« AnteriorContinuar »
difficult, the second was of infinitely greater difficulty. The forerunner was only expected to preach with distinguished zeal, but the Messiah must exert miraculous powers, if he attempted to gain credit with the Jews. Now, allowing what can hardly he believed,—that he gained over Mary, who could scarcely be upwards of fourteen year* of age\ who dwelt at Nazareth which was at a great "distance from his place of residence, Hebron*, and who must have been, even on the supposition. apparently virtuous; —allowing that he gained over Joseph, who was reputed 'a just man." and being but an obscure mechanic, was most unlikely to have understood, or to have been enticed into bis views -.—allowing, in short, that he singled oat to conduct this doable imposture, per*sw$ wV«se x'oath. and character, and distance, and ^HMMi in life, rendered them no* iacliaed to Wjject bis o«ecs, or disclose his deceit; or if ■*, feast <jw»)ined to forward his object.—y« bow could be have kiMwm the «ex of the caber chid x« *>nWn ♦ -b*w could be haw foreseen it would «urvivf till vonis of matarir* ?—bow conld be bwe y*os«wic« that « would hewnuerk depraved as u>
approve, and so preeminently skilful as to manage his desperate undertaking?—Nor was the danger of this fraudulent design less manifest than the improbability of its success. The true Messiah and his true forerunner were daily expected: their advent, therefore, would at once ruin the plot, and bring infamy and destruction on its projectors. An imposture, so fraught with peril from the vigilance of the Jewish priesthood,—from the natural cruelty of Herod,—from the immediate approach of the Messiah, would not have been attempted, even with the most alluring views of future advantage. Yet here we suppose, that Zacharias and Elizabeth laid the foundation of a deep scheme of conspiracy, whose execution could only be effected when John and Jesus were of age to perform the duties of priest, which was no less than thirty years after, or, at least, when they reached the period of manhood,—a season at which they must have been in the grave, or on its verge, and unable to enjoy the fruits of their iniquity.— Nor does it appear that, before this distant season, any gain was expected, for '' John was in the deserts3 till the day of his shewing unto Israel4," and so retired and unknown, that, even sometime after his first appearance, the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him " Who art thou5?" Besides, the personage whom John was to imitate, was to be distinguished for abstemiousness and severity; where then were their hopes of grandeur or of wealth? The advantage, if any, was visionary and remote: the danger manifest, imminent, and appalling. It is already evident that every one, who acknowledges the obvious truth,—that impostors conduct themselves on principles of common penetration,—will allow that the difficulties which attend the supposition are insurmountable. Yet these difficulties are far from being all mentioned. New wonders are constantly arising, as we proceed, and fresh witnesses attest the truth and consistency of the miraculous events. If the whole were a forgery, we must implicate in it the Shepherds of Bethlehem, who all pretended to have beheld the "angel of the Lord" come upon them, and "the glory of the Lord" shine round about them, and to have heard the "good tidings of great joy," and the rejoicing and hymns of "a multitude of the heavenly host1;"—all these men of simplicity, the most unfit to promote the machinations of artifice, and the most likely to betray them, must have been entrusted, and that too without apparent necessity, with the great secret, and have acted their part in this inexplicable scene of deceit.—We must also implicate in it Simeon and Anna3, though the former had the reputation of being "just and devout," and the latter "departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day;"— all their prophetic declarations, all their effusions of inspiration and gratitude, all their previous pretences to holiness and revelations, must have
5 The hill country at Hebron, where John was born, was not totally uninhabited, but only more barren and uncultivated, and thence called 'the wilderness' by way of comparison. 4 Luke i. 80. 5 John i. 19.
been but the laboured devices of falsehood: that beautiful exclamation of apparently deep and touching piety and resignation: — "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation !"—must have been the affected grimace of hypocrisy and fraud, and we must believe that an undertaking of danger was supported by intriguers of fourscore years!—But the monstrous absurdity does not stop here. We must also implicate the wise rnens that came from the East to worship the young' King of the Jews.' The star, that is related to have guided them, and the dream, that warned them to depart,—both were the inventions of craft and mockery. Here we have another intricate and unaccountable plot. That these persons really arrived at Jerusalem ;—that they enquired after the child Jesus ;—that Herod commanded them, when they had found him, to acquaint him with the place where he was;—that they adored the infant, and presented unto him "gifts,— gold, and frankincense, and myrrh ;"—that they departed secretly; —lastly, that Herod "slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under;" — these are facts which, if false, the Evangelist durst not have related, or, if he durst, were too important and too public to escape instantaneous detection. Zacharias and Joseph, therefore, must have prevailed on a number of adventurers to let Herod know, that the object of his fears was born, and that they were come to pay homage to his rival!—Surely, if they relied on human means alone, it was not very consistent with their character of 'wise men' to execute such an embassy to a tyrant, not at all remarkable for his tender regard for the life and safety of his enemies. Yet to ■ suppose that they were not really Magi, is to imagine that the deep and politic Herod was deceived,—that the whole "council of the chief priests and scribes" was deceived,—that all the inhabitants of Bethlehem and Jerusalem were grossly deceived.—The supposition is impossible. We must admit that they were really the persons, whose characters they assumed. Nor could any previous plan have been concerted; for neither could Joseph and Mary have had any intention that Jesus should be born in Bethlehem, since it was the effect of a decree of Augustus; nor could
3 Matt. ii. 1—16 The Unitarians reject the first two
chapters of St. Matthew, (except the genealogy). But the beginning of the third chapter is connected with something preceding, and both the first and the second are 'to be found in all the MSS now extant' *;—they are contained in all the ancient versions;—they are referred to as genuine,by the earliest Fathers;—they were not doubted by the opponents of Christianity.—The Ebionites, it is said, rejected them; but they also rejected the last three Gospels, all the Epistles of St. Pault, and the first seventeen verses of St. Matthew, which, abandoning their standard of authority, the Unitarians retain. If it were not foreign from our subject, we might establish their authenticity on several other grounds. For what Tertullian says of Marcion may be applied, without injustice, to many a modern objector:—" Exerte et palam machaera, non stylo, usus est: quoniam ad materiam suam caedem scripturarum confecit."—See Dr. Magee on the Atonement, Vol. II. Append.—Laurence's Crit. Reflect. &c. c. ii.—Simon's Crit. Hist. c. viii. &c.
* lropr. Vera. 1 IreB. lib. i. c. 98.