Images de page

produce, with a parade of argument, and with the dogmatical violence of enthufiafts, who affert pofitively, and repeatedly, the certainty of their divine authority, but produce not any proofs to establish it; -directly the reverse of this was the manner in which the evidence of Christianity was propofed, exhibiting direct proofs and facts, but exhibiting them with an artlefs fimplicity and calm dignity, well fuited to confcious truth and genuine fpira-. tion.

[ocr errors]

Thus it appears, that the original manner of propofing the evidences of Chriftianity, adopted by our Lord, and his apoftles, to thofe who were candid and unprejudiced, was plain and artlefs, but at the fame time moft clear and convincing, moft calm and dignified; but amongst those who were prejudiced and hostile, who laboured to raise objections, and to find fome pretexts for rejecting the proofs thus plainly fubmitted to them, they proceeded in a manner different indeed, but equally natural, rational, and convincing; they did not on fuch occafi ons proudly attempt to filence enquiry, or refufe to answer it; they. did not content themfelves with barely repeating pofitive affertions of their divine miffion, and denouncing condemnation to all who presumed to doubt of it :-no,-as far as the peculiar circumftances of the cafe would admit, they obviated the objections that were raised; they removed the prejudices which prevented the full force of the



[ocr errors]

evidence offered from being feen or acknowledged; they vindicated their characters from calumny; they pointed out the erroneous interpretations of the prophets, which led the Jews to form wrong expectations of the Meffiah; they corrected their perversions of morality, which rendered them unfavourable to the purity of the gospel; they addressed to the different claffes of their hearers fuch arguments as feemed beft fuited to their previous information, and beft calculated to win their affent.-Thus they confirmed and illuftrated the evidence which had been originally propofed; they removed many objections; they added many new circumftances; the fimplicity of the manner in which, in the first inftance, they fubmitted to men's obfervation the proofs of Christianity, fhewed they were fully affured of their certainty; while the readiness with which they fubmitted these proofs to ftrict fcrutiny, and entered into argumentation in defence of them, as far as was neceffary, afforded a still fur, ther proof of their fincerity and zeal; in both they fhewed foundness of understanding and fobriety of mind, utterly inconfiftent with the weakness and incoherence of fanaticifm, as well as the cunning and caution of imposture.

That this, as it may be termed, argumentative man, ner, was frequently adopted by our Saviour, and his apostles, we have even in the courfe of this work



Vid. particularly, chap. i. fect, 3d and 4th; and this chapter, fect. ift and 2d.


[ocr errors]

feen so many instances as may render any minute detail of them here unneceffary. We have feen that our Saviour submitted his miracles fearlessly to the fcrutiny of his enemies, and performed them in fuch a manner as excited the attention of these enemies: we have seen that the strongest appeals to his works, as clear proofs of his divine miffion, and his most direct application of the prophecies to himself, were made in confequence of the oppofition of the Pharifees, and of the meffage from the Baptift; we have accounted for his fometimes concealing his miracles, and refusing a fign to the Pharifees, which at first seem moft objectionable in this view; we have fhewn that the apostles addreffed to the Jews and the Heathens those arguments, on whofe validity they could best decide-and it is plain, that they frequently exhorted men to exercise their reason, in obferving the nature and tendency of the doctrines taught, and thence judging of their divine original, and in searching the fcriptures for themselves. Thus the Bereans are represented as more noble than the inhabitants of Theffalonica, because they not only received the word with readiness, "but fearched the fcriptures daily, "whether these things were fo."

The difcourfes, and much more the epiftles, which they addreffed to their converts, abound with appeals to recent facts, to acknowledged prophecies, with historical deductions, and close inferences, answers to objections, and folutions of difficulties, which fenseless

fenfelefs fanatics would have wanted both inclination and capacity to fupply.

But the writings of the apostles, confidered as cri terions of their freedom from fanaticifm, will form the object of further difcuffion; for the prefent it is fufficient to obferve, that had, their fuccefs depended on the impulfe of enthufiafm-were men to have been converted by a filent whisper, or an irresistible light from heaven, that flashed conviction on their fouls, it should seem that miracles and prophecies would have been useless, arguments impertinent, and inftructions fuperfluous. Thus every page of the New Teftament appears to confute those rafh and fuperficial declaimers, who attribute to wild fanati, cifm the origin and success of a scheme, which every where lays its foundation on plain facts, and vindicates its truth by fober reasoning..

Here then I might with fafety reft the decifion of this question, and contend that enthusiasm could not have been the fource of the zeal with which the apostles maintained the refurrection, and divine authority of their crucified Lord; or of the fuccefs which they obtained in the promulgation of the gospel; because the proofs of miraculous power on which their own conviction was founded, as well as those by which they convinced their converts, were fuch as excluded the poffibility of mistake or delufion-plain facts, fubmitted to the deliberate


examination of the fenfes-facts various, repeated, permanent, and decidedly fupernatural and divine.And the arguments derived from the prophecies which our Saviour delivered or fulfilled, were rational, clear and fatisfactory-while in the apostles we discover the strongest marks of fobriety of mind, from their advancing no claim to a prophetic character, further than was strictly supported by truth, and their delivering only fuch predictions, as it was most likely should have been dictated by divine inspiration; predictions, not applying to immediate or private circumftances, but to events of moft fignal importance and of remote accomplishment.

But though thefe are the great principles on which we fhould fix our attention, it may yet be fatisfactory to purfue our enquiry fomewhat further, and vindicate the apoftles and evangelists from every fufpicion, that they did at all diftort the facts they relate, or corrupt the doctrines they deliver with any mixture of fanatic extravagance, by fhewing that this sobriety of mind appears fe ftrongly predominant in the uniform tenor of their conduct, and of their writings, that we must confefs them wholly free from those weaknesses that give rife to enthufiafm, and all the follies and extravagancies which attend and expofe its influence.

[ocr errors][merged small]
« PrécédentContinuer »