learning, the hierarchy of his country, against ihe ancient religious opinions, the pompous religious rites, the philosophy, the wisdom, the authori. ty of the Roman empire, in the most polished and enlightened period of its exisience, with Mahomet making his way amongst Arabs; collecting followers in the midst of conquests and triumphs, in the darkest ages and countries of the world, and when success in arms not only operated by that command of men's wills and persons which attends prosperous undertakings, but was considered as a sure testimony of divine approbation. 'That multitudes, persuaded by this argument, should join the train of a victorious chief; that still greater multitudes should, without any argument bow down before irresistible power, is a con. duct in which we cannot see much to surprise us: in which we can see nothing that resembles the causes, by which the establishment of Christianity was effected.
The success therefore of Mahometanism stands not in the way of this important conclusion, that the propagation of Christianity, in the manner and under the circumstances in which it was propagated, is an unique in the history of
PART THE THIRD.
BRIEF CONSIDERATION OF SOME POPULAR
CHAP. I. The Discrepancies between the several Gospels. I KNOW not a more rash or more unphilosophical conduct of the understanding than to reject the substance of a story by reason of some diversity in the circumstances with which it is related. The usual character of human testimony is substantial truth under circumstantial variety. This is what the daily experience of courts of justice teach
When accounts of a transaction come from the mouths of different witnesses, it is seldom that it is not possible to pick out apparent or real inconsistencies between them. These inconsistencies are studiously applied by an adverse pleader, but oftentimes with little impression upon the miuds of the judges. On the contrary, a close and minute agreement induces the suspicion of confederacy and fraud. When written histories touch upon the same scenes of action, the comparison almost always affords ground for a like reflection. Numerous, and sometimes important, variations present themselves; not seldom also, absolute and final contradictions ; yet neither one nor the other are deemed sufficient to shake the credibility of the main fact. The embassy of the Jews to deprecate the execution of Claudian's order to place his statue in their temple, Philo places in harvest, Josephus in seed-time ; both contemporary writers.
No reader is led by this inconsistency to doubt, whether such an embassy was sent, or whether such an order was given. Our own history supplies examples of the same kind. In the account of the Marquis of Argyle's death in the reign of Charles the Second, we have a very remarkable contradiction. Lord Clarendon relates that he was condemned to be hanged, which was performed the same day: on the contrary, Burnet, Woodrow, Heath, Echard, agree that he was beheaded ; and that he was condemned upon the Saturday, and executed upon the Monday.* Was any reader of the English history ever sceptic enough, to raise from hence a question, whether the
See Biog. Britan.
e Int, iconprir o te ricies cca
je s Istor us to hernes sean mus
The corende 1. ma te sfers Jours -ie *2V 'Speed'o de TICISI I J 20 may be izer Tanteusz. mutum : ne peciement Zarneu hea au mposedi: il en anc mes je is «:en wa IS ar cemars: - Vus je ured wib rerer i de risco eare te iicit us as we buna ' narreante : al he consemences it mucitest Tenstance Bult voatre diese conseriences by no eans de verano # be story so he principaltet, vicepancy esen suppoSTI na spaccy not to ce soivadle aferent series L computacco in the me Ime 24. :3 ani o lave asan pince.
1 year ea tine crepancy puservavte the ges. ZEIS. Irrses him mus1076 : Tom 1 act or a passage of issue jerg accceri ne poler, which is moeiced by trolherVow :siun 's mul imes I very certain gesunu i OCI. Fe perceive it, not only in the comparson 1 jiferent writers ont eren in the same writer, wden compareri vb amseitThere are a great many particulars, and some of them i importance, mentioned by Ccsepaus o jis Spaguities, which, as we should have supposei, jugat o jave been put down by him in their place in bis Jewish wars Suetonius. Tacitus. Dio Cassius, have, ail bree, written of the reign of Tiberius. Each has menuoned many things omitted by the rest. vet no objection is from thence taken to the respective credit of their histories. We have in our own times, it there were not something indecoroos in the comparison, the life of an eminent person, written by three ct bis friends, in which there is very great variety in the incidents selected by them, some apparent, and perhaps some real contradictions ; yet without any impeachment of the substantial truth of their accounts, of the authenticity of the books, the competent information or general fidelity of the writers.
But these discrepancies will be still more numerous, when men do not write histories, but memoirs ; which is perhaps the true game, and proper
description of our gospels: that is, when they do not undertake, or ever meant to deliver, in order of time, a regular and complete account :!l the things of importance, which the person, who is Middleton's Reflections answered by Benson, Hist. Christ, vol. III. p. 50. † Lard. part I. vol. IL p. 755. et seq.
| Ib. p. 713.
the subject of their history, did or said; but only, out of many similar ones, to give such passages, or such actions and discourses as offered themselves more immediately to their attention, came in the way of their inquiries, occurred to their recollection, or were suggested by their particular design at the time of writing.
This particular design may appear sometimes, but not always, nor often. Thus I think that the particular design, which St. Matthew had in view whilst he was writing the history of the resurrection, was to attest the faithful performance of Christ's promise to his disciples to go before them into Galilee; because he alone, except Mark, who seems to have taken it from him, has recorded this promise, and he alone has confined this narrative to that single appearance to the disciples wlich fulfilled it. It was the preconcerted, the great and most public manifestation of our Lord's person. was the thing which dwelt upon
St. Matthew's mind, and he adapted his narrative to it. But, that there is nothing in St. Matthew's language, which negatives other appearances, or which imports that this his appearance to his disciples in Galilee, in pursuance of his promise, was his first or only appearance, is made pretty evident by St. Mark's gospel, which used the same terms concerning the appearance in Galilee as St. Matthew uses, yet itself records two other appearances prior to this; “Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee, then shall ye see him as he said unto you." (xvi. 7.) We might be apt to infer from these words, that this was the first time they were to see him: at least, we might infer it, with as much reason as we draw the inference from the same words in Matthew: yet the historian himself did not perceive that he was leading bis readers to any such conclusion, for, in the twelfth and two following verses of this chapter, he informs us of two appearances, which, by comparing the order of events, are shown to have been prior to the appearance in Galilee. 6. He appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked and went into the country; and they went and told it unto the residue, neither believed they them: afterwards he appeared unto the eleven, as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief, because they believed pot them that had seen him after he was risen."
Probably the same observation, concerning the particular design which guided the historian, may be of use in comparing many other passages of the gospels.