THE DIVINE AUTHORITY AND SUFFICIENCY OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION.
" Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house, for I have five brethren, that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets ; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."—Luke, xvi. 27-31.
What Micah said superstitiously, when he was robbed of his idols, Ye have taken away my gods, and what have I more ? may be truly spoken with regard to the religion of Jesus. If that be taken from us, what have we more? The generality of you owe all your hopes of a glorious immortality to this heaven-born religion, and you make it the rule of your faith and practice, confident that in so doing you please God.
But what if after all you should be mistaken ? What if the religion of Jesus should be an imposture ? I know you are struck with horror at the thought, and perhaps alarmed at my making so shocking a supposition. But this suspicion, horrid as it is, has probably been suggested to you at times by infernal agency; this suspicion may at times have risen in your minds in their wanton and licentious excursions, or from false alarms of a melancholy and timorous imagination: and if this suspicion has never been raised in you by the sophistical conversation of loose wits and affected rationalists, it has been owing to your happy retirement from the polite world, where infidelity makes extensive conquests, under the specious name of deism. Since therefore you are subject to an assault from such a suspicion, when you may not be armed ready to repel it, let me this day start it from its ambush, that I may try the force of a few arguments upon it, and furnish you with weapons to conquer it.
Let me also tell you, that that faith in the Christian religion which proceeds from insufficient or bad principles, is but little better than infidelity. If you believe the Christian religion to be divine, because you hardly care whether it be true or false, being utterly unconcerned about religion in any shape, and therefore never examining the matter; if you believe it true, because you have been educated in it; because your parents or ministers have told you so; or because it is the religion of your country; if these are the only grounds of your faith, it is not such a faith as constitutes you true Christians; for upon the very same grounds you would have been Mahometans in Turkey, disciples of Confucius in China, or worshipers of the devil among the Indians, if it had been your unhappy lot to be born in those countries; for a Mahometan, or a Chinese, or an Indian, can assign these grounds for his faith. Surely, I need not tell you, that the grounds of a mistaken belief in an imposture, are not a sufficient foundation for a saving faith in a divine revelation.
My text is a parabolical dialogue between Abraham and one of his wretched posterity, once rioting in the luxuries of high life, but now tormented in infernal flames. We read of his brethren in his father's house. Among these probably his estate was divided upon his decease; from whence we may infer that he had no children; for had he had any, it would have been more natural to represent him as solicitous for their reformation by a messenger from the dead, than for that of his brothers. He seems, therefore, like some of our unhappy modern rakes, just to have come to his estate, and to have abandoned himself to such a course of debaucheries as soon shattered his constitution, and brought him down to the grave, and alas! to hell, in the bloom of life, when they were far from his thoughts. Maythis be a warning to all of his age and circumstances.
Whether, from some remaining affection to his brethren, or (which is more likely) from a fear that they who had shared with him in sin would increase his torment, should they descend to him in the infernal prison, he is solicitous that Lazarus might be sent as an apostle from the dead to warn them. His petition is to this purpose: "Since no request in my own favour can be granted; since I cannot obtain the poor favour of a drop of water to cool my tongue, let me at least make one request in behalf of those that are yet in the land of hope, and not beyond the reach of mercy. In my father's house I have five brethren, gay, thoughtless, young creatures, who are now rioting in those riches I was forced to leave, who interred my mouldering corpse in state, little apprehensive of the doom of my immortal part; who are now treading the same enchanting paths of pleasure I walked in; and will, unless reclaimed, soon descend, like me, thoughtless and unprepared, into those doleful regions: I therefore pray, that thou wouldst send Lazarus to alarm them in their wild career, with an account of my dreadful doom, and inform them of the reality and importance of everlasting happiness and misery, that they may reform, and so avoid this place of torment whence I can never escape."
Abraham's answer may be thus paraphrased: "If thy brethren perish, it will not be for want of means; they enjoy the sacred scriptures of the Old Testament, written by Moses and the prophets ; and these are sufficient to inform them of the necessary truths to regulate their practice, and particularly to warn them of everlasting punishment! Let them, therefore, hear and regard, study and obey, those writings ; for they need no further means for their salvation."
To this the wretched creature replies, "Nay, father Abraham, these means will not avail; I enjoyed them all; and here I am, a lost soul; and I am afraid they will have as little effect upon them as they had upon me. These means are common and familiar, and therefore disregarded. But if one arose from the dead, if an apostle from the invisible world was sent to them, to declare as an eye-witness the great things he has seen, surely they will repent. The novelty and the terror of the apparition would alarm them. Their senses would be struck with so unusual a messenger, and they would be convinced of the reality of eternal things; therefore I must renew my request; send Lazarus to them in all the pomp of heavenly splendor; Lazarus whom they once knew in so abject a condition, and whom they will therefore the more regard, when they see him appear in all his present glory."
Thus the miserable creature pleads, but, alas! he pleads in vain.
Abraham continues inexorable, and gives a very good reason for his denial: "If they pay no regard to the writings of Moses and the prophets, the standing revelation God has left in his church, it would be to no purpose to give them another; they would not be persuaded though one rose from the dead: the same disposition that renders them deaf to such messengers as Moses and the prophets, would also render them impersuasible by a messenger from the dead. Such a one might strike them with a panic, but it would soon be over, and then they would return to their usual round of pleasures; they would presently think the apparition was the creature of their own imagination, or some unaccountable illusion of their senses. If one arose from the dead, he could but declare the same things substantially with Mos.es and the prophets; and he could not speak with greater authority, or give better credentials than they; and therefore they who are not benefited by these standing means must be given up as desperate; and God, for very good reasons, will not multiply new revelations to them."
This answer of Abraham was exemplified when another Lazarus was raised from the dead in the very sight of the Jews, and Christ burst the bands of death, and gave them incontestable evidences of his resurrection; and yet after all they were not persuaded, but persisted in invincible infidelity.
This parable was spoken before any part of the New Testament was written, and added to the sacred canon; and if it might be then asserted, that the standing revelation of God's will was sufficient, and that it was needless to demand further, then much more may it be asserted now, when the canon of the Scriptures is completed, and we have received so much additional fight from the New Testament. We have not only Moses and the prophets, but we have also Christ, who is a messenger from the dead, and his apostles; and therefore, surely, "if we do not hear them, neither will we be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." The gospel is the last effort of the grace of God with a guilty world; and if this has no effect upon us, our disease is incurable that refuses to be healed.
I cannot insist upon all the important truths contained in this copious text, but only design,
I. To show the sufficiency of the standing revelation of God's will in the Scriptures, to bring men to repentance; and,
II. To expose the vanity and unreasonableness of the objections against this revelation, and of demanding another.
I. I am to show the sufficiency of the standing revelation in the Scriptures, to bring men to repentance.
If the Scriptures give us sufficient instructions in matters of faith, and sufficient directions in matters of practice, if they are attended with sufficient evidences for our faith, and produce sufficient excitements to influence our practice, then they contain a sufficient revelation; for it is for these purposes we need a revelation, and a revelation that answers these purposes has the directest tendency to make us truly religious, and bring us to a happy immortality. But that the revelation in the Scriptures (particularly in the New Testament, which I shall more immediately consider as being the immediate foundation of Christianity) is sufficient for these purposes, will be evident from an induction of particulars.
1. The Scriptures give us sufficient instructions what we should believe, or are a sufficient rule of faith.
Religion cannot subsist without right notions of God and divine things; and entire ignorance or mistakes in its fundamental articles must be destructive of its nature; and therefore a divine revelation must be a collection of rays of light, a system of divine knowledge; and such we find the Christian revelation to be, as contained in the sacred writings.
In the Scriptures we have the clearest and most majestic account of the nature and perfections of the Deity, and of his being the Creator, Ruler, and Benefactor of the universe; to whom, therefore, all reasonable beings are under infinite obligations. In the Scriptures we have an account of the present state of human nature, as degenerate, and a more rational and easy account of its apostasy, than could ever be given by the light of nature. In the Scriptures, too, we have the welcome account of a method of recovery from the ruins of our apostasy, through the mediation of the Son of God; there we have the assurance which we could find nowhere else, that God is reconcilable, and willing to pardon penitents upon the account of the obedience and sufferings of Christ. There all our anxious inquiries, Wherewitli shall I come before the Lord; or bow myself before the most high God ? are satisfactorily answered; and there the agonizing conscience can obtain relief, which might have sought in vain among all the other religions in the world.
In the Scriptures also, eternity and the invisible worlds are laid open to our view, and "life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel." There we are assured of the state of future rewards and punishments, according to our conduct in this state of probation; and the nature, perfection, and duration of the happiness and misery are described with as much accuracy as are necessary to engage us to seek the one and shun the other.
2. The Holy Scriptures give us complete directions in matters of practice, or are a sufficient rule of life. A divine revelation must not be calculated merely to amuse us, and gratify our curiosity with sublime and refined notions and speculations, but adapted to direct and regulate our practice, and render us better as well as wiser.
Accordingly, the sacred writings give us a complete system of practical religion and morality. There, not only all the duties of natural religion are inculcated, but several important duties, as love to our enemies, humility, &c., are clearly discovered, which the feeble light of reason in the heathen moralists did either not perceive at all, or but very faintly. In short, there we are informed of our duties towards God, towards our neighbors, and towards ourselves. The Scriptures are full of particular inj unctions and directions to particular duties, lest we should not be sagacious enough to infer them from general rules ; and sometimes all these duties are summed up in some short maxim or general rule, which we may easily remember, and always carry about with us. Such a noble summary is that which Christ has given us of the whole moral law : " Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, &c., and thy neighbor as thyself;" or that all-comprehending rule of our conduct towards one another: " Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye the same unto them." And by whom was this vast treasure of knowledge laid up to enrich the world ? by whom were these matchless writings composed, which furnish us with a system of religion and morality so much more plain, so much more perfect, than all the famous sages of antiquity could frame ? Why, to our astonishment, they were composed by a company of fishermen, or persons not much superior; by persons generally without any liberal education; persons who had not devoted their lives to intellectual improvement; persons of no extraordinary natural parts, and who had never traveled, like the ancient philosophers, to gather up fragments of knowledge in different countries, but who lived in Judea, a country where learning was but little cultivated, in comparison of Greece and Rome. These were the most accomplished teachers of mankind that ever appeared in the world. And can this be accounted for, without acknowledging their inspiration from heaven ? If human reason could have made such discoveries, surely it would have made them by those in whom it was improved to the greatest perfection, and not by a company of ignorant mechanics.
3. The Scriptures are attended with sufficient evidences of their truth and divinity.
It is certain that as God can accept no worship than rational from reasonable creatures, he cannot require us to believe a revelation to be divine without sufficient reason; and therefore when he gives us a revelation, he will attest it with such evidences as will be a sufficient foundation of our belief.
Accordingly, the Scriptures are attested with all the evidence, intrinsic and extrinsic, which we can reasonably desire, and with all the evidences the nature of the thing will admit.
As for intrinsic evidences, many might be mentioned; but I must at present confine myself in proper limits. I shall resume the one I have already hinted at, namely, that the religion of the Bible has the directest tendency to promote true piety and solid virtue in the world: it is such a religion as becomes a God to reveal; such a religion as we might expect from him in case he instituted any; a religion intended and adapted to regulate self-love, and to diffuse the love of God and man through the world; the only generous principles and vigorous springs of a suitable conduct towards God, towards one another, and towards ourselves; a religion productive of every humane, social, and divine virtue, and directly calculated to banish all sin out of the world; to transform impiety into devotion; injustice and oppression into equity and universal benevolence; and sensuality into sobriety—a religion infinitely preferable to any that has been contrived by the wisest and best of mortals. And whence do ye think could this godlike religion proceed? Does not its nature prove its origin divine? Does it not evidently bear the lineaments of its heavenly Parent? can you once imagine that such a pure, such a holy, such a perfect system, could be the contrivance of wicked, infernal spirits, of selfish, artful priests, or politicians, or of a parcel of daring impostors, or wild enthusiasts ? If you can believe this, you may also believe that light is the product of darkness, virtue of vice, good of evil.
Another intrinsic evidence is that of prophecy. Those future events which are contingent, or which shall be accomplished by causes that do not now exist or appear, cannot be certainly foreknown or foretold by man, as we find by our own experience. Such objects fall within the compass of omniscience only; and therefore when short-sighted mortals are enabled to predict such events many years, and even ages, before they happen, it is a certain evidence that they are let into the secrets of heaven, and that God communicates to them a knowledge which cannot be acquired by the most sagacious human mind; and this is an evidence that the persons thus divinely taught are the messengers of God, to declare his will to the world.
Now there are numberless instances of such prophecies in the sacred writings. Thus a prophet foretold the destruction of Jeroboam's altar by the good Josiah, many ages before. 1 Kings, xiii. 2. Cyrus was foretold by name as the restorer of the Jews from Babylon, to rebuild their temple and city, about a hundred years before he was born. Isaiah, xlv. 1, &c. But the most remarkable prophecies of the Old Testament are those relating to the Messiah; which are so numerous and full, that they might serve for materials of his history. Gen. xlix. 10; Hag. ii. 7; Mai. iii. 2; Dan. ix. 24, &c. " •
The history of the life of Jesus and his apostles is one continued series of miracles. Sight was restored to the blind, the deaf were enabled to hear, the lame to walk, the maimed furnished with new-created limbs, the sick healed, the rage of winds and seas controlled, yea, the dead were raised, and all this with an air of sovereignty, such as became a God.
Another extrinsic evidence of the truth of Christianity is its extensive propagation through the world in the most unpromising circumstances.
The only religion, besides the Christian, which has had any very considerable spread in the world is that of Mahomet ; but we may easily account for this, without supposing it divine, from its nature, as indulging the lusts of men; and especially from the manner of its propagation, not by the force of evidence, but by the force of arms. But the circumstances of the propagation of Christianity were quite otherwise, whether we consider its contrariety to the corruptions, prejudices, and interests of men; the easiness of detecting it, had it been false; the violent opposition it met with from all the powers of the earth ; the instruments of its propagation ; or the measures they took for that purpose. Christianity was directly contrary to the corruptions, prejudices, and interests of mankind. It grants no indulgence to the corrupt propensions of a degenerate world, but requires that universal holiness of heart and life which, as we find by daily observation, is so ungrateful to them, and which is the principal reason that the religion of Jesus meets with so much contempt and opposition in every age.
When Christianity was first propagated, all nations had been educated in some other religion: the Jews were attached to Moses, and the Gentiles to their various systems of heathenism, and were all of them very zealous for their own religion; but Christianity proposed a new scheme, and could not take place without antiquating or exploring all other religions; and therefore it was contrary to the inveterate prejudices of all mankind, and could never have been so generally received, if it had not brought with it the most evident credentials. There was a powerful party in every nation, and they would exert themselves to prevent the spread of an innovation so dangerous to their interest, which we find by all histories of those times they actually did. And yet the despised religion of Jesus triumphed over their opposition, and maintained its credit in spite of all their endeavors to detect it as an imposture; and this proves that it was not an imposture; for, in the next place, it was easy to have detected Christianity as an imposture, nay, it was impossible it should not have been detected, if it had been such; for the great facts upon which the evidence of it rested were said to be obvious and public, done before thousands and in all countries. Thousands must know whether Christ had fed many with provisions only sufficient for a few; whether Lazarus was raised from the dead; whether the Apostles spoke with tongues to the various nations among whom they endeavored to propagate their religion. These things and many others, upon which the evidence of Christianity depends, were public in their own nature; and therefore, if they had not been matters of fact, the cheat must have been unavoidably detected.
Further,—Christianity met with the most strenuous opposition from all the powers of the earth. The Jews were implacable enemies, and as they lived on the spot where its miraculous attestations were said to be given, it was in their power to have crushed it in its birth, had it not been attended with such invincible evidence. All the power of the Roman empire was also exerted for its extirpation; and its propagators could expect no profit or pleasure by it, but were assured, from daily experience and from the predictions of their Master, that they should meet with shame, persecution, and death itself; and in the next world they could expect nothing but eternal damnation if they were impostors; and yet, in spite of all these discouragements they persisted in their testimonies, though they might have secured their lives and helped their fortunes by retracting it:—nay, their testimony prevailed, in spite of all opposition; multitudes in all nations then known embraced the faith, though they expected tortures and death for it; and in a few centuries the Roman empire submitted to the religion of a crucified Jesus.
And who were those mighty heroes that then triumphed over the world?
Why, to our surprise, the instruments of the propagation of Christianity were a company of poor mechanics, publicans, tentmakers, and fishermen, from the despised nation of the Jews!
And by what strange powers or arts did they make these extensive conquests ?
The measures they took were a plain declaration of their religion; and they wrought miracles for its confirmation. They did not use the power of the sword, or secular terrors, or bribery; they were without learning, without the arts of reasoning and persuasion; and without all the usual artifice of seducers to gain credit to their imposture.
Here I cannot but take particular notice of that matchless simplicity that appears in the history of Christ and his apostles. The evangelists write in that artless, calm, and unguarded manner, which is natural to persons confident of the undeniable truth of what they assert; they do not write with that scrupulous caution which would argue any fear that they might be confuted. They simply relate the naked facts, and leave them to stand upon their own evidence. They relate the most amazing, the most moving things, with the most cool serenity—without any passionate exclamations and warm reflections. For example, they relate the most astonishing miracles, as the resurrection of Lazarus, in the most simple, and, as it were, careless manner, without breaking out and celebrating the divine power of Christ. In the same manner they relate the most tragical circumstances of his condemnation and death, calmly mentioning matter of fact, without any invectives against the Jews, without any high eulogies upon Christ's innocence, without any rapturous celebration of his grace in suffering all these things for sinners, and without any tender lamentations over their deceased Master. It is impossible for a heart so deeply impressed with such things, as theirs undoubtedly were, to retain this dispassionate serenity, unless laid under supernatural restraints; and there appears very good reasons for this restraint upon them, viz., that the gospel history might carry intrinsic evidences of its simplicity and artless impartiality; and that it might appear adapted to convince the judgments of men, and not merely to raise their passions. In this respect, the gospel history is distinguished from all histories in the world: and can we think so plain, so undisguised, so artless a composure, the contrivance of designing impostors ? Would not a consciousness that they might be detected keep them more upon their guard, and make them more ready to anticipate and confine objections, and take every artifice to recommend their cause, and prepossess the reader in its favor ?
Thus I have hinted at a few things among the many that might be mentioned to prove the divinity of the religion of Jesus, and its sufficiency to bring men to repentance and salvation. And if it be so, why should it be rejected, or another sought? This reminds me that I promised,
II. To expose the vanity and unreasonableness of the objections against the Christian religion, or of demanding another, &c. What can our ingenious infidels offer against what has been said ? It must be something very weighty indeed to preponderate all this evidence. A laugh, or a sneer, a pert witticism, declaiming against priestcraft and the prejudices of education, artful evasions, and shallow sophisms, the usual arguments of our pretended freethinkers, these will not suffice to banter us out of our joyful confidence of the divinity of Jesus; and I may add, these will not suffice to indemnify them. Nothing will be sufficient for this, but demonstration. It lies upon them to prove the Christian religion to be certainly false; otherwise, unless they are hardened to a prodigy, they must be racked with anxious fears lest they should find it true to their cost, and lest that dismal threatening should stand against them: " He that believeth not, shall be damned." What mighty objections, then, have they to offer? Will they say that the Christian religion contains mysterious doctrines which they cannot comprehend, which seem to them unaccountable—as that of the trinity, the incarnation, and satisfaction of Christ, &c. ? But will they advance their understanding to be the universal standard of truth ? Will they pretend to comprehend the infinite God in their finite minds ? then let them go, and measure the heavens with a span, and comprehend the ocean in the hollow of their hand. Will they pretend to understand the divine nature, when they cannot understand their own ? when they cannot account for or explain the union betwixt their own souls and bodies ? Will they reject mysteries in Christianity when they must own them in every thing else ? Let them first solve all the phenomena in nature; let them give us u rational theory of the infinite divisibility of a piece of finite matter; let them account for the seemingly magical operation of the loadstone; the circulation of the blood upwards as well as downwards, contrary to all the laws of motion; let them tell us, how spirits can receive ideas from material organs; how they hear and see, &c. Let them give us intelligible theories of these things, and then they may, with something of a better grace, set up for critics upon God and his ways; but, while they are mysteries to themselves, while every particle of matter baffles their understandings, it is the most impious intellectual pride to reject Christianity upon the account of its mysteries, and to set up themselves as the supreme judges of truth.
Will they object the wicked lives of its professors against the holiness and good tendency of Christianity itself? But it is Christianity as taught by Christ and his apostles, and continued in the Bible, that I am proving to be divine? You know that it is the latter, and consequently the poor appearance it makes in the former sense, is no argument against its purity and divinity in this. Again, are the bad lives of professors taught and enjoined by genuine Christianity, and agreeable to it ? No; they are quite contrary to it, and subversive of it; and it is so iar from encouraging such professors, that it pronounces them miserable hypo-, crites; and their doom will be more severe than that of heathens. Further: are there not some of the professors of Christianity who live habitually according to it? who give us the best patterns of piety and virtue that ever were exhibited to the world ? This is sufficient to vindicate the religion they profess, and it is highly injurious to involve such promiscuously in the odium and contempt due to barefaced hypocrites. Or will they change the note, and instead of pleading that Christianity leads to licentiousness, object that it bears too hard upon the pleasures of mankind, and lays them under too severe restraints? Or that its penalties are excessive and cruel ? But does it rob mankind of any pleasures worthy the rational nature, worthy the pursuit of creatures formed for immortality, and consistent with the good of the whole ?
Will they object that miracles are not a sufficient evidence of the truth and divinity of a revelation, because infernal spirits may also work miracles, as in the case of the magicians of Egypt, to confirm an imposture ? But it is known that our freethinkers expunge and laugh at the existence and power of evil spirits in other cases, and therefore must not be allowed to admit them here to serve their turn. However, we grant there are infernal spirits, and that they can perform many things above human power, which appear to us miraculous, and yet the evidence in favor of Christianity taken from miracles stands unshaken; for,
(1.) Can we suppose that these malignant and wicked spirits, whose business it is to seduce men to sin and ruin, would be willing to exert their power to work miracles to confirm so holy a religion, a religion so contrary to their designs, and so subversive of their kingdom and interest ? Or if we should suppose them willing, yet, (2.) Can we think that God, who has them all at his control, would suffer them to counterfeit the great seal of heaven, and annex it to an imposture ? that is, to work such miracles as could not be distinguished from those wrought by him to attest an imposture ? Would he permit them to impose upon mankind in a manner that could not be detected ? This would be to deliver the world to their management, and suffer them to lead them blindfold to hell in unavoidable delusion: for miracles are such dazzling and pompous evidences, that the general run of mankind could not resist them, even though they were wrought to attest a religion that might be demonstrated by a long train of sublime reasoning to be false. God may, indeed, suffer the devil to mimic the miracles wrought by his immediate hand, as in the case of Jannes and Jambres; but then, as in that case, too, he will take care to excel them, and give some distinguishing marks of his almighty ageney, which all mankind may easily discriminate from the utmost exertion of infernal power. But though Satan should be willing, and God should permit him, to work miracles, yet, (3.) Can we suppose that all the united powers of hell are able to work such astonishing miracles as were wrought for the confirmation of the Christian religion ? Can we suppose that they can control the laws of nature at pleasure, and that with an air of sovereignty, and professing themselves the lords of the universe, as we know Christ did? If they could exert a creating power to form new limbs for the maimed, or to multiply five loaves and two fishes into a sufficient quantity of food for five thousand, and leave a greater quantity of fragments when that were done than the whole provision at first, then they might create the world, and support all the creatures in it. If they could animate the dead and remand the separate soul back to its former habitation and reunite it with the body, then I see not why they might not have given life at first. But to suppose this, would be to dethrone the King of heaven, and renounce his providence entirely. "We therefore rest assured that the miracles related in Scripture were wrought by the finger of God.
But our freethinkers will urge, How do we at this distance know that such miracles were actually wrought? they are only related in Scripture history; but to prove the truth of Scripture from arguments that suppose the Scripture true, is a ridiculous method of reasoning, and only a begging of the question. But (1.) the reality of those miracles were granted by the enemies of Christianity in their writings against it; but they had no answer to make, but this sorry one, that they were wrought by the power of magic. They never durst deny that they were wrought; for they knew all the world could prove it. Indeed, an honorable testimony concerning them could not be expected from infidels; for it would be utterly inconsistent that they should own these miracles sufficient attestations of Christianity and yet continue infidels. But,
(2.) As these miracles were of so public a nature, and as so many were concerned to detect them, that they would unavoidably have been detected when related in words, if they had not been done, so, for the same reasons, they could not but have been detected when related in writing; and this we know they never were. If these miracles had not been matters of undoubted fact, they could not have been inserted at first in the gospel-history; for then many thousands in various countries were alive to confute them; and they could not have been introduced into it afterwards, for all the world would see that it was then too late, and that if there had been such things, they should have heard of them before; for they were more necessary for the first propagation of Christianity than for its support when received.
But it may be objected, How can we at this distance know that these histories are genuine? May they not have been corrupted and many additions made to them by designing men in ages since ? And why is it not also asked, how do we know that there were such men as Alexander, Julius Cassar, or King William the Third? How do we know but their histories are all romance and fable ? How do we know there were any generations of mankind before ourselves? In short, How can we know any thing, but what we have seen with our eyes ? We may as well make difficulties of all these things, and so destroy all human testimony, as scruple the genuineness of the sacred writings; for never were any writings conveyed down with so good evidence of their being genuine and uncorrupted as these. Upon their first publication they were put into all hands, they were scattered into all nations, translated into various
languages, and all perused them, either to be taught by them, or to cavil at them. And ever since, they have been quoted by thousands of authors, appealed to by all parties of Christians, as the supreme judge of controversies; and not only the enemies of Christianity have carefully watched them to detect any alterations which pious fraud might attempt to make, but one sect of Christians has kept a watchful eye over the other, lest they should alter any thing in favor of their own cause. And it is matter of astonishment as well as conviction that all the various copies and translations of the Scriptures in different nations and libraries are substantially the same, and differ only in matters of small moment; so that from the worst copy or translation in the world, one might easily learn the substance of Christianity.
Thus I have answered as manysobjections as the bounds of a sermon would admit; and I think they are the principal ones which lie against my subject in the view I have considered it. And as I have not designedly selected the weakest, in order to an easy triumph, you may look upon the answers that have been given as a ground of rational presumption, that other objections may be answered with equal ease. Indeed, if they could not, it would not invalidate the positive arguments in favor of Christianity; for when we have sufficient positive evidence of a thing, we do not reject it because it is attended with some difficulties which we cannot solve.
My time will allow me to make but two or three short reflections upon the whole.
1. If the religion of Jesus be attended with such full evidence, and be sufficient to conduct men to everlasting felicity, then how helpless are they that have enjoyed it all their life without profit: who either reject it as false, or have not felt its power to reform their hearts and lives ? It is the last remedy provided for a guilty world; and if this fails, their disease is incurable, and they are not to expect better means.
2. If the religion of Jesus be true, then woe unto the wicked of all sorts: woe to infidels, both practical and speculative, for all the curses of it are in full force against them, and I need not tell you how dreadful they are.
3. If the religion of Jesus be true, then I congratulate such of you, whose hearts and lives are habitually conformed to it, and who have ventured your everlasting all upon it. You build upon a sure foundation, and your hope shall never make you ashamed.
Finally, let us all strive to become rational and practical believers of this heaven-born religion. Let our understandings be more rationally and thoroughly convinced of its truth; and our hearts and lives be more and more conformed to its purity; and ere long we shall receive those glorious rewards it insures to all its sincere disciples; which may God grant to us all for Jesus' sake, Amen !