1265-1321 Dante Alighieri.

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writers of the New Testament — all, but one of them, poor
unlearned n»n — ^undertake to persuade the world that certain
great events took place before the eyes of thousands in Judea
and Galilee, which none in those regions ever saw or heard
of, and they know, perfectly well, did never occur. They see
beforehand that the attempt to make Jews and fieathens be-
lieve these things will occasion to themselves all manner of dis-
grace and persecution. Nevertheless, so fond are they of thoir
ocmtrivance, that though it is bitterly opposed by all the habits,
prejudices, dispositions, and philosophy — all the powers and



♦ See Horne*8 Introd. vol. L

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118 LECTURE IV.

iBstitutions of all people — ^they submit cheerAiUy to misery
and contempt — ^they taice joyfully the spoiling of their goods —
they willingly endure to be counted as fools and the oflfecour-
ing of all things — ^yea, they march thankfully to death out
of a mere desire to propagate a story which they all know
is a downright fabrication. At every step of their progress
they see and feel, that instead of any worldly advantagCi
they are daily loading themselves with ruin. At any moment
they can turn about and renounce their effort, and retrieve
their losses; and yet, with perfect unanimity, these eight,
with thousands of others equally aware of the deception,
persist most resolutely in their career of ignominy and
suffering. Not the slightest confession, even under torture
and the strong allurements of reward, escapes the lips of
any. Not the least hesitation is shown when to each is
offered the choice of recantation or death. He that can
believe such a case of fraud and folly as this, can believe
any thing. He believes a miracle infinitely more difficult
of credit than any in the gospel history. I charge him
with the most superstitious and besotted creduUty. In
getting to such a belief he has to trample over all the
laws of nature and of reasoning. Then on what an un-
assailable rock does the honesty of the vinriters of the New
Testament stand, if it can be attacked only at such sacrifices.
How evident it is, not only that they could have had no
motive to deceive, but that in all their self-devotion and
sacrifices they gave the strongest possible evidence of having
published what they solemnly believed was true. *

Now, if I have produced satisfactory proof from all the
unquestionable marks of honesty in the gospel history;

* " We cannot make use (says Hume) of a more convincing argument**
(in proof of honesty) " than to prove that the actions ascribed to any persons
are contrary to the course of nature, and that no human motives, in such
circumstances, could ever induce them to such a conduct." PhUosopkicat
Essays.



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LECTURE IV. 119

from the concurrence of profane historians with many of
its facts ; from their being contradicted by none ; from the
miprecedented harmony of eight independent writers in
their minutest events and allusions ; from the impossibility
of supposing any motive to deception, and from the sacrifices
the apostles endured in the promotion of Christianity ; if
from these sources I have satisfactorily shown that the
writers of the gospel history could not have intended to
record any thing but truth — ^then, having previously ascer
tained that they must have known whether what they wrote
was true or false, we have those two requisites which ensure
the credibility of any history — knowledge and honesty. This
shuts up the question. But it is not the whole strength of
the ailment. A question may be shut up and locked;
but then it may have bolts and bars besides. The truth of
the gospel history is not only sealed, but sealed seven-fold.

It has all the testimany that could possibly have been
expected, in the nature' of things, from the enemies of
Christianity. It would have been unreasonable to expect
that a Heathen or Jew would come forward with a detailed
statement to acknowledge the events narrated by the
evangelists. We have not this ; but we have much better.
We have the confession of the whole nation of Jews and of
all the Greeks to the same point. None ever ventured in
any pubHcation to deny the statements of the evangelists.
Unquestionably they would have done it, every where, had
they been able. When Luke published in Jerusalem, that
a man lame from the birth was healed by Peter and John,
while sitting, begging, at the gate of the temple, and that a
great multitude came together on account of the wonderfiil
deed; had the Jews of Jenisalem been able to deny it,
would their persecuting enmity have permitted them to be
silent ? Be it remembered that the gospel history was pub
lisbed in the places where its events are said to have
occurred — ^in the lifetime of many enemies who are said to



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120 LECTURE IV.

have seen t em. Now it is certain that no adversaries,
either in Judea, or Greece, or Rome, rested their opposition
to the gospel, in any degree, on the denial of these events;
What is the consequ^ice? They could not deny them.
What is the meaning of this silence? Being interpreted,
it is nothing less than a universal testimony from all Jews
and Heathens, who were capable of knowing any thing of
the matter, that these things were so. But they did not stop
here. Tacitus, the Roman historian, positively asserts some
of the chief events of the gospel. * Celsus, a bitter anta-
gonist of Christianity, in the second century ;t Porphyry, a
learned as well as earnest o{q)oser, in the third ; t and
Julian, the apostate emperor, in the next century ;i all
acknowledge not only the authenticity of the New Testament
books, but, so far as they refer to them, the historical correct-
ness of their narratives, even as to the most extraordinary
particulars, not excluding the miracles of Christ. But we
have stronger witness still.

About thirty-two years after the crucifixion, took place the
first Roman persecution, under Nero. The niunber of
Christians discovered in the one city of Rome, and con-
demned, is called by Tacitus "a vcist multUudePl Of
course they must have been exceedingly numerous in all
other places taken together. These but a few 3^ears before
were all either Jews or Heathens. Many resided in Jerusa-
lem, Capernaum, Antioch, Philippi, Ephesus, Corindi, &c.
By the time of this persecution, all the Gospels, but one, as
well as the Acts of the apostles, had been published. The
events recorded in these books are said to have taken place
before the eyes of the people of the cities just mentioned.
It was an easy thing for those people to ascertain whether
they, or their neighbours, or parents, had seen them. What



♦ Lardner, ui. 61 1. t Tb. iv. 121—130 : 133, 4. t lb. 234—8. 5 lb. 341 2.
I Tac. Anna!., lib. xv. c. 44. Lardner, tii. 610—14.



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LECT^URE IV. 121

did tney do? They came forward in great multitudes;
they threw off Judaism ; threw off paganism ; espoused the
gospel, and suffered unto death, sooner than renounce it. This
was but thirty-three years after the events recorded of Christ;
it was in the life-time of Paul. I say, therefore, that every
Christian of those days was a witness — the strongest
witness — far more impressive in his attestation than any
enemy could have been, to the shining, powerful truth of
the gospel history. "We are compassed about," therefore,
" with a great daud of witnesses /' witnesses who did not
just acknowledge these things, and still remain what they
were before ; but witnesses adding to their acknowledgment
the testimony of their conversion ; the evidence of their
Uves, which were wholly devoted to these things ; the seals
of ten thousand martyrdoms, endured solely on account of
their perfect assurance of these things.

Now consider a moment, and see the tUter impossibility
that the gospel history should have gained such currency
for a single year, had it not been notoriously true. In about
eight years after the crucifixion, Matthew publishes his
Gospel among the Jews. He tells the people of Jerusalem
that, only eight years from that time, while a great multitude
of them were witnessing the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus,
there was darkness over the whole land, from twelve to three
o'clock in the afternoon, and " the veil of the temple was
rent in twain, and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent."'
Suppose all this to have been a fabrication ; would Jerusa-
lem have held her peace ? could a book of such barefaced
untruth have lived an hour ?

The book of the Acts of the Apostles was published about
thirty years after the ascension of Christ, and was immedi
ately circulated among the churches, and open to the perusal
of the enemies of Christianity. It is related in the second
chapter of that work, that on the day of Pentecost, soon
after the death of Christ wjicn a great multitude, collected

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122 LECTURE lY.

from all parts of the earth, were assembled at Jerusalem, a
deep impression of astonishment was produced on the pubUc
mind by a rumour of certain miraculous events in the com-
pany of the apostles, so that " the multitude came together
and were confounded, because that every man heard them
speak in his own language." Parthians, and Medes, and
Elamites, and Cretes, and Arabians ; dwellers in all coun
tries ; men of every speech, were amazed at hearing those
Galileans, who were well known to have learned no other
tongue than that of Palestine, speaking in all varieties of
foreign languages, the wonderfiil works of Grod. Such is the
relation in the Acts of the Apostles. How could a writer, in
his senses, attempt to pass it upon his readers had it not been
notorious that such things had actually occurred? The
lapse of thirty years could not have so obliterated every
recollection of that feast ; or so swept the world of surviving
witnesses, as to prevent the certainty, that wherever this book
should circulate it would meet with persons capable of
remembering or of eiscertaining whether these things were so.
Had not the fetct of the apostles having spoken in the pre-
sence of thousands, in various tongues, been undeniable, wit-
nesses innumerable would have arisen against the book that
related it. Had no such event occurred, the Acts of the
Apostles could have gone into no part of the world without
finding those who would stand up and declare that they were
at the feast referred to, and saw nothing and heard nothing
of the marvellous things declared by its author. I say,
therefore, the fact that the gospel history was received, loved,
and read, every where among Christians ; that it has out-
Uved all the withering of time, and all the weapons of
enemies ; that Jews could not gainsay it, nor Heathens resist
it ; that eighteen centuries of scrutiny and trial have only
added new assurance to its truth, is one which reduces the
supposition of imposture to a perfect and ridiculous absurd-
ity. Therefore was it not in the power of such modern



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LECTURE IV.



123



infideL? as Hobbes, and Chub, and Bolingbroke, to deny the
point in question. The latter, as an example of the others,
speaking of John and Matthew, acknowledges that " they
recorded the doctrines of Christ in the very words in which
he tau^t them; and they were careful to mention the sev-
eral occasions on which he deUvered them to his disciples or
others. If, therefore, Plato and Xenophon tell us, with
a good deal of certainty, what Socrates taught, these two
evangelists seem to tell us, with much more, what the Sav-
iour taught, and commanded them to teach."

Here I think we may safely leave the question of credi-
biUty. So conclusive and certain have seemed to my mind
the several consecutive arguments to which you have listened,
that instead of feeling at each step as if any candid hearer
would wait for additional proof, 1 have felt not unfirequently
as if I were tiring your attention with an unnecessary accu-
mulation. Why this heaping of argument upon argument,
one may say, when from the very outset of tlie question,
from the certain authenticity of the Gospels, united with
their internal evidence, we have a proof of credibility with
which any rational mind should be perfectly satisfied ? We
acknowledge tlie reasonableness of the inquiry. If the
history under consideration related to the life of Alexander
the Great and his generals, instead of that of the meek and
lowly Jesus and his apostles, who would think it necessary
to go into all this detail of evidence to establish its truth ?
That it contained no internal marks of dishonesty ; that it
was uncontradicted by contemporaneous writers and by
other histories of the same times ; that it had been received,
ever since, as a true account; would be considered an ample
warrant of its historical correctness. Few, if any, profane
histories, can produce more positive proof of credibility than
this. Try them by the scale on which the gospel history is
measured ; require them to present one half of the weight
of evidence which infidels demand, and Chri5?tians bring: in



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124 LECTURE IV.

support of the sacred narrative ; and you must exclude them
from all claim to the confidence of- their readers. We might
speak of the unfairness of requiring so much more in proof
of a history because its character is sacred, and its facts are
connected with religion. I see not that the inferences arising
from an event, are entitled to any influence in changing the
amount of evidence necessary to its proof. Whether an
evangelist be worthy of dependence, when he relates the
works of Jesus, is a question of testimony to be determined
by the same degree of proof as should satisfy us as to the
accuracy and honesty of any other writer, on any other sub-
ject of history. But we have no disposition to complain
that so much has been demanded in evidence of the gospel
narrative. It has only served to quicken the investigations
of the friends of truth, and to exhibit, with a more impres-
sive assurance, those great events, on which all that is
precious in a Christian's faith is founded. It has showed,
not only how amply, but how wonderfully the God of truth
and grace has made the anchor of our hope to be sure and
steadfast. It teaches how, in the hands of Divine Wisdom,
the wrath of man is made subsidiary to the praise of God ;
how the fiery darts of the wicked are not only broken against
the shield of faith, but made the means of increasing the
light by which the Christian is guided, and often of carrying
back confusion into the ranks of the enemy. It should lead
the believer to adore, with admiring gratitude, the goodness
of Him, who, for the sake of those that love Him, causes all
the schemes and assaults of unbelievers to work together
for good ; making it more and more manifest, by the defeat
of every new attack, that this is "the true light" — "the
shining light, which shineth more and more unto the
perfect day."

Had we time, or were it needful, to enter upon a particular
view of the authenticity and credibility of the Old Testa-
ment volume, this would be the place for the argument.



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LECTimE IV.



125



But we have room only to advert to it. The connexion
between the truth of the christian scriptures and that of the
Jewish is so obvious and essential; the dispensation of
Christ so continually assumes the divine authority of that
of Moses, and is so evidently built on its foundations ; the
writings of the apostles so frequently quote and refer to the
law and the prophets, as authentic, credible, and inspired
scriptures ; the argument for the books of the Old Testa-
ment is so parallel, in its mode and means, to that for the
books of the New ; and the cavils of sceptics, in relation to
the former, are so similar in objection, principle, and reason
ing, to those with which they assail the latter ; that in hav
ing established the authenticity and credibility of the one, we
may be fairly said to have done the same, in outline, for the
character of the other. Certain we are, that one who is
intelligently convinced of the authenticity and credibility of
the New Testament, will not halt between two opinions as
to the writings of Moses and the prophets, but will read
them as assuredly the writings of those whose names they
bear ; and deserving, in relation to all matters of fact, the
character of credible scriptures.



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126 LECTURE V.



LECTURE V.



MIRACLES.



Our last lecture was on the credibility op the gospel
HISTORY. In a previous one, we ascertained the authen-
ticity of the books in which it is contained. If the
evidence adduced in proof of both these fundamental articles
appeared as satisfactory to the hearers, as to the speaker, we
are then prepared to open the New Testament with the
assurance that the books it contains were written by those
original disciples whose names they bear ; and that we may
confidently depend on the historical correctness of their
statements. The seals, therefore, of the volume are now
unloosed. Immediately on inspecting the contents, it appears
that the grand and continual reference is to Jesus Christ, as
a Teacher and Saviour sent from God, to communicate
personally, and by his apostles, a revelation of truth and
duty to man. This revelation, the New Testament professes
to contain. Now, the grand question is, what are the evi-
dences that the religion contained in thp New Testament is
a divine revelation?

When an ambassador from a foreign power presents him
self at our seat of government, charged with certain commu
nications from his sovereign, he first exhibits his credentials
of appointment. These being satisfactory, whatever he may
communicate, in his official character, is received with as
much reliance as if it were heard from the lips of his sove-
reign himself. It is treated as a revelation of the mind or
wiU of that soyereign. In the New Testament we read that
our Lord Jesus Christ appeared among men as an ambassa



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LECTURE V. 127

dor from God, charged with certain important proposals to
the world. Before we can be justified in receiving 4hem as a
divine revelation, we must know the credentials of the ambas
sador ; we must have suflSicient evidence that he was sent of
God. Furnish this, and we are bound to receive his commu
nications, as confidently as if they should be heard direcdy
from the throne of the Most High. Thus the Jews said to
him : " What sign showest thou, that we may see and beUeve
thee ? What dost thou work ?"* The Saviour, admitting
the propriety of the demand, appealed to his works, as his
credentials. " The works that 1 do, they bear witness of me."
On another occasion, he called up his miracles. " The blind
(said he) receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are
cleansed, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up."t As if
he had said : "Such works can only be done by the direct
and supernatural interposition of the power of God. They
are done at my word and will. They are therefore a perfect
attestation that God is with me, and that my claim to your
^ confidence as His ambassador is true." Nicodemus under-
stood this, and expressed no other than the plain dictate of
common sense, when he said to Jesus : " We know that thou
art a teacher come from God, for no man can do these mira-
cles which thou doest except Grod be with him."t The
credentials of the apostles, as subordinate agents of divine
revelation, are expressed in Uke manner. " God also bear-
ing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with
divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost."§ None can
question the absolute certainty of such credentials. This
has been acknowledged even by the most famous advocates
of infidelity. Woolston says: "I believe it will be granted
, on all hands that the restoring a person in<Jisputably dead to
life is a stupendous miracle, and that two or three such mira-
cles, well attested and credibly reported, are enough to

j • John, vi. 30— ii. 18. t Mat. xi. 5. t John, iii. 2. S Heb. ii. 4.

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128 LECTURE T.

conciliate the belief that the author of them was a divine
agent, and invested vrith the power of God."* Make good,
therefore, the evidence that the Saviour and his apostles
wrought miracles in attestation of their divine mission, and
the christian religion, as contained in the New Testament,
and taught by them, must be a divine revelation.

Our way, therefore, is plain. We must inquire into the
evidence on which it can be established, (hat the Savimir
and his apostles did work miracles. To this inquiry we
should proceed immediately, were it not for the peculiai
circumstances which meet us in the way. The adversaries
of the gospel have had wit enough to see that either the
evidence of miracles must be overthrown, or they must
surrender the contest. Unable to meet the direct and
abounding testimony by which the wonderful works of
Christ and his apostles are proved, they have taken position
and entrenched themselves upon the advanced and desperate
ground of the insufficiency of any testimony to prove a
miracle. Thus have we a redoubt in our way, command-
ing the whole field of controversy, which, though easily
carried when properly assailed, would be of great damage,
if left in our rear. The present lecture will be occu-
pied, therefore, with the discussion of certain preliminary
subjects, anticipating a direct application to the evidence
of miracles, in our next. We commence with the following
proposition.

I. There is nothing unreasonable or vhvprobctble in the
idea of a miracle being wrought in proof of a divine r&be-
lotion. I know not but that all persons, of ordinary infor-
mation, have a sufficiently correct idea of what id meant by
a miracle, without the aid of a definition. No one would
mistake the rest:ration of sight to the blind, by the use of
human skill, however wonderful it might be considered) for

♦ Scheme of Literal Prophecy, pp. 321, 323.

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LECTURE V. 129

a miracle. No one could mistake the sudden communication
of sight to one bom blind at the mere word of another,
without any intervening cause, for any thing else than a
miracle. The former result, though astonishing, would be
according to the common course of nature^ or to what are
called the laws of nature. The latter would be beyond^ or
different from, those laws. One would be a natural, the
other a supernatural event, or a miracle*

Now the idea of a revelation from Gtod, and the idea of a
miracle to attest the divine commission of those who make
it, are essentially connected. If one or more individuals te
sent to communicate the revelation, they must prove their
mission by some credentials. What can their credentials be
but miracles? The necessity of these will be evident from
a litde consideration. They can appeal to but three sorts of
proof; the internal excellence and fitness of their communi-
cations ; their own integrity and judgment ; and the miracu-
lous works attendant on their ministry. With regard to the
two former, it is manifest that, in the most favourable circum-
stances, they would need too much time, and evidence, and
discrimination, for their own establishment; and would
always remain of a character too uncertain to permit their
being used with any effect in proof of a divine revelation.
They would answer well as auxiUaries ; but would require
something of a much more positive nature to sustain the
chief burden of proof. The claim to be received as a mes-
senger of God, for the purpose of making a revelation to the
world, could never be substantiated on such grounds. Evi-
dence is needed which all minds may appreciate. It must
be something that has only to be seen, to be understood and
acknowledged. When a plenipotentiary presents himself at
the seat of government, intrusted with certain communica-
tions from a foreign power, of great importance on both



♦ See Gregory's Letters, i. 167.
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130 LECTVUE VL

9ide$y 9ii4 requiring ta be inunediat^ly act^ upoq, it nr^U
XU)I auswer for him to {dea^ ill eyid^oce of his det^g^ted
ay^thority, that bii^ personal int^^y is mumpe^hecl, fiad
hia commupicationa are s(uch as might ba expected &om hi^
goyenmieot. The tiaie for actioa woial4 ba k>$l while sudti
proof was being pravecl He must exhibit or^cleatials whidi
carry on their face the direct evidei^ce of his Gommis8k>a.



Online Library1265-1321 Dante AlighieriEvidences of Christianity, in their external, or historical, division ... → online text (page 11 of 36)