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24

THE HONESTY OF THE GOSPELS.

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people who stood by and heard it, said that it was thunder.* It is these passages, and others like them, that satisfy me that the narrators were honest—that they aimed only at relating things just as they took place. I see no shaping or accommodation of the events related to a particular design. There is a quiet, unobtrusive confidence in their mode of narration, which seems to me identical with a perfect conviction of truth-with a true spirit. I have given only a few instances; enough, however, to define and render prominent the characteristic of these writings upon which I am now remarking. Throughout, the same peculiarity is apparent.

It is very often objected to the truth of the New Testament history, that if the wonderful things therein recorded actually took place, how is it possible that they should not have convinced the great body of the people. They must have been irresistible, it is said, and we cannot conceive that they really could have occurred, or they would have produced a greater impression. We find that they were not believed—that the multitudes in whose presence Jesus is said to have done these astonishing works, clamoured for his blood, and joined in putting him to death.

From a careful examination of the history, we may find reasons, although they are not ostentatiously thrust forward, to suspect that the unbelief of the Jews was not so great nor so general as this objection supposes. In one passage we are expressly told that many of the chief men believed in Jesus,

* For further remarks on this passage, see Chapter XI.

THE UNBELIEF OF THE JEWS.

25 although their fear of their equals did not allow them to confess it.* We are informed also that his enemies once and again dared not lay hands on him, because he was so generally favoured by the people. And then the seizure of his person, which took place in the night, and the disgraceful hurry of the Jewish court, by which he was pronounced guilty of blasphemy, create the idea that he fell a victim to a faction. The priests knew well enough that if they could only present him before the people in the condition of a prisoner and a criminal, the association of such circumstances with his pretensions as the Messiah would shock the public mind and exasperate a mob against him. Shortly after his final disappearance we read of the conversion of three thousand persons to the Christian faith. This is usually represented as sudden and miraculous. But surely it is more natural to suppose that this large body of converts was composed mainly of those who had listened to the words and witnessed the works of Jesus. The tide of popular feeling was setting strongly in his favour, and the priesthood saw that his success must be their destruction; and I cannot but think that he was put to death by means of a sudden revulsion of feeling which the priests succeeded in producing.

But allowing the unbelief of the Jews to have been as inveterate and universal as is commonly represented, it may be perfectly accounted for, I apprehend, upon the known principles and constitution of human nature. Experience and observation * John xii. 42.

+ Acts ii. 41.

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THE UNBELIEF OF THE JEWS

bear witness that when men are swayed by any inveterate bias or passion, they are impregnable to the strongest evidence contradictory of their idolized notions. Every day we see men unaffected by facts and considerations, whose force miracles could not increase. The slave of intemperance, for instance, sees his wife and children perishing before his eyes. Shame and ruin and death stare him in the face, and still he persists in his darling indulgence, and keeps on in the downward path of destruction. The love of power intoxicates in a similar way. The Jews were burning with the thirst of national glory—of earthly prosperity and success. They had long considered themselves a sacred people—the peculiar favourites of Heaven ; and they were stung to madness at the thought of the foreign domination under which they had been brought --of the insolence of the Gentiles—" the sinnersthe dogs," as they were wont to call them,-by whom they had been enslaved. They longed for triumph and revenge. They had set their hearts, like spoiled children, upon the appearance of a temporal prince and warrior to lead them on to victory and boundless

While absorbed by these passions, they could not bear to listen to one who, like Jesus, breathed peace and love and forgiveness. They could not endure to have those hopes disappointed which they had so long cherished, and which, as they believed, their religion encouraged and sanctified.

In fact, the unbelief of the Jews not only admits of the explanation at which I have briefly hinted, but when duly considered it becomes an indirect and inverted evidence of the power manifested by Jesus.

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renown.

STATED WITHOUT EXPLANATION.

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It could not have been any ordinary thing that wound them up to such a degree of exasperation. There must have been no little weight in the words and works of Jesus, or they would never have raged against him with so much violence.

But it is not my object now to give a full account of the unbelief of those in whose presence the wonderful works related in the Gospels were wrought. There is one thing upon which I wish to fasten the attention of the reader. Where is it that we learn that the Jewish people were unaffected by what was said and done by the man of Nazareth? who is it that has told us that he was doubted and gainsaid by the mass of those among whom he lived and taught? It is the authors of the Gospels themselves—it is they, who without the slightest equivocation have recorded the fact that the majority of the people, including the teachers of the Law, the leading men of the time and community, yes, and the members of his own family, gave no credence to the pretensions of Jesus. This fact they have recorded so unreservedly that they cease to appear as his friends and adherents. They rather seem like impartial and uninterested spectators, having no feeling for the one side or the other; no feeling, at least, that for a moment disturbs their determination to tell the truth. I say their determination. And yet this does not seem to be the

word. For there is no appearance of effort, or constraint, or labour, as if, conscious of a temptation to unfairness, they had to guard themselves accordingly. They write straight on, as naturally as they breathe, stating with equal explicitness or with equal brevity

proper word.

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THE GOSPELS, NOT EULOGIES. the words and works of Jesus, and the objections and incredulity of those around him, making no explanations, betraying no anxietyto influence the mind of the reader. In fine, their candour is for nothing more remarkable than for its unconsciousness. They do not seem to know that they are candid, or that they are actuated by a spirit in any degree remarkable and praiseworthy. Their honesty has no appearance of being put on. It is rather a part of their nature, the breath of their nostrils. If, after all, there is any mind so diseased with doubt as to fear that this character may have been assumed, I observe that it not only strikes me as utterly impossible, but if it were possible, then, for such deep laid and incredible cunning, there must have been the inducement of some most selfish and corrupt design, for the existence of which not a shadow of proof appears. But it is abundantly enough to say that if this is not candour -honesty, there is no telling what honesty is; there can be no indubitable tokens of its presence, and we can have no ground for faith or confidence in man.

The honesty of these narratives reveals itself in

another way

It is evident that Jesus Christ is their principal subject. They are histories of his life. Their authors obviously considered him worthy of profound reverence and implicit credit. And yet their accounts have not the faintest shadows of the character or style of eulogies, panegyrics. How truly has it been said that “ biographers, translators, editors, all, in short, who employ themselves in illustrating the lives or the works of others, are peculiarly exposed to the Bos

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