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But now, whether Jesus Christ was sent from God and delivered the will of God, we are to take accounts from all the things of the world which were on him, or about him, or from him.
THE DIVINE MISSION OF JESUS VERIFIED BY THREE MOST SINGULAR AND INCONTESTABLE FACTS. THE truth of Christianity depends upon its leading facts, and upon them alone. Now of these we have evidence which ought.to satisfy us, at least until it appear that mankind have ever been deceived by the same. We have some uncontested and incontestable points to which the history of the human species has nothing similar to offer. A Jewish peasant changed the religion of the world, and that without force, without power, without support, without one natural source or circumstance of attraction, influence, or success. Such a thing hath not happened in any other instance. The companions of this person, after he himself had been put to death for this attempt, asserted his supernatural character, founded upon his supernatural operations; and, in testimony of the truth of their assertions, that is, in consequence of their own belief of that truth, and in order to communicate the knowledge of it to others, voluntarily entered upon toils and hardships, and, with a full experience of their danger, committed themselves to the last extremity of persecution. This hath not a parallel.-More particularly, a few days after this person had been publicly executed, and in the very city in which he
was buried, these his companions declared with one voice, that his body was restored to life; that they had seen him, handled him, eat with him, conversed with him; and in pursuance of their persuasion of the truth of what they told, preached his religion, with this strange fact as the foundation of it, in the face of those who had killed him, who were armed with the power of the country, and necessarily and naturally disposed to treat his fol lowers as they had treated himself; and having done this upon the spot where the event took place, carried the intelligence of it abroad, in despite of difficulties and opposition, and where the nature of their errand gave them nothing to expect but derision, insult, and outrage. This is without example. These three facts I think are certain, and would have been nearly so, if the Gospels had never been written. The Christian story as to these points have never varied. No other hath been set up against it. Every letter, every discourse, every controversy, amongst the followers of the religion; every book written by them, from the age of its commencement to the present time, in every part of the world in which it hath been professed, and with every sect into which it hath been divided, (and we have letters and discourses written by contemporaries, by witnesses of the transactions, by persons themselves bearing a share in it, and other writings following that age in regular succession), concur in representing these facts in this manner. A religion, which now posseses the greatest part of the civilized world, unquestionably sprung up at Jerusalem at this time. Some account must be given of its origin; some cause
assigned for its rise. All the accounts of this origin, all the explications of this cause, whether taken from the writings of the early followers of the religion, (in which, and in which perhaps alone, it could be expected that they should be distinctly unfolded,) or from occasional notices in other writings of that or the adjoining age, either expressly alledge the facts above stated as the means by which the religion was set up, or advert to its commencement in a manner which agrees with the supposition of these facts being true, and which testifies their operations and effects.
These propositions alone lay a foundation for our faith; for they prove the existence of a transaction, which cannot even in its most general parts be accounted for, upon any reasonable supposition, except that of the truth of the mission. But the particulars of the detail of the miracles or miraculous pretences, (for such there necessarily must have been), upon which this unexampled transaction rested, and for which these men acted and suffered as they did act and suffer, it is undoubtedly of great importance to us to know. We have this detail from the fountain head, from the persons themselves; in accounts written by eye witnesses of the scene, by contemporaries and companions of those who were so ; not in one book, but four, each containing enough for the verification of the religion, all agreeing in the fundamental parts of the history. We have the authenticity of these books established by more and stronger proofs than belong to almost any other ancient book whatever, and by proofs which widely distinguish them from any others
claiming a similar authority to theirs. If there were any good reason for doubt concerning the names to which these books are ascribed, (which there is not, for they were never ascribed to any other, and we have evidence, not long after their publication, of their bearing the names which they now bear) their antiquity, of which there is no question, their reputation and anthority amongst the early disciples of the religion, of which there is as little, form a valid proof that they must, in the main at least, have agreed with what the first teachers of the religion delivered.
When we open these ancient volumes, we discover in them marks of truth, whether we consider each in itself, or collate them with one another. The writers certainly knew something of what they were writing about, for they manifest an acquaintance with local circumstances, with the history and usages of the times, which could only belong to an inhabitant of that country, living in that age. In every narrative we perceive simplicity and undesignedness; the air and the language of reality. When we comparethe different narratives together, we find them so varying, as to repel all suspicion of confederacy; so agreeing under this variety, as to show that the accounts had one real transaction for their common foundation; often attributing different actions and discourses to the person whose history, or rather memoirs of whose history, they profess to relate, yet actions and discourses so similar, as very much to bespeak the same character; which is a coincidence, that, in such writers as they were, could only be the consequence
of their writing from fact, and not from imagination.
These four narratives are confined to the history of the founder of the religion, and end with his ministry. Since, however, it is certain that the affair went on, we cannot help being anxious to know how it proceeded. This intelligence hath come down to us in a work purporting to be written by a person himself connected with the business during the first stages of its progress, taking up the story where the former historian had left it, carrying on the narrative oftentimes with great particularity, and throughout with the appearance of good sense*, information, and candour, stating all along the origin, and the only probable origin of effects, which unquestionably were produced, together with the natural consequences of situations, which unquestionably did exist; and confirmed, in the substance at least of the account, by the strongest possible accession of testimony which a history can receive, original letters, written by the person who is the principal subject of the history, written upon the business to which the history relates, and during the period, or soon after the period, which the history comprises. No man can say that this altogether is not a body of strong historical evidence. Paley.
* See Peter's speech upon curing the cripple (Acts xiii. 18); the council of the Apostles (xv.); Paul's discourse at Athens (xvii. 22.); before Agrippa (xxvi). I notice these passages both as fraught with good sense, and as free from the smallest tincture of enthusiasm.