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CŘEDIBILITY OF THE FOUR Evangelists.
the apostle Peter, and those who were present with him at Christ's appearance, after his resurrection, having felt and handled him, so as to be satisfied of the reality of his bodily existence, Ignatius adds that “they despised death and were found superior to it.” Here, however, I stop, as the limits of my Lecture forbid further enlargement, and I shall now endeavour to sum up the evidence which has been adduced in favour of the testimony of the evangelists, apostles, and first ministers of the Gospel.
I begin by remarking that, of all the books in the world, the writings of the four Gospels have undergone the strictest scrutiny. Ever since the time of their publication, they have been carefully read both by friends and enemies; and, though the latter have laboured hard to find some grounds of accusation against them, the utmost that they have done has been to detect a few apparent inconsistencies in the circumstances attending certain facts, but not in the facts themselves—and, upon examination, even those circumstances are found capable of reconcilement. They, in fact, only prove that the evangelists did not write in concert—there was no combination among them to make up a story to deceive the world. But, not to dwell on this, allow me to fix your attention on some of the marks of credibility which lie upon the surface of their narratives. You will find that their writings have not the smallest air of a cunningly devised fable. Every transaction mentioned in them is so marked by the circumstances of time, place, and persons, as to have rendered the examination of the whole, at the time they were published, the easiest matter in the world, if they had exhibited falsehoods. These writers manifest no undue bias towards the cause in which they were engaged, nor towards their master; for they have honestly told, not only those particulars which were honourable to both, but they have mentioned many things which they could not but know would, in the eyes of unbelievers, reflect great dishonour upon both, and afford matter of cavilling against the Gospel itself. It does not appear, from any thing found in the Gospels, that the writers of them were under the influence of ambition, or covetousness, or sensuality. They show no personal esteem of their master beyond what his character warranted. They express no resentment towards his
enemies. Upon him they have passed no encomium ; against them they have thrown out no reflections. Whatever is matter of praise to Jesus or of blame to his enemies, the evangelists record simply as facts, without passing upon them the slightest comment. The events of which they were the eye-witnesses, and which they have narrated, are well known to have been directly opposite to all the prejudices and prepossessions with which they were tinctured at the time they witnessed these things. They were, therefore, in no previous disposition to believe them. The belief of them was forced upon them merely by the evidence of sense, and they recorded them in obedience to truth. As ben come eye-witnesses, the evangelists show no doubtfulness concerning any of the matters they have recorded. They speak of them with no uncertainty concerning them; and though they knew that many of them would, to strangers, appear improbable, they are at no pains to vindicate them from, objections, or to show their probability. They were themselves certain of the truth of the facts they asserted, which indeed were matters well known in the country where they happened, and were rendered credible, in the most distant countries, by the miracles which the apostles and first ministers of the word performed, to the conviction of the heathens themselves. They appear as Christ's humble attendants, selected for introducing to the knowledge of others the character of their divine Master, whom they uniformly exhibit as the oracle of God. We invariably find them acting the subordinate part of ushers, Struck with the ineffable dignity of the Messiah, whom they served, they lose no opportunity of exhibiting him to the world, appearing to consider the introduction of their opinion, unless where it makes a part of the narration, as an impertinence. As modest pupils, in the presence of so venerable a teacher, they lay their hand upon their mouth, and by a respectful silence show how profound their reverence is, and how strong their desire to fix all the attention of mankind upon him. They sink themselves in order to place Him in the most conspicuous point of view—they in effect annihilate themselves that Jesus may be all in all, Never could it be said of any preachers with more truth than of them, that they preached not themselves but Christ Jesus the Lord, Deeply impressed with their master's instructions, and far from affecting to be called Rabbi, or to be
CREDIBILITY OF THE APOSTLES.
honoured of men as fathers, and teachers, in divine things, they never allow themselves to forget that they had only one Father, who is in heaven, and one teacher, who is the Messiah. The unimpassioned, yet not unfeeling, manner in which they relate his cruel sufferings, without letting one harsh or severe, epithet escape them, reflecting upon the conduct of his enemies, is asi unexampled as it is inimitable, and forms an essential distinction between them and all who have either gone before or followed them, literate and illiterate, artful and artless, sceptical and fanaticał. On the whole-if these men were impostors, as our deistical gentlemen would have us believe, they were the most extraordinary ones the world ever beheld.
To suppose them deceived, in matters which were the objects of their senses, or, if not deceived, to suppose such men to have planned the deception of the world, and to have adopted the method which they took to execute their plan, are alike attended with insurmountable difficulties. There is only one way of avoiding these, and that is by admitting that they spoke the truth, and were under the influence of the Holy Spirit-but, let. this be conceded, and the divine origin of Christianity follows as an unavoidable consequence.
Having made these remarks respecting the Evangelists, let me now direct your attention to the characters of the holy apostles of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. These men were personally conversant with him, they had seen the Lord -- they were immediately called and chosen to the office they were infallibly inspired to give forth divine revelation, and they were invested with the power of working miracles, such as speaking with divers tongues, healing the sick, curing the lame, raising the dead, discerning of spirits, and conferring gifts upon others. To them, in the first instance, did Christ give his commission to go into all the world and preach his Gospel to every creature ; and the Acts of the Apostles shows us how they executed this commission. They went every where preaching the word; the Lord accompanying them with signs following. And here let me remind you of the astonishing success of their ministry, as recorded in some of my former Lectures-success which is only to be accounted for by admitting'that the divine blessing accompanied their labours. But, above all things, look at the holiness of their lives—their selfdenyiug and disinterested labours—the suffering which they endured, and that without murmur and complaint, nay with rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to undergo it in so righteous a cause--and, lastly," the voluntary sacrifice of their lives, which they were at liberty, any hour of the day, to forego by recanting, had conscience permitted them; how is it possible to account for the conduct of these men, but upon the principle that they had the most entire and perfect satisfaction in the cause in which they were embarked—that it was of God and not of man?
In fine, from the remarks now offered on the subject of the credibility of the evangelists and apostles, may we not be allowed to infer that Christianity does not go a begging for its evidence. It does not decline a fair examination ; it consents to meet opposition; it courts enquiry: but in the character of its opponent it requires certain qualifications which have not always appeared in the contest. It asks an intimate acquaintance with the system itself—an acquaintance formed, not through the medium of human creeds, but by a direct application to the evangelic records. It solicits an extensive knowledge of the peculiar languages in which those records were originally composed—of the various readings grounded on different manuscripts—of heathen and Jewish testimonies—of the customs and moral state of those countries where Christianity was first published—of the concessions and objections of the earliest unbelievers—and of the general history of the church. The more of those acquirements are found in an investigator, the less has the religion of Jesus to fear. Thus furnished, some have hastily attacked it, but the contest has almost invariably terminated in their conviction. And in many instances, where persons have opened the sacred pages with the disrespect of unbelievers, they have closed them with the reverence of Christians, saying, “ To whom, Lord, shall we go but unto thee? Thou hast the words of eternal life ; and we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
History of Christianity from the close of the Acts of the Apostles
to the end of the first century-Destruction of the Jewish Temple and Polity-Banishment of the Apostle John, and his Epistles to the seven churches of Asia, A. D. 63 to 100.
It is a common observation, among the writers of Ecclesiastical History, that there is a chasm in the subject from the period when Luke concludes the Acts of the Apostles, which is about the year 62, to the end of the century. The learned Joseph Scaliger, among others, has remarked that, “from the end of Luke's history to the time of Pliny the Younger, ecclesiastical annals are uncertain : and Frederic Spanheim, in his Ecclesiastical Annals, appears to have adopted that opinion. But, with all due deference to these high authorities, I profess myself of a different mind. So far from this interval of forty years being barren of authentic incident, I think it will appear, upon a closer inspection, that the case is quite the reverse. The destruction of the Jewish temple, polity, and worship—the vengeance exercised on the Jews for their rejection of the Messiah-the fulfilment of the prophecies of Christ in those events -the expulsion of the Jews from the land of their forefathers and the total abrogation of the Sinai Covenant- all which took place during the period in question, with other important events to be hereafter noticed, will supply abundant materials for the present Lecture.
The Messiah was foretold in ancient prophecy under the character of A PROPHET, Deut. xviii. 18, and all who are conversant with the New Testament must know that, during the discharge of his public ministry, he abundantly justified his claim