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rior in the knowledge of religion and morality to
their countrymen ; and yet, when you take those
philosophers who lived before the Christian era,
and • compare their writings with the books of the
J>iew Testament, the disparity appears most strik-
ing. The views of God given in these books are
not only more sublime than those which occasional
passages in the writings of the philosophers discover,
but are purified from the alloy which abounds in
them, and are at once consistent with, and apposite
to, the condition of man. Religion is here uniform-
ly applied to encourage man in the discharge of his
duty, to support him under the trials of life, and to
cherish every good affection. To love God with all
our heart, and strength, and soul, and mind, and to
love our neighbour as ourselves, the two command-
ments of the Gospel, are the most luminous and
comprehensive principles of morality that ever were
taught. The particular precepts, which, although
not systematically deduced, are but the unfolding of
those principles, form the heart, regulate the con-


duct, descend into every relation, and constitute the
most perfect and refined morality, — a morality not
elevated above the concerns or occasions of ordinary
men, but sound and practical, which renders the
members of society useful, agreeable, and respecta-
ble, and at the same time carries them forward by
the progressive improvement of their nature to a
higher state of being. The precepts themselves are
short, expressive, and simple, easily retained, and
easily applied ; and they are enforced by all those
motives which have the greatest power over the hu-
man mind. That future life, to which good men iji
every age had looked forward with an anxious wish,
is brought to light in these books. There is not in
them the conjecture, the hesitation, the embarrass-
ment which had entered into the language of the
wisest philosophers upon this subject. But there is
an explicit declaration, delivered in a tone of autho-
rity which becomes that Being who can order the
condition of his creatures, that this is a season of
trial, that there will hereafter be a time of recom-
pence, and that the conduct of men upon earth is to
produce everlasting consequences with regard to
their future condition. To the fears, of which a
being who is conscious of repeated transgressions
cannot divest himself, no other system had applied
any remedy but the repetition of unavailing sacri-
fices. These books alone disclose a scheme of Pro-
vidence adapted to the condition of sinners, an-
nounced, introduced, and conducted with a solemni-
ty corresponding to its importance, admirably fitted
in all its parts, supposing it to be true, to revive the
hopes of the penitent, to restore the dignity, the
purity, and happiness of the intelligent creation, and


thus to repair that degeneracy which all writers
have lamented, of which every man has experience,
and to the cure of which all human means had prov-
ed inadequate. This grand idea, which is charac-
teristical of the books of the New Testament, com-
pletes their superiority above every other system,
and gives a peculiar kind of sublimity to both the
religion and the morality of the Gospel.

The second branch of the internal evidence of
Christianity arises from the condition of those men
in whose v/ritings this superior system appears. AVe
can trace a progress in ancient philosophy ; we see
the principles of science arising out of the occupa-
tions of men, collected, improved, abused ; and we
can mark the effect which both the improvement and
the abuse had in producing that degree of perfection
which they attained. To every person versant in
the history of ancient philosophy, Socrates must ap-
pear an extraordinary man. Yet the eminence of
Socrates forms only a stage in the progress of his
countrymen. His disciples, who have recorded his
discourses, were men placed in a most favourable
situation for polishing and enlarging their minds ;
and the Roman philosophers trod in their steps.
But, if the books of the New Testament be authentic,
the writers who have delivered to us this superior
system, were men born in a mean condition, without
any advantages of education, and with strong national
prejudices, which the low habits formed by their oc-
cupations could not fail to strengthen. They have
interwoven in their works their history and their
manner of thinking. The obscurity of their station
is vouched by contemporary writers, anJ it was one
of the reproaches thrown upon the Gospel by its ear-


liest adversaries. Yet the conceptions of these mean
men upon the most important subjects, far transcend
the continued efforts of ancient philosophy ; and the
sages of Greece and Rome appear as children when
compared with the fishermen of Galilee. From men,
whose minds we cannot suppose to have been sea-
soned with any other notions of divine things than
those which they derived from the teaching of the
Pharisees, who had obscured the law by their tradi-
tions, and loaded it with ceremonies, there arose a
pure and spiritual religion. From men, educated in
the narrowness and bigotry of the Jewish spirit, there
arose a religion which enjoins universal benevolence,
a scheme for diffusing the knowledge of the true God
over the whole earth, and forming a church out of
all the nations under heaven. The divine plan of
blessing the human race, in turning them from their
iniquity, originated from a little district, — was adopt-
ed, not by the whole tribe as a method of retrieving
their ancient honours, but by a few individuals in
opposition to public authority, — and was prosecuted
with zeal and activity under every disadvantage and
discouragement. When his contemporaries heard
Jesus speak, they said, " Whence hath this man wis-
dom ? How knoweth this man letters, having never
learned ?" * " When the Jewish council heard Peter
and John, they marvelled, because they knew that
they were ignorant and unlearned men ;" j- and to
every candid inquirer, the superiority of that system,
and the magnificence of that plan contained in the
books of the New Testament, when compared with
the natural opportunities of those from whom they

* Matt. xiii. 54. John vii. 15. t Acts iv. la.


proceeded, must appear the most inexplicable pheno-
menon in the history of the human mind, unless we
admit the truth of their claim.

A third branch of the internal evidence of Christ-
ianity arises from the character of Jesus Christ. It
is often said with much truth, that the gospel has
the peculiar excellence of proposing in the character
of its author, an example of all its precepts. That
character may also be stated as one branch of the in-
ternal evidence of Christianity, whether you consider
Jesus as a teacher, or as a man. His manner of teach-
ing was most dignified and most winning. " NeA^er
man spake like this man." He taught by parable,
by action, and by plain discourse. Out of familiar
scenes, out of the objects which surrounded him, and
the intercourse of social life, he extracted the most
pleasing and useful instruction. He repelled the at-
tacks of his enemies with a gentleness which disarm-
ed, and a wisdom which confounded their malice.
There was a plainness, yet a depth in all his sayings.
He M^as tender, persuasive, or severe, according to
circumstances ; and the discourse, which seemed to
have been dictated to him merely by the occasion, is
found to convey lasting and valuable counsel to pos-
terity. His character as a man, is allowed to be the
most perfect which the world ever saw. All the
virtues of which we can form a conception, were
united in him with a more exact harmony, and slioiie
with a lustre more bright and more natural, than in
any of the sons of men. His descending from the
glories of heaven, assuming the weakness of human
nature, and voluntarily submitting to all the cala-
mities which he endured for the sake of men, exhi-
bits a degree of benevolence, of magnanimity, and


patience, which far exceeds the conception that Plato
formed of the most tried and perfect virtue. The
majesty of his divine nature is blended with the fel-
low feeling and condescension implied in his office ;
and although the history of mankind did not afford
any model that could here be followed, this singular
character is supported throughout, and there is not
any one of the words or actions ascribed to him,
which does not appear to the most correct taste to
become the man Christ Jesus. It is not possible that
a manner of teaching, so infinitely superior to that
of the Scribes and Pharisees, or that a character so
extraordinary, so godlike, so consistent, could have
been invented by the fishermen of Galilee. Admit
only that the books of the New Testament are au-
thentic, and you must allow that the authors of
them drew Jesus Christ from the life. And how do
they draw him ? Not in the language of fiction, with
swoln panegyric, with a laborious effort to number
his deeds, and to record all his sayings, but in the
most natural artless manner. Four of his disciples,
not many years after his death, when every circum-
stance could easily be investigated, write a short his-
tory of his life. Without attempting to exhaust the
subject, withou.t studying to coincide with one an-
other, without directing your attention to the shin-
ing parts of his history, or marking any contrast be-
tween him and other men, they leave you, from a
few facts, to gather the character of the man whom
they had followed. Thus you learn his innocence
not from their protestations, but from the whole com-
plexion of his life, from the declaration of the judge
who condemned him ; of the centurion who attended
his execution ; of a traitor, who, having been admit-


ted into his family, was a witness of his most retir-
ed actions, who had no tie of affection, of delicacy,
or consistency, to restrain him from divulging the
whole truth, and who might have pleaded the secret
wickedness of his master as an apology for his own
baseness, who would have been amply repaid for his
information, and yet who died with these words in
his mouth, " I have sinned, in that I have betrayed
the innocent blood." * Had Judas borne no such
testimony, an appeal to him was the most unsafe
method in which the writers of this history could
attest the innocence of their master. But if the wis-
dom of God had ordained, that even in the family of
Jesus the wrath of his enemies should thus praise
him, it was most natural for one of the evangelists
to record so striking a circumstance : and I mention
it here, only as a specimen of the manner in which
the character of Jesus is drawn, not by the colouring
of a skilful pencil, but by a continual reference to
facts, which to impostors are of difficult invention,
and of easy detection, but which, to those who ex-
hibit a real character, are the most natural, the most
delightful, and the most effectual method of making
their friend known. " Shall we say," writes Rous-
seau, no uniform champion for the cause of Christi-
anity, " shall we say that the history of the gospel
is invented at pleasure ? No. It is not thus that
men invent. It would be more inconceivable that a
number of men had in concert produced this book
from their own imaginations, than it is that one man
has furnished the subject of it. The morality of the
gospel, and its general tone, were beyond the con-

* Matt, xxvii. 4.


ception of Jewish authors ; and the history of Jesus
Christ has marks of truth so palpable, so striking,
and so perfectly inimitable, that its inventor would
excite our admiration more than its hero." *

K fourth branch of the internal evidence of Christ-
ianity arises from the characters of the apostles of
Jesus as drawn in their own writings. Their con-
dition renders the superiority of their doctrine inex-
plicable, without admitting a divine revelation : their
character gives the highest credibility to their pre-
tensions. We seldom read the work of any person,
without forming some apprehension of his character ;
and if his work represent him as engaged in a suc-
cession of trials, pouring forth the sentiments of his
heart, and holding, in interesting situations, much
intercourse with his fellow creatures, we contract an
intimate acquaintance with him before we are done,
and we are able to collect from numberless circum-
stances, whether he be at pains to disguise himself
from us, or whether he be really such a man as he
wishes to appear. No scene ever was more interest-
ing to the actors, than that in which the writings of
the apostles of Jesus exhibit them ; and the gospels
and epistles taken together, afford to every attentive
reader a complete display of their character. We
said, that they appear from their writings devoid of
enthusiasm, cool and collected. Yet this coolness is
removed at the greatest distance from every mark of
imposture. They are at no pains to disguise their
infirmities ; all their prejudices shine through their
narration ; and they do not assume to themselves
any merit for having abandoned them. We see light

* Roussean, Emile^ ii. 98.


opening slowly upon their minds, their hopes disap-
pointed, and themselves conducted into scenes very-
different from those which they had figured. " We
trusted," said they, after the death of their master,
" that it was he which should have redeemed Is-
rael."* Yet it is not long before they become firm,
and cheerful, and resolute. Not overawed by the
threatenings of the magistrates, nor shaken by the
persecutions which they endured from their countr}'-
men, they devoted their lives to the generous under-
taking of spreading through the world the knowledge
of that religion which they had embraced. Appear-
ing as the servants of another, they disclaim the
honours which their followers were disposed to pay
them; they uniformly inculcate quiet inoffensive
manners, and a submission to civil authority ; and
labouring with their hands for the supply of their
necessities, they stand forth as jiatterns of humility
and self-denial. The churches to which they write,
are the witnesses to posterity of their holy, unblame-
able conduct; their sincerity and zeal breathe through
all their epistles ; and, when you read their writings,
you behold the most illustrious example of disinter-
ested beneficence, that exalted love of mankind,
which made them forego every private consideration,
in order to promote the virtue and happiness of those
to whom they were sent. They had differences
amongst themselves, which they are at no pains to
conceal ; yet they remained united in the same cause.
They had personal enemies in the churches which
they planted ; yet they were not afraid to reprove,
to censure, to excommunicate ; and, in the immediate
prospect of death, they continued their labour of

* Luke xxiv. 21.


Such is the character of the apostles of Jesus, as
it appears in their authentic writings, not drawn by
themselves, but collected from the facts which they
relate, and the letters which they address to those
who knew them. It is a character so far raised
above the ordinary exertions of mortals, and so dia-
metrically opposite to the Jewish spirit, that we na-
turally search for some divine cause of its being
formed. We are led to consider its existence as a
pledge of the truth of that high claim which such
men appear not unworthy to make ; and this assur-
ance of their veracity which we derive from their
conduct, disposes our minds to attend to that exter-
nal evidence which they offer to adduce.

I have thus stated what appear to me the princi-
pal parts of the internal evidence of Christianity.
I have not mentioned the style or composition of the
books of the New Testament, because although I
am of opinion that there are in them instances of
sublimity, of tenderness, and of manly eloquence,
which are not to be equalled by any human compo-
sition, and although the mixture of dignity and sim-
plicity which characterizes these books is most wor-
thy of the author and the subject of them, yet this
is a matter of taste, a kind of sentimental proof which
will not reach the understandings of all, and where
an affirmation may be answered by a denial. The
only evidence which Mahomet adduced for his divine
mission, was the inimitable excellence of his Koran.
Produce me, said he, a single chapter equal to tliis
book, and I renounce my claim. We are not driven
to this necessity ; and therefore, although every per-
son of true taste reads with the highest admiration
many parts of the New Testament, altliough every


divine ought to cultivate a taste for the sacred clas-
sics, and has often occasion to illustrate their beau-
ties, it is better to rest the evidence of our religion
upon arguments less controvertible. Neither have
I mentioned that inward conviction which the ex-
cellence of the matter, the grace of the promises,
and the awfulness of the threatenings, produce on
every mind disposed by the influence of heaven to
receive the truth. This is the witness of the Spirit,
the highest and most satisfying evidence of divine
revelation ; the gift of God, for which we pray, and
which every one who asks with a good and honest
heart is encouraged to expect. But this witness
within ourselves, although it removes every shadow
of doubt from our own breasts, cannot be stated to
others. They are to be convinced, not by our feel-
ings but by their own ; and the truth of that fact,
upon which the Deistical controversy turns, must be
established by arguments which every understand-
ing may apprehend, and with regard to which the
experience of one man cannot be opposed to the ex-
perience of another. Of this kind are the points
which I have stated ; the superior excellence of that
system contained in the books of the New Testa-
ment, taken in conjunction with the condition of
those whom we know to be the authors of them, the
character of Jesus Christ, as drawn by his disciples,
and their own character as it appears from their
writings. I do not say that these arguments will
have equal force with all ; but I say that they are
fitted by their nature to make an impression upon
every understanding which considers thein with at-
tention and candour. I allow that they form only



a presumptive evidence for the high claim advanced
in these books ; and I consider the external evidence
of Christianity as absolutely necessary to establish
our faith. But I have called your attention parti-
cularly to the various branches of this internal evi-
dence, not only because the result of the four taken
together appears to me to form a very strong pre-
sumption, but also because they constitute a princi-
pal part of the study of a divine. By dwelling
upon these branches — by reading with care the
many excellent books which treat of them, — and,
above all, by searching the Scriptures with a special
view to perceive the force of this internal evidence,
your sense of the excellence of Christianity is con-
firmed ; your hearts are made better, and you ac-
quire the most useful furniture for those public
ministrations in which it will be more your business
to confirm them that believe, than to convince the
gainsayers. The several points which I have stated
perpetually recur in our discourses to the people ;
our lectures and our sermons are full of them ; and
therefore, the more extensive and various our infor-
mation is with regard to these points, and the deeper
the impression which the frequent contemplation of
them has made upon our own minds, we are the better
able to magnify, in the eyes of those for whose sakes
we labour, the unsearchable riches of the Gospel, and
to build them up in holiness and comfort through
faith unto salvation.

Newcome on the Character of our Saviour.

Leechman's Sermons.

Conybeare's Answer to Tindal.

Leland on the Advantages of the Christian Revelation.


Leland's View of the Deistical Writers.

Duchal's Sermons.

Jenyns on the Internal Evidences of Christianity.

Macknight on the Truth of the Gospel History.

Paley's Evidences of Christianity, Vol. II.

Bishop Porteus' Summary of the Evidences of Christianity.




Having satisfied your minds that the books of
the New Testament are authentic and genuine, that
they contain nothing upon account of which they
deserve immediately to be rejected, and that their
contents afford a very strong presumption of their
being what they profess to be, — a revelation from
God to man, it is natural next to inquire what is the
direct evidence in support of this presumption ; for,
in a matter of such infinite importance, it is not de-
sirable to rest entirely upon presumptions : and it
is not to be supposed that the strongest evidence
which the nature of the case admits will be with-
held. The Gospel professes to offer such evidence ;
and our Lord distinguishes most accurately between
the amount of that presumptive evidence which
arises from the excellence of Christianity, and the
force of that direct proof which he brought. Of
the presumptive evidence he thus speaks : " If any
man will do the will of God, he shall know of the
doctrine whether it be of God." * /. e. Every man
of an honest mind will infer from the nature of my
doctrine, that it is of Divine origin. But of the di-
rect proof he says : " If I had not done among them
the works which none other man did, they had not

* John vii. 17.


had sin. But now they have both seen and hated
both me and my Father." " If I do not the works
of my Father, believe me not : But if I do, though
ye believe not me, believe the works." * To the di-
rect proof he constantly appeals : " The works whicii
the Father hath given me to do, bear witness of me,
that the Father hath sent me." f He declares, that
the same works which he did, and greater than
them, should his servants do : ^ And what these
works are, we learn from his answer to the disciples
of John the Baptist, who brought to him this ques-
tion, " Art thou he that should come ?" " Go,"
said he, " and show John again those things which
ye do hear and see. The blind receive their sight,
and the lame walk ; the lepers are cleansed, the deaf
hear, the dead are raised." § The Gospel then pro-
fesses to be received as a divine revelation upon the
footing of miracles ; and, therefore, every person
who examines into the truth of our religion, ought
to have a clear apprehension of the nature of that

That I may not pass hurriedly over so important
a subject, I have been led to divide my discourse
upon miracles into three parts : in the first of which
I shall state the force of that argument for the truth
of Christianity which arises from the miracles of
Jesus recorded in the New Testament.

* John XV. 24 ; x. 37; 38. + John v. 36". + John xiv. 12.

§ Matt. xi. •!•;, 5.



All that we know of the Almighty is gathered
from his works. He speaks to us by the effects
which he produces ; and the signatures of power,
wisdom, and goodness, which appear in the objects
around us, are the language in which God teaches
man the knowledge of himself. From these objects
we learn the providence as well as the existence of
God ; because, while the objects are in themselves
great and stupendous, many of them appear to us
in motion, and through the whole of nature, we ob-
serve operations which indicate not only the origi-
nal exertions, but also the continued agency of a su-
preme invisible power. These operations are not
desultory. By experience and information we are
able to trace a certain regular course, according to
which the Almighty exercises his power throughout
the universe ; and all the business of life proceeds
upon the supposition of the uniformity of his opera-
tions. We are often, indeed, reminded that our expe-
rience and information are very limited. Extraordi-
nary appearances at particular seasons astonish the
nations of the earth : new powers of nature unfold

Online LibraryGeorge HillLectures in divinity (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 32)