« PreviousContinue »
proves the truth of the facts which they detail, and demonstrates the fulfilment of the prophecies they contain, is a continued miraculous proof of their divine origin. Other religions have owed their extension and prevalence to the celebrity of their founders, to the learning of their advocates, to their conformity to the prejudices and passions of men, to the energy of the secular arm, or even to the power of the sword; but Christianity was totally destitute of all these advantages, (if such they may be termed,) either to recommend or enforce its reception in the world. Its founder was put to an ignominious death by the common consent of his countrymen; its original promulgators were twelve illiterate men, wholly devoid of every kind of worldly influence; its doctrines were opposed to the principles and practices of the whole world, deeply rooted by inclination, and firmly established by extensive custom, by long confirmed laws, and by the high and universal authority of nations. Yet, by the simple preaching of the Gospel, Christianity triumphed over the craft, rage, and power of the infuriated Jews,-over the haughtiness, policy, and power of the Roman empire,-over the pride of learning, and the obstinacy of ignorance, hatred, prejudice, and lust,-over the hardened inclinations, deep-rooted customs, and long-established laws of both Jews and Pagans, so that, notwithstanding every conceivable form of opposition, within a few years after Christ's ascension, it prevailed, in a greater or less degree, in almost every corner of the Roman empire, and in the countries adjacent; and multitudes, at the hazard of every temporal loss or punishment, readily believed, constantly adhered to, and cheerfully and strictly practised its pure and holy precepts. Nor has the success of Christianity been confined to the early ages only; for, during the period of eighteen centuries, notwithstanding innumerable persecutions, together with the wickedness of professors, and the inconceivable villanies and base indifference of the clergy, it has been more or less successful in reforming the hearts and lives of multitudes in almost every nation under heaven;
thousands, who have been reclaimed from a profane and immoral course of conduct, to sobriety, equity, truth, purity, and piety, and to an exemplary behaviour in the relative duties of life. Having been made free from sin, and become the servants of God, they have their fruit unto holiness; and, after 'patiently continuing in well-doing,' and cheerfully bearing various afflictions, they joyfully meet death, being supported by the hope of eternal life, as the gift of God through Jesus Christ' while they who are best acquainted with them, are most convinced, that they have been rendered more wise, holy, and happy, by believing the Bible; and that there is a reality in religion, though various interests and passions may keep them from duly embracing it. This would, indeed, be far more apparent were the Gospel more generally, or fully, believed and obeyed. Did all men believe and obey the Bible, as a divine revelation; were repentance, and renunciation of all vice and immorality, universal or even general, combined with the spiritual worship of God, faith in his truth and mercy, through the mediation of his Son, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit, as visible in every true believer,-they would form the bulk of mankind into such characters, and would produce such effects, as the world has never yet witnessed. Men would then habitually and uniformly do justice, speak truth, shew mercy, exercise mutual forgiveness, follow after peace, bridle their appetites and passions, and lead sober, righteous, and godly lives. Murders, wars, slavery, cruel oppressions, rapine, fraud, and unrestrained licentiousness, would no more desolate the earth, nor fill it with misery; nor would bitter contentions ever more destroy domestic comfort; but righteousness, goodness, and truth, would bless the world with a felicity far exceeding all our present conceptions. Such has been the extraordinary success and happy effects of the religion of the Bible; and such is doubtless the direct and legitimate tendency of its doctrines, precepts, motives, and promises. To what cause, then, can we attribute the success which has attended Christianity, in the absence of every thing else to recommend or enforce it, but to an
almighty influence accompanying the preaching of the Gospel-to its being preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven?' And is not this one of the strongest possible attestations made by the God of truth himself, to the truth and Divine inspiration of the Sacred Volume? And, while its extraordinary success and effects thus constrain us to admit the Divine authority of the Scriptures, the holy and happy tendency of its doctrines proves, that they could not have originated either with bad angels or men, since they are so diametrically opposite to their vicious inclinations, interests, and honour; nor yet with uninspired good men, who would not have dared thus to personate God, and to ascribe their own inventions to inspiration. It remains, therefore, that God must be their author; and that, 'holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,' 'not in the words which men's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth.' 1 Cor. ii. 13.
10. Lastly, though these arguments are abundantly sufficient to silence objectors, and to produce a rational conviction of the Divine origin and authority of the Scriptures, yet it is only the effectual application of them to the mind, conscience, and heart, in their self-evidencing light and power, which can produce a cordial and saving persuasion that they are indeed THE WORD OF GOD. But when thus applied, then He that believeth hath the witness in himself." (1 Jn°. v. 10.) The discoveries which he has made by the Divine light of the Scriptures; the sanctifying and abiding effects produced on his judgment, dispositions, and affections; the comfortable experience which he has had, that God fulfils the promises of His word to them who trust in them; and the earnests of heaven enjoyed by him in communion with God, put the matter beyond all doubt; so that there is no shutting the eyes, nor hardening the heart against them,-no possibility of continuing stupid and unconcerned under them; but the whole faculties of the soul are necessarily affected with them, as indeed
power. And, though many real Christians are not at all qualified to dispute with infidels, yet they are enabled, through this inward testimony, to obey the Gospel, and to suffer in its cause; and they can no more be convinced by reasonings and objections, that uninspired men wrote or invented the Bible, than they can be persuaded that man created the sun, whose light they behold, and by whose beams they are warmed and cheered.*
For the materials of the preceding chapters I have been chiefly indebted to Lardner's Credibility of the Gospel History, &c.; Paley's Evidences of Christianity; Macknight's Truth of the Gospel History; Olinthus Gregory's Letters on the Evidences of the Christian Religion; Edwards on the Authority, Style, and Perfection of the Old and New Testament; The first volume of the Rev. T. H. Horne's Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures; Faber's Hora Mosaicæ; Bryant on the Divine Mission of Moses; Scott's Essays; Porteus on the Christian Revelation; Townsend on the Character of Moses as an Historian; Watson's Apology; Leslie's Short and Easy Method with the Deists, &c. to which excellent works the Reader is referred for a full discussion of the various topics here introduced, and in some instances, for the proofs of several of the statements and facts, and also to the succeeding portion of this work, containing a more full detail of the evidence. Comprehensive Bible, General Introduction, pp. 55—66.