صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

THE ANTIQUITY OF THE GOSPELS.

9

every where a familiar, household book, proves, I say, not its truth, but its age. The Gospels must be hundreds of years old, at all events.

But decisive as is the inference in favour of their antiquity from the position which they now occupy, it is not all. Their existence can be traced back some fourteen hundred years, to go no further, by a chain of historical evidence as strong and uninterrupted as the most sceptical can demand. And the earliest notices we have of them are not as of books then first published, just appearing, but of works even then extensively received and copiously quoted. A great portion of the literature that existed ages ago, bears incidental evidence not only to the existence, but to the influence of these writings. So abundant are the quotations from them in the works of early Christian writers, that it has been said that if they had been lost in their present forms, they might have been restored from the writings of the Fathers. At the commencement of the fourth century, Christianity was the religion of the Roman Emperor. The Gospel must have had an existence antecedent to this event, the conversion of Constantine. Now, if we know that so long ago these books were extensively read, quoted, and venerated, the conclusion is inevitable that they were in existence years and years before. To have won their way into so wide a circulation—to have become possessed of so large a space and so weighty, an authority, when no art of printing was known, and the means of intercourse and communication were so imperfect, must have been a work of time. So that the Christian records must have been

METHOD OF THE WORK.

10 old, even when we find the first notices of them in early writings.

Assuming the antiquity of these writings, without further remark, I proceed to the proposed examination of their style and contents, upon the principle, that from every written composition, we may infer, more or less confidently, the character and credibility of its author. Every narrative, by the manner in which it is put together, enables us to form some conception of the intelligence, the amount of information, the spirit and the particular motives and prepossessions of the individual from whom it has proceeded. So that every history is unconsciously and unavoidably a history of its author. It is a virtual account of his mind and character, a representation of his moraland intellectual lineaments, of his qualifications for the work he has produced, of his claims to be believed,-in fine, of the source whence the history has emanated; whether it be the offspring of Truth, of Imposture, or of Delusion. It is true the motives which a writer professes, the sentiments he expresses, may not be his real motives and sentiments. Still Affectation is one species of Falsehood, and, as such, though it may not be as readily, yet it is as truly distinguishable from Truth as any other form of error. To different writings these remarks apply with different degrees of force. A work may be so brief, so general and so obscure, as to afford us but a very dim idea of the spirit of the writer. I hope, however, to make it appear that the books now to be examined are, to a remarkable extent, precisely of the kind which furnish the most copious and satisfactory manifestations of the spirit and aim

THE GOSPELS, HISTORICAL.

11 of their authors. Indeed, I venture to assert, that if we had authentic and minute biographies of the writers of the four Gospels, we should still have the most decisive illustrations of their characters, in the style and structure of the Gospels themselves. We should still see in these their works, the strongest evidence that they were eye and ear-witnesses of the things they record-men of good sense and sound hearts, possessing excellent powers and opportunities of observation, and inspired, to an uncommon degree, by that single-mindedness upon which we always delight to repose our most cordial confidence.

CHAPTER II.

THE HISTORICAL CHARACTER OF THE FOUR GOSPELS.

“ The Scripture is no one summary of doctrines regularly digested, in which a man could not mistake his way; it is a most venerable, but most multifarious collection of the records of the divine economy, a collection of an infinite variety of Cosmogony, Theology, History, Prophecy, Psalmody, Morality, Apologue, Allegory, Legislation, Ethics, carried through different books, by different authors, at different ages, for different ends and purposes.

“ It is necessary to sort out what is intended for example, what only as narrative.”-BURKE, Speech on the Acts of Uniformity.

In looking over the four Gospels, the first and most obvious feature that strikes us is their Historical character.

They have been so long and so widely treated, as if they were creeds or formulas of faith, made formal propositions, each by itself affirming an inde

up of

12

THE GOSPELS, HISTORICAL.

[ocr errors]

pendent and unqualified article of belief, that we are apt to overlook altogether this remarkable trait, their historical nature. They are not argumentative, nor didactic. They belong to the department of History, Biography, Memoirs. They may be complete or imperfect, true or the grossest fabrications, still they are not philosophical treatises, elaborate statements of principles more or less important. They are evidently histories, narratives. They are crowded with incidents. They abound in notices, direct and indirect, of persons, places and events. They scarcely contain what with any propriety can be called an abstract discourse. The circumstances mentioned, too, are for the most part remarkable for their publicity, and even those portions that approach nearest to the character of sermons are not general in their style of thought, but are expressed in a popular phraseology, and are filled with local and personal allusions. The scene is not laid in a dark, retired corner, but the course of events is represented as going on over a vast extent of country, in the presence of particular individuals and large multitudes. Cities and villages with their respective localities are incidentally designated, wherein the facts narrated took place. To speak still more dramatically, the curtain rises, and the first glance shows us Jerusalem and its magnificent temple, Judea, the River Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, and the region round about; and we stand in the open air, and under the noonday sun, to observe the progress of the events related. Multitudes are collected before us. Different individuals and whole classes of men pass over the stage, Pharisees and Sadducees, teachers of the

THE GOSPELS, HISTORICAL.

13 Jewish Law, Roman soldiers, tax-gatherers, centurions, and magistrates, and all has the air of the greatest publicity.

Now what is the natural inference from this obvious feature of these writings? If a book of a similar character were published at the present day, a book not occupied with speculative discussions, not stating principles or opinions, but relating facts, purporting to have occurred in some well known country and within the last fifty or sixty years, filled with circumstantial details, abounding in allusions, local, personal, civil, introducing the names of public functionaries and offices—of parties, religious and political, how would such a publication be regarded? It would either be understood at once and by all as a mere work of imagination, so considered by the author himself, and published as a fiction, not to be credited as true, but to exercise and illustrate his own genius, and to procure for him the fame of genius; or, if we supposed that he intended and expected to be believed, then it must be because of its substantial truth, or else he must be among the most absurd of men. Every man who has intelligence enough to fabricate a story with a view to impose upon the world, takes especial care how he meddles with facts, circumstances, names ; “all things animate and inanimate are combined against falsehood.” In the great system of Nature and Providence, nothing exists alone and insulated. Every circumstance and every object, however trifling apparently, are inextricably related in innumerable ways to innumerable other circumstances and objects, so that every fact virtually appeals to an incalculable

« السابقةمتابعة »