« PreviousContinue »
been forged, as they were extant long before the Christian name had any existence; and it is equally certain that they were not invented by the Jews, because they contain various difficult laws and precepts, and relate all their idolatries, crimes, and punishments, which would not have been inserted if they had been forged by them. Equally impossible is it, that the books of the New Testament were forged; for the Jews were the most violent enemies of Christianity: they put its founder to death; and both Jews and Gentiles persecuted his disciples with implacable hatred. Hence, if the New Testament had been forged, the Jews would certainly have detected the imposture; and the inhabitants of Palestine would not have received the Gospels, nor the churches of Rome and Corinth acknowledged the epistles addressed to them, if they had not had sufficient evidence of their genuineness. In fact, these arguments are so strong, that if we deny the genuineness of the Sacred Writings, we may, with a thousand times more propriety, reject all the other writings in the world as spurious.
On the Uncorrupted Preservation of the Sacred Scriptures.
THAT the Sacred Writings are not only genuine, but have been transmitted to us entire and uncorrupted, and that they are, in all essential points, the same as they came originally from the hands of their authors, we have the most satisfactory evidence that can be required. That, in the various transcripts of these writings, as in all other ancient books, a few letters, syllables, or even words, may have been changed, we do not pretend to deny; but that there has been any designed or fraudulent corruption of any considerable part, especially of any doctrine, or important part of history or prophecy, no one has ever attempted to prove.
1. With regard to the Old Testament, the original manu
scripts were long preserved among the Jews, who were always remarkable for being most faithful guardians of their sacred books, which they transcribed repeatedly, and compared most carefully with the originals, of which they even numbered the words and letters. That the Jews have neither mutilated nor corrupted these writings, is fully proved by the silence of the prophets, as well as of Christ and his apostles, who, though they bring many heavy charges against them, never once accuse them of corrupting one of their sacred writings; and also by the agreement, in every essential point, of all the versions and manuscripts (amounting to nearly 1150,) which are now extant, and which furnishes a clear proof of their uncorrupted preservation. In fact, the constant reading of their sacred books, (which were at once the rule of their faith, and of their political constitution,) in public and private; the numerous copies of the original, as well as of the Septuagint version, which was widely spread over the world; the various sects and parties into which the Jews were divided after their canon was closed; as well as their dispersion into every part of the globe, concurred to render any attempt at fabrication improbable and impossible before the time of Christ; and after that period, the same books being in the hands of the Christians, they would instantly have detected the fraud of the Jews, if they had endeavoured to accomplish such a design; while the silence of the Jews, (who would not have failed to notice the attempt if it had been made,) is a clear proof that they were not corrupted by the Christians.
2. Equally satisfactory is the evidence for the integrity and incorruptness of the New Testament. The multiplication of copies, both of the original, and of translations into a variety of foreign languages, which were read, not only in private, but publicly in the religious assemblies of the early Christians; the reverence of the Christians for these writings; the variety of sects and heresies which soon arose in the Christian church, each of whom appealed to the
material alteration in the sacred books utterly impossible; while the silence of their acutest enemies, who would most assuredly have charged them with the attempt if it had been made, and the agreement of all the manuscripts and versions extant, are positive proofs of the integrity and incorruptness of the New Testament; which are further attested by the agreement with it of all the quotations which occur in the writings of the Christians from the earliest age to the present time. In fact, so far from there having been any gross adulteration in the Sacred Volumes, the best and most able critics have asserted and proved that, even in lesser matters, the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament have suffered less from the injury of time, and the errors of transcribers, than any other ancient writings whatever; and that the very worst manuscript extant would not pervert one article of our faith, nor destroy one moral precept.
On the Authenticity of the Sacred Scriptures.
It is no less certain that the Sacred Writings are authentic, that is, relate matters of fact as they really happened; and consequently, that they are entitled to the fullest credit, and possess the greatest authority. For,
1. The Sacred Writers had the very best means of information, and could not be deceived themselves. They were, for the most part, contemporary with, and eye-witnesses of the facts they record; and those transactions which they did not see, they derived from the most certain evidences, and drew from the purest sources. Thus, in the four last books of the Pentateuch, Moses had a chief concern in all the transactions there related; and the authors of the subsequent historical books, as Joshua, Samuel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, as well as the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and
Daniel, relate those events of which they were witnesses; and, when they relate events that took place before their own times, they refer to certain public documents and annals, then extant, which might be appealed to by their readers. In like manner, the writers of the New Testament, as Matthew, John, Peter, James, and Jude, were the immediate disciples of our Saviour; his constant attendants and companions throughout his ministry; eye-witnesses of the facts and miracles, and ear-witnesses of the discourses they relate; and the other sacred writers, as Mark and Luke, though themselves not apostles, yet were the contemporaries and companions of apostles, and in habits of society and friendship with those who had been present at the transactions they record; as St. Luke expressly affirms in the beginning of his Gospel Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed amongst us; even as they delivered them unto us, which, from the beginning, were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me, also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee, in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.'
2. As the sacred writers could not be deceived themselves, so they neither could nor would deceive others. They were so many in number, and lived at such a distance of time and place from each other, that it was utterly impossible for them to carry on any forgery or fraud without being detected; and the writers of the New Testament, in particular, were plain, honest, artless, unlearned men, in very humble occupations of life, and utterly incapable of carrying on such a refined and complicated system of fraud, as the Christian religion must have been, if it was not true. The principal facts and events themselves are of such a nature as totally precludes the possibility of imposition; facts which appeal to the very senses of the men to whom
have persuaded a body of six hundred thousand men (to whom he appeals for the truth and reality of those facts, Deut. xi. 2.) that they had seen rivers turned into blood,―frogs filling the houses of the Egyptians,—their fields destroyed by hail and locusts,-their land covered with palpable darkness, their first-born slain in one night,-the Red Sea forming a wall on the right hand and left for the passage of the Israelites, but overwhelming their enemies,-a pillar of cloud and fire conducting them,—manna falling down from heaven for their food,-water gushing out of the rock to quench their thirst,-and the earth opening and destroying his opponents, if all these things had been false. Nor could the Evangelical historians have succeeded in persuading their countrymen and contemporaries, that a man, whose death was public and notorious, was risen again from the dead, that darkness had covered the land at the time of his execution, and that there had been an earthquake at the moment of his decease, if all these events had not taken place. And, as it is thus evident, that the sacred writers could not possibly impose upon others; so it is equally certain that they would not make the attempt. The whole tenor of their lives demonstrated, as even their bitterest enemies have confessed, that they were men of piety and integrity; and they could have no possible motive to induce them to propagate a deliberate falsehood. They sought neither riches nor glory; and their writings bear the most unequivocal marks of veracity, candour, and impartiality. They use no panegyric or flattery; they offer no palliation for their own frailties and follies; they conceal nothing; they alter nothing, however disgraceful to their heroes and sovereigns, to their own nation, or to` themselves. How then can they be supposed capable of so gross an imposition as that of asserting and propagating the most impudent fictions? The writers of the New Testament especially could gain by it neither pleasure, profit, nor power. On the contrary, it brought upon them the most dreadful evils, and even death itself. If, therefore, they were cheats, they were cheats without any motive,