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The contents of the first part of this volume form the substance of the article CHRISTIANITY, in the EDINBURGH ENCYCLOPÆDIA. Its appearance is due to the liberality of the Proprietors of that Work-nor did the Author conceive the purpose of presenting it to the world in another shape, till he was permitted and advised by them to republish it in a separate form. It is chiefly confined to the exposition of the historical argument for the truth of Christianity; and the aim of the Author is fulfilled if he has succeeded in proving the external testimony to be so sufficient, as to leave Infidelity without excuse, even though the remaining important branches of the Christian defence had been less strong and satisfactory than they are. "The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me." "And if I had not done the works among them which none other man did, they had not had sin."
The Author is far from asserting the study of the historical evidence to be the only channel to a faith in the truth of Christianity. How could he, in the face of the obvious fact, that there are thousands and thousands of Christians, who bear the most undeniable marks of the truth having come home to their understanding "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power?" They have an evidence within themselves, which the world knoweth not, even the promised manifestations of the Saviour. This evidence is a “sign to them that believe;" but the Bible speaks also of a "sign to them which believe not;' and should it be effectual in reclaiming any of these from their infidelity, a mighty object is gained by the exhibition of it. Should it not be effectual, it will be to them “a savour of death unto death ;" and this is one of the very effects ascribed to the proclamation of Christian truth in the first ages. If, even in the face of that kind of evidence, which they have a relish and respect for, they still hold out against the reception of the Gospel, this must aggravate the weight of the threatening which lies upon them; “How shall they escape, if they neglect so great a salvation ?".
It will be a great satisfaction to the writer of the following pages, if any shall rise from the perusal of them with a stronger determination than before to take his Christianity exclusively from his Bible. It is not enough to entitle a man to the name of a Christian, that he professes to believe the Bible to be a genuine communication from God. To be the disciple of any book, he must do something more than satisfy himself that its contents are true-he must read the book-he must obtain a knowledge of the contents. And how many are there in the world, who do not call the truth of the Bible message in question, while they suffer it to lie beside them unopened, unread, and unattended to!
EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY.
On the Principles of Historical Evidence, and their Application to the Question
of the Truth of Christianity.
WERE a verbal communication to come of that communication. We may know and to us from a person at a distance, there are appreciate the natural signs of veracity. two ways in which we might try to satisfy There is a tone, and a manner characterourselves, that this was a true communica- ( istic of honesty, which may be both inteltion, and that there was no imposition in | ligible and convincing. There may be a the affair. We might either sit in examina- concurrence of several messengers. There tion upon the substance of the message; may be their substantial agreement. There and then from what we knew of the person may be the total want of any thing like from whom it professed to come, judge concert or collusion among them. There whether it was probable that such a mes may be their determined and unanimous sage would be sent by him; or we may sit perseverance, in spite of all the incredulity in examination upon the credibility of the and all the opposition which they meet messengers,
with. The subject of the communication It is evident, that in carrying on the first may be most unpalatable to us; and we examination, we might be subject to very may be so unreasonable, as to wreak our great uncertainty. The professed author unpleasant feeling upon the bearers of it. In of the communication in question may live this way, they may not only have no earthly at such a distance from us, that we may interest to deceive us, but have the strongest never have it in our power to verify his mes- | inducement possible to abstain from insisting sage by any personal conversation with him. upon that message which they were charged We may be so far ignorant of his character to deliver. Last of all, as the conclusive seal and designs, as to be unqualified to judge of their authenticity, they may all agree in of the kind of communication that should giving us a watchword, which we previously proceed from him. To estimate aright the knew could be given by none but their masprobable authenticity of the message from ter; and which none but his messengers What we know of its author, would require could ever obtain the possession of. In this an acquaintance with his plans, and views, way, unfruitful as all our efforts may have and circumstances, of which we may not been upon the first subject of examination. be in possession. We may bring the great-we may derive from the second the most est degree of sagacity to this investigation; decisive evidence, that the message in quesbut then the highest sagacity is of no avail, tion is a real message, and was actually when there is an unsufficiency of data. Our transmitted to us by its professed author. mgenuity may be unbounded; but then we Now, this consideration applies in all its may want the materials. The principle parts to a message from God. The arguwhich we assume may be untrue in itself, ment for the truth of this message resolves and therefore may be fallacious in its appli- itself into the same two topics of examina
tion. We may sit in judgment upon the Thus, we may derive very little light subject of the message ; or we may sit in from our first argument. But there is still judgment upon the credibility of its bearers. a second in reserve.--the credibility of the The first forms a great part of that armessengers. We may be no judges of the gument for the truth of the Christian relikind of communication which is natural, or gion, which comes under the head of its dikely to proceed from a person with whom | internal evidences. The substance of the we are but imperfectly acquainted; but we message is neither more nor less, than that may be very competent judges of the degree particular scheme of the divine economy
faith that is to be reposed in the bearerswhich is revealed to us in the New Testa
tament; and the point of inquiry is, whether with those to whom the message was origithis scheme be consistent with that know- nally addressed. They had personal acledge of God and his attributes which we cess to the messengers; and the evidences of are previously in possession of ?
their veracity lay before them. They were It appears to many, that no effectual ar- the eye and ear-witnesses of those facts gument can be founded upon this consider-which occurred at the commencement of ation, because they do not count themselves the Christian religion, and upon which its enough acquainted with the designs or cha-credibility rests. What met their observaracter of the being from whom the message tion must have been enough to satisfy them; professes to have come. Were the author but we live at the distance of nearly 2000 of the message some distant and unknown years, and is there enough to satisfy us? individual of our own species, we would Those facts, which constitute the evidence scarcely be entitled to found an argument for Christianity, might have been credible upon any comparison of ours, betwixt the and convincing to them, if they really saw import of the message and the character of them; but is there any way by which they the individual, even though we had our can be rendered credible and convincing to general experience of human nature to help us, who only read of them? What is the us in the speculation. Now, of the invisible expedient by which the knowledge and beGod, we have no experience whatever. We lief of the men of other times can be transare still further removed from all direct and mitted to posterity ? Can we distinguish personal observation of him or of his coun- between a corrupt and a faithful transmissels. Whether we think of the eternity of sion? Have we evidence before us, by his government, or the mighty range of its which we can ascertain what was the belief influence over the wide departments of na- of those to whom the message was first ture and providence, he stands at such a dis- communicated ? And can the belief which tance from us, as to make the management existed in their minds be derived to ours, of his empire a subject inaccessible to all by our sitting in judgment upon the reaour faculties.
sons which produced it ? It is evident, however, that this does not The surest way in which the belief and apply to the second topic of examination. knowledge of the men of former ages can The bearers of the message were beings like be transmitted to their descendants, is ourselves; and we can apply our safe and through the medium of written testimony; certain experience of man to their conduct and it is fortunate for us, that the records and testimony. We may know too little of the Christian religion are not the only of God, to found any argument upon the historical documents which have come down coincidence which we conceive to exist be- to us. A great variety of information has tween the subject of the message and our come down to us in this way; and a great previous conceptions of its author. But we part of that information is as firmly believmay know enough of man to pronounce ed, and as confidently proceeded upon, as upon the credibility of the messengers. | if the thing narrated had happened withHad they the manner and physiognomy of in the limits of our eye-sight. No man honest men? Was their testimony resisted, doubts the invasion of Britain by Julius and did they persevere in it? Had they Cæsar; and no man doubts, therefore, that any interest in fabricating the message; or a conviction of the truth of past events may did they suffer in consequence of this per- be fairly produced in the mind by the inseverance? Did they suffer to such a de- strumentality of a written memorial. This gree, as to constitute a satisfying pledge of is the kind of evidence which is chiefly aptheir integrity? Was there more than one pealed to for the truth of ancient history; messenger, and did they agree as to the and it is counted satisfying evidence for all substance of that communication which that part of it, which is received and dethey made to the world? Did they exhibit pended upon. any special mark of their office as the mes. In laying before the reader, then, the evisengers of God; such a mark as none but dence for the truth of Christianity, we do God could give, and none but his approved not call his mind to any singular or unpremessengers could obtain the possession of? cedented exercises of its faculties. We call Was this mark the power of working mira- him to pronounce upon the credibility of cles; and were these miracles so obviously written documents, which profess to have addressed to the senses, as to leave no sus- been published at a certain age, and by cerpicion of deceit behind them ? These are tain authors. The inquiry involves in it no questions which we feel our competency to principle which is not appealed to every day take up, and to decide upon. They lie with- in questions of ordinary criticism. To sit in the legitimate boundaries of human obser- in judginent on the credibility of a written vation; and upon the solution of these do document, is a frequent and familiar exerwe rest the question of the truth of the cise of the understanding with literary men. Christian religion.
It is fortunate for the human mind, when This, then, is the state of the question so interesting a question as its religious faith
with those to whom the message was orig-
Those facts, which constitute the evidence
dis- communicated ? And can the belief which
sons which produced it ?
the ) historical documents which have come down
our come down to us in this way; and a great
can be placed under the tribunal of such clusions the most painful and melancholy. evidence as it is competent to pronounce He should train his mind to all the hardihood upon. It was fortunate for those to whom of abstract and unfeeling intelligence. He Christianity (a professed communication should give up every thing to the supremafrom heaven) was first addressed, that they cy of argument, and be able to renounce, could decide upon the genuineness of the without a sigh, all the tenderest possessions communication by such familiar and every-of infancy, the moment that truth demands day principles, as the marks of truth or false- of him the sacrifice. Let it be remembered, hood in the human bearers of that commu- however, that while one species of prejunication. And it is fortunate for us that dice operates in favour of Christianity, when, after that communication has assu- another prejudice operates against it. There med the form of a historical document, we is a class of men who are repelled from the can pronounce upon the degree of credit investigation of its evidences, because in which should be attached to it, by the very their minds Christianity is allied with the same exercise of mind which we so confi- / weakness of superstition; and they feel that dently engage in, when sitting in examina- they are descending when they bring down tion upon the other historical documents their attention to a subject which engrosses that have come down to us from antiquity. so much respect and admiration from the
If two historical documents possess equal vulgar. degrees of evidence, they should produce It appears to us, that the peculiar feeling equal degrees of conviction. But if the ob- which the sacredness of the subject gives to ject of the one be to establish some fact the inquirer, is, upon the whole, unfavouraconnected with our religious faith, while the ble to the impression of the Christian arguobject of the other is to establish some fact, ment. Had the subject not been sacred, and about which we feel no other interest than had the same testimony been given to the that general curiosity which is gratified by facts that are connected with it, we are sathe solution of any question in literature, tisfied that the history of Jesus in the New this difference in the object produces a dif- Testament would have been looked upon as ference of effect in the feelings and tenden- | the best supported by evidence of any his
cies of the mind. It is impossible for the tory that has come down to us. It would | mind, while it inquires into the evidence of assist us in appreciating the evidence for
a Christian document, to abstain from all the truth of the gospel history, if we could reference to the important conclusion of the conceive for a moment, that Jesus, instead inquiry. And this will necessarily mingle of being the founder of a new religion, had its influence with the arguments which en- been merely the founder of a new school of gage its attention. It may be of importance philosophy, and that the different histories to attend to the peculiar feelings which are which have come down to us had merely thus given to the investigation, and in how represented him as an extraordinary person, far they have affected the impression of the who had rendered himself illustrious among Christian argument.
his countrymen by the wisdom of his sayWe know it to be the opinion of some, lings, and the beneficence of his actions. that in this way an undue advantage has We venture to say, that nad inis been l been given to that argument. Instead of a case, a tenth part of the testimony which pure question of truth, it has been made a has actually been given, would have been question of sentiment; and the wishes of the enough to satisfy us. Had it been a quesheart have mingled with the exercises of tion of mere erudition, where neither a prethe understanding. There is a class of men dilection in favour of a religion, nor an anwho may feel disposed to overrate its eviden- tipathy against it, could have impressed a ces, because they are anxious to give every bias in any one direction, the testimony, support and stability to a system, which both in weight and in quantity, would have Whey conceive to be most intimately connec- been looked upon as quite unexampled in led with the dearest hopes and wishes of the whole compass of ancient literature. humanity; because their imagination is To form a fair estimate of the strength carried away by the sublimity of its doc- and decisiveness of the Christian argument, trues, or their heart engaged by that amia- we should, if possible, divest ourselves of alí Dle morality which is so much calculated to reference to religion, and view the truth of improve and adorn the face of society. the gospel history, purely as a question of
Now we are ready to admit, that as the erudition. If at the outset of the investigaobject of the inquiry is not the character, tion we have a prejudice against the Chrisput the truth of Christianity, the philosopher tian religion, the effect is obvious; and withbllould be careful to protect his mind from out any refinement of explanation, we see the delusion of its charms. He should sepa- at once how such a prejudice must dispose ate the exercises of the understanding from us to annex suspicion and distrust to the The tendencies of the fancy or of the heart. testimony of the Christian writers. But le should be prepared to follow the light even when the prejudice is on the side of of evidence, though it may lead him to con- Christianity, the effect is unfavourable on a
per- / be fairly produced in the mind by the ini de-strumentality of a written memorial. This e of is the kind of evidence which is chiefly apone/pealed to for the truth of ancient history; the and it is counted satisfying evidence for all nich/ that part of it, which is received and deuibit pended upon. nes-/ In laying before the reader, then, the evi.
but/dence for the truth of Christianity, we do wed / not call his mind to any singular or unpre
of? | cedented exercises of its faculties. We cal ira-him to pronounce upon the credibility of 15/\ / written documents, which process to have sus been published at a certain age, and by cerare/ tain authors. The inquiry involves 1 DO ( to principle which is not appealed to every day ith-in questions of ordinary criticism. To st verin judgment on the credibility of a written
do/document, is a frequent and familiar exerthecise of the understanding with literary men. It is fortunate for the human mind, when
osting a question as its religious full