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digressions to inveigh against those who are blind to its clearness, and deaf to its emphatic testimony \
— Ovoeva Yeyeh ovoeva eiraivei, ovoeva fie/id>eTai,
ovSevl ey/cakel*."—If all this be a tissue of falsehoods, what shall we call the internal marks of truth? On what grounds shall we establish its credibility, if the same may be usurped by fraud with■ equal success? Surely deceit never did, and never can, assume so complete a semblance of sincerity.
It appears, then, from the extreme improbability that St. Luke should have attempted to palm an extraordinary, yet unknown, story upon men, who were both able and anxious to refute it, that he must have related the facts as being generally circulated and taught; and it further appears, from the nature of his style, that, if there were any imposture, it was one in which he himself had no share and no belief.
It may be objected, however, that the disciples of Jesus might have been the contrivers of the fraud.—But here again the suspicion of imposture would naturally have attended its introduction. What could more effectually have awakened the spirit of investigation, with which the Jews enquired into every particular, relating to the expected Messiah or his Forerunner, than an account of important and supernatural events, which had never before been.heard of, and which were now publicly asserted by persons, whose character was held in aversion, and whose interest was manifestly concerned in their propagation?—The enemies and accusers of Jesus,— the Scribes and Pharisees, whose hypocrisy he had censured and exposed,'—the chief priests and Sadducees, whom he had put to silence;—the mob itself, that had raised the violent outcry for his death;—all would unite in stifling Christianity in its birth, by convicting its supporters and preachers of artifice and falsehood. The improbability is as great, that they should have formed the design, as that it should not have been instantly frustrated by those, who narrowly watched their proceedings, "being grieved that they taught the 'people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead3." The detection would have been easy, and the necessary consequence, their public punishment, and the utter extinction of the rising sect. Yet, no such discovery appears to have been made, because no such imposture could have been attempted by them.
1 See Dr. Beattie's Evidences of the Christian Religion. Vol. I. Ch. ii. Sect. 1. Pascal. Pensees, Part. II. Artxii. §. ii. 5 Epictet. Enchirid. Cap. LXXII.
The same reasons will shew that it could not have been the contrivance of Jesus.—We know how suspiciously the-chiefs of the Jews observed all his actions, how captiously they noted all his words, and how eagerly they sought an opportunity that." they might take him by craft4." To unmask and to punish, would then have been equally easy.—There would have been no need of false witnesses and false pretences.—The chief would have been destroyed, and his followers "scattered and brought to nought."
3 Acts iv. 2. 4 Mark xiv. 1.
It is allowable, therefore, to conclude, that the supposed forgery could not have been framed and published after John's death;—let us now consider, whether any could have arisen before that time.
If the whole narrative was devised during John's life, the only persons that can be suspected of the forgery are John himself, or his disciples, or his parents.
To the objection that John might be guilty of the imposture, it would be sufficient to answer, that his character was remarkable for the most rigid and unimpeachable integrity. — Josephus himself acknowledges that he was "a good man, and exhorted the Jews to prepare themselves for his baptism, by the practice of virtue, and by the observance of justice towards their neighbour, and piety towards God1."—Must we then admit, in contradiction to universal experience, that the love of falsehood may be a solitary vice; that it may be so blended with the holiest dispositions, and so interwoven with the purest principles and habits, as to exist in the absence of every other corrupt propensity?
1 Josephus, having observed that the destruction of Herod's army was owing, in the opinion of the Jews, to his cruelty to
John, adds "KTeivei yap Tovtov 'Hpwitj<!, ayaBov avipa, Kai Toi/s 'IovScuoiie Ke\evovTa dpeTtjv £iracKovvTotc, Kat Trj irpos d\\rj\ov<! SiKato<riivr), xai irpoi Tov Qeov cv<ref3e'ta j^pwpevovs, fiaiTTio-ntp <rvviei/at." Antiq. Jud. lib. xviii. c. vi. §. 2.
The passage is cited by Origen, Eusebius, Ambrose, Jerome, &c. &c (See Whiston's Joseph. Dissertation, in the Appendix.—The testimony concerning Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, and James the Just considered.)
The success of John, and the respect paid to his character, are mentioned by other Jewish writers, by Joseph Ben Gorion, R. David Gantz, &c. quoted by Kidder, in his "Demonstration of the Messias."
""Ep'yo) Toivvv Tijs <ictov <rT€ppOTtjTOs irapa<rywv pdttavov Kot Trjs KapTepiat, Ttois <iv e'ttj cinatos iirt ToiovTOts viroirTeve<rdai'" Chrysostom. In Matthaeum, Horn, xxxvii.
But, supposing he possessed all the depravity necessary for this iniquitous design,—he could not have undertaken to publish it till he was arrived at the age of manhood. How then could he have pretended to the Jews that a series of astonishing occurrences,—of revelations, prophecies, and miracles,—had happened, and had been "noised abroad throughout all Judea," about twenty years before? —To effect this daring purpose, he must at least have gained over such witnesses of the events at his birth and circumcision, as were then living. On this supposition, we must believe that he won to his impious schemes men of unsullied reputation and distinguished virtue,—men of that sacred office, which is least likely to co-operate in plots of deceit and blasphemy,—men of that advanced age, which is too prudent and timid to embark in undertakings of remote and uncertain advantage, and of present inconvenience and danger.—Are we then to suppose, that persons, ' in grey decrepitude,' turned the sanctuary of holiness into a school of deceit, and matured the projects of blasphemy under the shade of religion ?—But age, that dulls our taste for pleasure, sharpens our sense of fear2; it clothes with terror every thing that is new, and imagines that danger lies in ambush behind every thing that is attractive: clinging to life, as it feels it sink, it advances with slow and trembling steps, and, whilst it turns from the splendors that rest on the forepart of the prospect, sees but the phantoms of danger that are flitting in the distance.—But even if we deny their virtue,—if we suppose that St. Luke was so regardless of the credit of his writings, as to give a character of irreproachable integrity to certain branches of the priesthood, when any other priest might examine and confute the statement;—yet, we must believe that the terrors of conscience were so weak, as not to wrest the secret from the lips of a single accomplice, when cares and disgust were coming on as fast as joys and hopes were dropping successively away,—when their eye-lids were loosed with sickness and infirmities,—when the veil of death encircled their head with its images of horror, and they were about to descend with guilt and sorrow to the grave.—
* " UpowloirfiroltiKe To ytjpm rt\ iei\itp." Aristot. Art.
Rhetoric, lib. ii- c. 13.
Verae voces turn deinum pectore ab imo
Ejiciuntur, et eripitur persona, manet res1.
Surely to convince them so thoroughly, and to engage them so deeply and irrecoverably in his enterprise, he must have displayed those glowingprospects of worldly advantage, whose splendid mockery dazzles and bewilders the most cautious minds; he must have offered those powerful temptations, which shake the stoutest spirit;—for, though men frequently prefer their interest to virtue, no man prefers to it that vice, by which worldly gain is not promoted, and eternal happiness is sacrificed. But where shall we find these brilliant prospects?
1 Lucret. lib. iii. v. 57.