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“The first condition of success is, that in striving honestly our. selves, we honestly acknowledge the striving of our neighbour; that with a Will unwearied in seeking Truth, we have a Sense open for it, wheresoever and howsoever it may arise.”—Edinburgh Review.
It is an imperfect statement of a fundamental principle to say that truth carries with it its own evidence. Evidence relates to the understanding. Whereas, under certain plain and natural conditions, moral and religious truths possess the power not only of convincing the understanding, but of impressing deeply the noblest affections of the human bosom.
When the mind is swayed by any inveterate bias, by a pride of opinion or of party, by an excessive veneration for what is already established, or a passion for novelty, by a conceit of intellect or the indulgence of vicious habits, then the most important principles of religion and morality may fail entirely not only of awakening any sensibility in the heart, but of gaining the faintest assent of the understanding. It is not for minds in this unhappy state that these pages are designed. If they are likely to
fall only into the hands of those in whom exists no candid and generous love of truth, to which I may speak, I may well lay down my pen in despair. I cannot forget that the greatest of teachers, speaking as never man spake, and performing works of unprecedented power, entertained no hope of acting directly upon those whose affections were in captivity to earthborn prejudices and selfish passions. But to the true-hearted to whatever of truth and candour dwelt in the hearts of those around him, he appealed with the greatest confidence. “He who doeth the will of my Father, shall know of my teaching, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” “ Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” Wherever any conformity to the Divine Will had been attained, there he looked for a commanding influence.
If our various faculties and affections have been culti. vated according to their opportunities and the intent of their nature if the will of the Creator, signified in their very constitution and by his providence, has been complied with, in the degree to which this is the case, they are in a sound and healthy state; and there is a strong affinity between them and all truth. This is the condition, with reference to which I observe, that it is not doing justice to truth to say, that if truly presented it will prove itself. It will do infinitely more. It will send forth a light which will not only paralyse, if it do not destroy, all speculative difficulties, but enter and fill all the chambers of the soul. If it be truth relating to the Divine Nature, it will kindle our sentiments of awe, veneration and love. If it con
cern human things, human endeavours, sufferings and obligations, it will call out our active human sympathies. Its influence will not stop, content with gaining the assent of the reason;
goes farther,-it reaches and sets in motion all the primary and most powerful springs of our being.
Such I conceive to be the power of truth, when presented in a true form. The modes of presenting truth are various. There are the essay, the argument, the poem, the history or narration, and so on. And there is a truth that pertains to these various forms, as well as to the subjects they are employed to exhibit. That is, there is a true way of expressing truth, a way distinguished by certain marks or signs which belong only to truth, and which, when perceived, carry with them all that power, the power of deciding the understanding, but more especially of touching the heart, which, as I have just said, is the essential and active property of truth. Every story, in its peculiar characteristics, affords us materials for determining its truth, and in great abundance when it is eminently historical, containing a variety of details; when numerous circumstances, places, and persons, are specified or alluded to. A true story of this description has a certain air--its different parts have a keeping or consistency one with another, which every intelligent and ingenuous mind feels deeply, even when it is wholly unable to analyse and define it.
I do not undertake to give a complete account of the traits by which the truth of any statement or history may be ascertained. It would be no easy task, not be
OBJECT OF THE WORK.
cause they are either slight, incidental, or ambiguous, but because they pertain to the very essence of truth, and to the profoundest philosophy of thought and expression. Very often the indications of truth are so delicate, that, although they may be instantly and fully felt, they cannot readily be described, nor, without the finest powers of discrimination, referred to general principles. And, besides, it is not necessary to my purpose. It will suffice for the present, if I am able to point out as many of these internal signatures of truth in the case of the historical books of the New Testament, as will cause their substantial truth to be felt in something of its intrinsic vividness.
This, now, is my object in the following pages. Taking up the first four books of the New Testament as human compositions, forgetting as far as possible all that has been said of their authority and inspiration, cherishing only that respect for them which the most imperfect acquaintance with their contents never fails to inspire, and that candour which it becomes us always to cherish, I propose to point out those characteristics of these writings which have produced in my mind a new and lively conviction of their truth,
,-a new sense of their wonderful beauty and power.
I do not presume to furnish anything like a complete analysis of their style and contents. I am deeply impressed with the idea that all which I can offer is gathered but from the borders of an immense field in which untold treasures of moral truth and evidence lie buried. I wish only to state what I have seen with my own eyes, and felt with my own
heart;-to give some of the results, such as they are, of my own humble reading and study. My fondest hope, so far as others are concerned, will be fulfilled, if these pages serve to create in minds better qualified to pursue the work, a belief in the exceeding riches of a region, as yet so imperfectly explored.
There are many and powerful arguments for the truth of the great facts recorded in the New Testament, extrinsic of the records themselves. They have been ably stated in numberless forms. I do not question their weight. But to be duly appreciated they require a degree of intellectual cultivation and an amount of learning entirely out of the reach of the great body of readers. The considerations which I would now suggest, besides being, as I apprehend, of a most affecting nature, are within the reach of all; requiring principally, in order to their just appreciation, an honest and ingenuous temper, a healthy moral taste, and only so much time as the avocations of the busiest allow.
The train of thought upon which I now propose to enter, admits of certain concessions which I wish to make distinctly in the outset.
1. I am willing to concede, that upon a first and cursory examination of these four histories, things of a strange and improbable nature present themselves. Extraordi. nary facts are stated, which we feel demand extraordinary proof; and the suspicion is not unnatural, that delusion may have had some share in the production of these writings. Admitting that these impressions may be made by some