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There is nothing in all this, but what may appear to carry great Reason and Evidence in it, to any Man of common sound Understanding. And it is easy to apply this to the Facts upon which the Christian Religion is founded.
The Accounts of these Facts are transmitted to us in the best and properest way, in which past Facts could be transmitted; that is, in Records written by Persons who profess to have been Witnesses to them, and who appear to have been perfectly well-acquainted with the Facts they relate. And an honest, tho' unlearned Man, may, by consulting those Records, without entering into any nice historical Disquisitions, find great reason to believe, that the Accounts there given of those extraordinary Facts are true, and to be depended on. Upon an attentive considering them, he finds all the Characters of Sincerity, and an impartial Regard to Truth, that can be desired in such Writings: He finds enough to convince him, that the Writers of them were excellent Persons, of great Probity and Simplicity, and who appear to have had no worldly Interests in view, nothing but the Glory of God, and the Good of Mankind, and whole whole Character and Conduct seems to have been the most remote from that of Impostors, that can be imagined. And this furnishes a good Argument, to convince his Reason, that such excellent Persons could never be guilty of such a solemn Imposture, such deliberate Villainy, as to have contrived-such a Series of extraordinary Facts and miraculous Attestations, and to have endeavoured to Impose them upon the World in the Name of God, even if it had been in their power to have done so. And there is no reason to think they could have done it, if they had been ever so willing, considering the Circumstances they were in, the Power and Malice of their Enemies, and the Nature of the Facts themselves; many of which were such, that it would have been the easiest thing in the world to have detected and exposed them, if they had not been true.
It greatly strengthens this, when he considers the Nature of the Religion that is taught in those Writings, and which is closely connected with the Facts there related. He plainly finds, that in that Religion, as laid down in those Writings, there are not the least Marks of worldly Ambition, Avarice, or Sensuality, nor any thing to flatter the corrupt Appetites and Inclinations of Men j that there is an uniform Spirit of Piety, Zeal, and Charity, running through the whole; that its Doctrines and Precepts arc unquestionably pure and holy, aud of the most excellent Tendency; that the Practice of Righteousness and Virtue is there carried to the noblest height, and inforced by the most important Motives j that it strongly condemns all Falshood and Impurity, and denounces the Wrath of God against all Ungodliness and Unrighteousness of Men. In a word, that the governing End of all seems to be the Glory of God, the Good of Mankind, and the promoting the Cause of Truth and Holiness in the World. This furnishes an obvious Argument, of great force and strength to convince him, that such a Religion, with the Facts on which it is founded, and which it necesiarily supposes, and
every every where resers to, was not the Contrivance of Impostors and Seducers. Men of such a Character would never have taken such pains to establish such a Religion as this, and that in opposition to all their worldly Interests, and when they thereby exposed tliemselves to the greatest Sufferings, under which they had nothing to support them, but the Hopes of a Reward in another World, which, according to that Religion, if guilty of such deliberate Falstiood and Imposture, they could not expect.
These are very natural and obvious Reflections, the Force of which may be made to appear to any Man of common Understanding, and which without entering into any great Refinements, or tedious Disquisitions, may be of great weight to Convince him, that the Writings which contain the original Records of Christianity, and the Facts by which it was attested, are to be depended upon.
But besides this, if he pursues his Enquiries, he may easily find, that there are some general Facts relating to those Matters, which are universally acknowledged, and which no Man was ever so absurd as to deny. That there were such Persons as Jesus Christ and his Apostles, can no more reasonably be doubted than that there are Christians now in the World. And that Christ declared himself to be an extraordinary Person sent of God, that he professed to do many wonderful Works, and to instruct Mankind in Religion, and that he was crucified, is what the Heathens and Jews, the most virulent Enemies of Christianity, never pretended to deny.
I 2 And And that his Apostles went abroad through the Nations after his Death, and published to the World that he was risen from the dead, and afcended up into Heaven, of which they declared themselves to have been Eye-witnesses; and that they prosessed to deliver the Religion they received from him, and pretended to work Miracles in his Name, is capable of as good Proof as that there were such Persons as the Apostles: Nor do the greatest Enemies of Christianity attempt to contest this. And it is also a Fact that cannot, with any shadow of Reason, be contested; and which is capable of the clearest Proof even from the Testimony of Heathen Writers now extant, and some of which are translated into our own Tongue *, that great Numbers of Persons in that very Age became Christians, j. e. received that Jesus who had been ignominioufly crucified by the Romans and Jews, as their Saviour and their Lord: And that the Religion founded by him and his Apostles, though contrary to the most favourite Prejudices and Paslions both of Jews and Gentiles, prevailed and spread in a short time to a wonderful degree, though it had the greatest Opposition made to it, and no worldly Advantages to recommend it. These are Facts which are so clear and certain, that a Man may as reasonably doubt of all past Facts whatsoever as doubt of them. And upon considering these things, it is natural to reflect, that there must have been something very extraordinary in the Evidence, that could induce such Numbers of Persons,
* Particularly Suetonius, in the Lise of Nero; Tacitus, in the Fifteenth Book of his Annals; and Pliny, in the Tenth Book of his Mfistlcs, Epilt. 97.
sons, at a time when they had the best Opportunities of knowing the Truth of those things, to, embrace the Faith of a crucified Jesus, in opposition to their darling Prejudices and worldly Inte^ rests. And this again makes the Account credible, that is given in those original Records, of the Evidence whereby Persons were brought to believe in Jesus, and to embrace his Religion; an Evidence arising from a Series of such extraordinary and illustrious Attestations, as demonstrated Jesus, who was crucified, to be sent of God, and the Religion published by him and his Apostles, to be divine. On such a View of things, the wonderful Progress of that Religion in such Circumstances, and the Zeal and Constancy of its first Professors and Adherents, may be well accounted for, which otherwife could hardly be done. And this, added to the Reflections just mentioned, arising from the Character of the Writings themselves, and the Nature of the Religion there contained, helps to set the Truth of the main Facts, on which that Religion was founded, in a yet stronger light.
It is no small Confirmation of all this, that it can be proved with great Evidence, enough to satisfy any reasonable Mind, that these Writings that contain the original Records of Christianity, have been and are still extant, and their Authority has been acknowledged from the Time in which Christianity was first founded, to the present Age. Never were there Writings that were dispersed into so many hands, or that were so frequently appealed to by Men of different Sects and Parties, on so many different Occasions. Not one Age hath passed