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(2) The hostility that prevailed against the Christians would have excited their enemies to ex-, pose any such falsehood. The truth of the resurrection is frequently put forward as the criterion of the credit to be given to the Gospel itself, so that the overthrowing the one, must have led to the undermining of the other. This was transacted and published at Jerusalem, before both Jews and Romans. The former were inclined both by malice and interest to oppose it, and the latter were equally violent in their hatred of Christianity, and therefore equally anxious to injure its progress. Yet no objection was ever made to the credit of the witnesses who attested its doctrines, who said they had conversed with Christ after his resurrection; that they had seen him ascend into heaven, and had fulfilled his promise in giving them extraordinary powers to work miracles. Such silence on the part of men possessed of every requisite to effectual opposition, power and wealth, authority with the people, opportunities of the best information and motives of self interest, can only be accounted for by their having themselves been convinced of the truth of the Gospel history.
(3) The situation of the early Christians con
a. The testimony of Tacitus and Suetonius to the persecution of the Christians by the Romans, may be seen in Lardner's Works, v. 7. pp. 251 and 265.
firms the truth of these facts. They who disseminated this doctrine, as well as those who received it, had no interest beside that of truth to engage them to it. They could expect neither wealth nor greatness from it: they were to travel much and to labour hard: they saw others die on account of it, and had reason to look for the like usage themselves. It is reasonable, therefore, to believe that in an age when the facts on which Christianity was founded, could have been easily known, men would carefully examine before they assented to that which exposed them to such dreadful sufferings. In the methods too, by which the Gospel was propagated, there was nothing like imposition. When the Apostles saw that some were endeavouring to detract from their authority, they adopted no fawning manner; they neither flattered nor spared those Churches that were under their care. They charged them home with their faults, and asserted their own character in a strain that showed they were afraid of no discoveries. They appealed to the miracles they had wrought, and to those spiritual gifts of which they were not only possessed themselves, but which were by. their ministry conferred on others. Now, an uncontested miracle is the fullest evidence that can be given of a divine commission ; for a
a See Paley's Evidences, Part I. c. 2.
miracle is a work that exceeds all the known powers of nature. It is true we do not know what secret virtues there may be in plants and minerals, but we can be assured, that mere words can possess no innate efficiency to cure diseases or to raise the dead. It is also true, that the imagination has often a great effect in a dangerous illness; but it is certain that a dead man can have no such imagination. When, therefore, miracles are performed which we thus plainly see to be beyond the reach of fancy, as well as above the powers of nature, they may be considered as infallible proofs of an inspired authority. And such were the miracles of our Saviour and his Apostles; performed, too, before numbers both of friends and enemies. Since, then, the truth of these never was doubted, it is evident that no rational exception could be made to them.
If it be pretended that these wonderful effects were produced by the power of an evil spirit, it may be answered, this objection acknowledges both the truth of the relation and the fact being supernatural. But besides, though it be true that evil spirits may have such a power, still no evil spirit would perform a miracle for the purpose of advancing an authority opposed to his own, and even of overthrowing his own power. For, “ the
“ the kingdom of Satan could not stand, if he were thus divided against himself.”
(Matt. xii. 25.) This is the argument of our Saviour, and it is quite unanswerable.
Further, the doctrine which they preached leads to the same conclusion. Its rules of morality were pure and good, they tended to make men merciful and charitable, and fixed their actions on the noblest motives. The worship of God, too, was pure and simple, free from absurd costliness as well as idolatrous rites, and had in it all the characters becoming the purity of the Divine mind. Such a religion could not be the production of fraud or delusion.
(4.) These facts were admitted by persons prejudiced against them ; which can only be accounted for by their truth. The Jews were prejudiced both against the person and the doctrine of Christ. The one contradicted their expectation of a conquering Messiah, and the other superseded the law to which they were so much attached, and admitted the Gentiles into a share of their privileges. The philosophers, on the other hand, despised inspiration and ridiculed all miraculous interference, while the vulgar Gentiles loved pomp and show in their religious rites. Thus was Christianity opposed to the prejudices of all men, still it overcame those prejudices, by the naked force of truth.
a See Paley's Evidences, p. 2. c. 9, and Jortin's Disc, on the Christian Religion, p. 91.
2. The Gospel history is genuine.
For the universal reception of it precluded the possibility of its being corrupted. In the first century these writings were in all men's hands, and were copied out freely by every one that desired it. Within a hundred years after this, we learn from Justin Martyr, Irenæus, Clemens Romanus, Ignatius and Polycarp, that their authority was early received and submitted to; that they began soon to be read at the religious meetings of the Christians, and were esteemed as a most sacred trust by the Churches with which they were lodged. Under these circumstances, it would have been impossible to introduce any material alterations or corruptions into the text, when it was so carefully and so universally guarded against any such variation.
2d. We proposed to consider the arguments which prove the truth of the Gospel narration, with respect to the resurrection and ascension.
For the Apostles who attested them are competent witnesses, since they were neither deceived themselves, nor intended to deceire others.
1. They were not deceived themselves.
(1.) With respect to the resurrection, the numbers who saw it preclude the possibility of so general a delusion. The Apostles saw Christ fre
The testimony of these writers may be found in Dr. Lardner's Works, 5. 2. pp. 119, 153, 87, and 270, and v. 11. p. 224.