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ON THE PROBABILITY OF A DIVINE REVELATION TO MANKIND,
AND ON THE GENUINENESS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
THE antecedent probability, that, during the course of his government over the world, God would bestow upon mankind a clear outward revelation respecting their nature, responsibility, and future prospects, and respecting that part of his own will and designs, with which they are particularly connectedor rather that he would renew that original revelation which we may suppose to have taken place when man was first created—is a point which will be disputed by no person
of flection, who takes a just view of the attributes of God, on the one hand, and of the spiritual wants of man, on the other. Since God is omnipotent, since he is also holy and benevolent, -lessons which we plainly learn from natural religion,we may, in the first place, rest assured that he is able to reveal his truth to mankind; and, secondly, we may reasonably believe that he would actually do so, if, on a careful examination of the condition of man, we discover that such a revelation was necessary, in order to our being wise, virtuous, and happy.
Now, let any person of common sense and competent knowledge take a broad, general, view of this question, and decide upon it according to facts. Let him reflect on the moral and religious state of the ancient heathen nations. Let him examine the records of their absurd idolatry, and of their gross, yet allowed, vices. Let him mark the steady continuance of this extreme degradation, in the midst of an astonishing progress, among some of them, in art, literature, and science. Let him trace, in the writings of the wisest of their philosophers themselves, a palpable ignorance of many important
sentiments,-chiefly respecting the Deity—which modern infidels have borrowed from Christianity, and fear not to avow as their own. Let him then turn his attention to the heathenism of our own days, and bestow a few moments’ thought on the excessive folly, the disgusting lasciviousness, and the insatiable thirst for blood, which are its principal features ; and he will no longer deny the practical necessity, and therefore the strong antecedent probability, of a divine revelation. And yet, on a fair examination of the analogy of the known course of God's providence, he would be ready to allow that this antecedent probability by no means demanded such a sudden and irresistible effulgence of light as should preclude the exercise of inquiry and faith, or at once evangelize our whole species ; but, rather, the simple introduction, into the world, of divinely authorized knowledge, which, although it might be partial in its commencement, and slow in its progress, should nevertheless operate in a sure, steady, and uniform manner-just like the little leaven which a woinan took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened.
Such precisely are the pretensions of Christianity.
During the reign of Tiberius over the Roman empire, and while Pontius Pilate was Procurator of Judea-a period when the Jews were, from the coincidence of various signs, led to expect a messenger from heaven-there arose in that country a person of great wisdom, who was called Jesus Christ, or Jesus the anointed one. He was the founder of a system of religion, and professed to be commissioned by his heavenly Father, to promulgate a revelation of divine truth. He was followed by several disciples, and was put to death by his enemies; and, after his decease, his followers were extensively, and very successfully, engaged in propagating his religion, both among the Jews and in the world at large. These are facts which the infidel is not accustomed to deny. Nor can they be disputed with the least appearance of reason, since they are tacitly recognized, incidentally alluded to, or expressly declared, not only by Christians, but by several heathen writers, and are, moreover, in the most substantial manner, confirmed by a long course of remarkable events, to which they have given rise.
The history of this wonderful individual—of his birth, life, preaching, death, resurrection, and ascension—together with the whole doctrinal and rnoral system which he inculcated and established, are recorded in a single volume—the New Testament. This single volume, however, consists of the separate works of several independent authors; for it contains four distinct histories of the life of Jesus ; a narrative of the proceedings of his followers, after his death; a considerable number of Epistles, in which the principles of Christianity are clearly unfolded; and, lastly, a book of Revelation, replete with prophetical descriptions of events which were to affect the church of Christ, during her great career, through much opposition and many sufferings, to victory, glory, and perfection. These works have, through a long series of ages, been attributed to Matthew, John, Peter, Paul, James, and Jude, apostles of Jesus Christ; and to Mark and Luke, companions of the apostles in the work of the ministry.
Now, it must, I think, be allowed by every impartial and reflecting person, who has studied the New Testament, that it is a book of great intrinsic weight and excellence; and one that, from the very nature of its contents, is calculated to attract our regard and attention. It is distinguished (as its greatest enemies must allow) first, by a full, and apparently authoritative, republication of the great truths of natural religion: secondly, by a clear statement of several additional doctrines, novel and extraordinary indeed, but, if true, of infinite importance to the human race; and, thirdly, by the purest code of practical morality ever known to have been ushered into the world. Such a book demands of every person of good sense and adequate information, a serious examination of those grounds on which rests its claim, first, to authenticity, and secondly, to divine authority. Before, however, we can attempt to prove that the history contained in the New Testament is, in all its particulars, true, and that the doctrines taught in it are divine, it is necessary to state the evidences upon which may he established the proposition, that these sacred books are genuine —that they are not forgeries — that they were really written in the apostolic age, and by the persons whose names they severally bear.
In briefly treating on this branch of our subject, I may, in the first place, adduce the testimony of Eusebius, a Christian writer of great learning and authority, who flourished at Cæsarea in Palestine, (A. D. 315.) In a well known passage of his Ecclesiastical History, he presents us with a list of the Writings contained in the New Testament, and declares that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles of Paul, and the first Epistles of John, and Peter, were universally confessed to be genuine.* At the period when Eusebius made this declaration, these sacred books were very widely circulated; they were read by
Euseb, Hist. Eccles. lib. III, cap. 25.
ecclesiastics and laymen, by philosophers and peasants, in public assemblies and in private houses; and copies of them were multiplied throughout Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Lesser Asia, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Gaul. Since they were thus generally known and disseminated, and freely subjected to the examination of both friends and enemies, and that at a period when the sources of accurate information respecting their true origin were at once numerous and easily accessible ; and since they were nevertheless, unirersally confessed to be genuine ; their actual genuineness is, in fact, indisputable. To forge, not only a single book, but a set of writings bearing severally their distinct characteristics, and to palm that forgery on so diversified a multitude of inquirers, in such a manner as to convince them all that these fictitious productions were genuine, and had always been regarded as such since the date at which they were considered to have been composed, would be a moral impossibility.
It is true that Eusebius excludes from the list of sacred books, thus universally received, the Epistles of James and Jude, the second and third Epistles of John, the second Epistle of Peter, and the Apocalypse. He acknowledges that the origin of these works was doubted by some persons :-a fact which plainly evinces that a real discrimination was exercised on the subject, and that the genuineness of the bulk of the New Testament rested on clear and incontrovertible evidences. At the same time, it ought to be observed, that the doubts entertained by some persons, in the days of Eusebius, respecting the writings which he thus excepts, were not of long continuance. These books were soon afterwards received by the general consent of Christians into the canon of Scripture ; and modern investigation (conducted principally by the indefatigaable Lardner) and, still more, the irresistible excellence of the works themselves, have confirmed the propriety of this decision.
Having remarked the extravagant absurdity which, under the circumstances now mentioned, attaches to the notion that the New Testament is a forgery, I may proceed to advert, somewhat more explicitly, to the evidences of which we are still in possession, and which positively evince its genuineness,—it being understood that these evidences, although extensively applicable to the disputed books, and particularly to the Apocalypse, bear, with a preeminent degree of force, on the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the thirteen Epistles of Paul,* and the first Epistles of John and Peter.
* The apostolic date of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is often