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OBJECT OF THE WORK.
history may be ascertained. It would be no easy task, not because 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
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. Extraordinary 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 parts of the
New Testament history, I nevertheless hope to point out features of truth, numerous and significant enough to create a lively sense of reality; and to induce an impartial mind to draw no conclusions from any portions of these books, however obscure and difficult, which do not go to establish powerfully their substantial credit.
2. In the exposition of that beautiful argument for the truth of the Scripture History of St. Paul, stated with so much felicity by Dr. Paley in his Horæ Paulinæ, he has this language: “The reader is at liberty to suppose these writings (the Epistles of Paul and the Book of Acts) to have been lately discovered in the library of the Escurial, and to come to our hands destitute of any extrinsic or collateral evidence whatever; and the argument I am about to offer is calculated to show that a comparison of the different writings would, even under these circumstances, afford good reason to believe the persons and transactions to have been real, the letters authentic, and the narration in the main to be true.” I am ready to make a similar concession to suppose that the four Gospels, as they are called, have just been discovered under some ancient ruins—that the names even by which they are designated, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, have been obliterated that they are anonymous.
Even if the reader incline to the idea that the four Gospels are only different versions of one story-one original Gospel, it will not materially affect the present argument. Still I trust it will appear that these books are the productions of truth and honesty—that the accounts they contain were
ANTIQUITY OF THE GOSPELS ASSUMED.
drawn from persons present on the spot-in fine, that they are not legends, fictions, romances, but true histories of real persons and real events.
There is one thing, however, respecting these writings, which, it is obvious, I intend to assume, their antiquity; not, however, because even this point may not be very satisfactorily made out from their internal structure. If they were now suddenly placed before us for the first time, from what quarter we knew not, there would be incontestable evidence that they were not the productions of any recent period. There is no work so general and abstract that it is not in innumerable particulars indelibly impressed by the age in which it appears. A biographical or historical work, abounding in notices of places, persons, manners, customs, and sentiments, in certain modes of thought and expression, furnishes on its very face, the means of fixing its date with some approach to correctness. This is the case with the writings which we are now to consider. They are antique in their whole costume. They could not have been written in this age, nor at any
very far removed from that at which they are generally believed to have been composed, because they bear none of the impressions of any such time. I do not insist that their date can be fixed with precision merely from internal marks, but that they show beyond all doubt that they were written very near the time to which they are usually referred. It is not the direct notices of time, found here and there in these writings, which constitute indubitable signs of antiquity, because such notices might easily have been
THE ANTIQUITY OF THE GOSPELS.
forged and interwoven with these narrations, even had they been produced at a much later period. It is their numerous and familiar references to the customs and opinions of a certain age, their peculiar forms of expression and thought, connected with the absence of all allusions to modes of thinking and speaking prevalent in all subsequent ages, that help us so effectually to determine the period to which they should be assigned.
But it is unnecessary to undertake an enumeration of the evidences of antiquity abounding on every page of the New Testament, because there are hardly any so ignorant or so captious as to question the age of these writings. And if there are, there is one consideration at hand which seems to me must be decisive. You need not go back to the past to inquire about the existence of these books; consider a fact that presents itself before your eyes — the wide, and I may say superstitious veneration with which these books are now regarded. They lie at the bottom of the faith of many nations, and a complicated structure of forms and institutions rests upon their professed authority. How does their influence pervade the whole fabric of society-our public establishments, our systems of education, our modes of thought and language! The feelings of awe and sacredness which have gathered round these books cannot have been the growth of any brief period. The religious prejudices and associations of the human mind are not the offspring of a day, but the slow formation of centuries. The extensive circulation of the New Testament—the present fact that it is