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I. In the important passage, which we read to you as our text, and which forms the preface to the Gospel by St. Luke, the Evangelist distinctly asserts, that certain facts had occurred in his time, of which those, who were eye-witnesses of them, had widely promulgated the knowledge by oral instruction; that others had committed that information to writing; and that he also had deemed it expedient himself to undertake a similar narrative for the benefit of Theophilus; with the design, that inasmuch as he had already been informed respecting these things by word of mouth, he might now, by means of an authentic written narrative, further be assured of the certainty of those oral instructions, and of the safety with which he might rely upon the accuracy of those accounts which he had heard. The matters which the Evangelist relates are a series of facts, and also a series of discourses which were delivered upon the several occasions he has specified. Upon such facts and discourses, those who had been eye and ear-witnesses grounded the whole system of Christian doctrine. And the Evangelist evidently conceived that Theophilus would both better understand those instructions, and more easily discover their truth, if furnished with that assistance, which a comprehensive and orderly

a Ἵνα ἐπιγνῷς περὶ ὧν κατηχήθης λόγων τὴν ̓ΑΣΦΑΛΕΙΑΝ.

v. 4.

narrative of such matters would afford. History, of whatever kind, is chiefly valuable because of the inferences which may be drawn from the events and experience of past ages, for our own practical direction. But never did such consequences so immediately and obviously result from any facts, as the doctrines and discoveries of the Christian religion from the transactions and proceedings by which it was established. The religion itself, in all its leading peculiarities, principally consists in a statement of the design of those facts, and in the application of this knowledge as the occasion and motive of repentance, faith, and obedience. If then we can be satisfied that the narrative of the facts is correct, we may employ it for the purpose which the historians designed it to serve; and see whether it justifies the inferences drawn from those facts by the founder and his followers.

The Gospel of St. John contains fewer facts than the other Gospels, but a more copious record of the discourses of Jesus. He seldom, indeed, notices any fact, except for the purpose of explaining the occasion of our Lord's discourses and reasonings, and of the debates which his hearers held among themselves. And, near the conclusion of his Gospel, he tells us the design with which he wrote, and points out the inferences which he conceives to follow from what he has recorded:

Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name."

If then an author has thus stated to us the object of his work; if he declares his conviction that what he has written directs us to a certain conclusion; we have only to consider the premises upon which he builds it, in order to ascertain its correctness and certainty. The materials upon which to reason are fully given; but the argument is not drawn out in form by the Evangelists themselves; for they have only narrated certain facts, and recorded certain discourses. But those discourses contain such arguments, and are connected with such facts, that if we have reason to believe that they were delivered by him to whom they are ascribed, and that the facts to which they refer, and which are related so circumstantially, are correctly related, then no considerate person can reasonably doubt that the Religion which we profess is from God; for the Gospel is found to be its own witness, defender, and apologist, in the very contents of its acknowledged records. We do not say of the Gospel history, as the Mahometan says of the Koran, that it is itself a miracle, and

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* John xx. 30, 31.

that it proves in that way its divine original; but we do say, that the Gospels supply us with materials, upon which we can reason for ourselves; and that the result of every line of argument suggested by their contents is uniformly conclusive in favour of the divinity of the Religion which they teach. Not only do the style and method, the temper and completeness, of the Gospel narratives offer to an observing reader many internal indications of the genuineness and credibility of the records; but, also, in the very contents of those records, we find assistance in examining the question with respect to the external evidence of the Religion proposed to us therein. For, as will hereafter appear, the discourses of Jesus alone bring before us so many of the leading arguments in favour of the divinity of his mission, as to be almost sufficient of themselves, if rightly understood, and duly weighed, to establish the inquirer in the belief of Christianity.

II. Probably it will be here observed, that our proposed inquiry proceeds upon the assumption, that the writings which we employ are genuine and authentic. It certainly does; and yet we do not propose to enter on that discussion. For we suppose, that both the genuineness and authenticity of the Gospel history have been so often investigated, and so fully proved, by evidence more complete and diversified than can be brought

forward in corroboration of any other history whatever, that no one, who has at all qualified himself to form an opinion, would venture to deny that the question is set at rest for ever. In fact, there is less danger that we should doubt the authenticity and credibility of these documents, than that we should neglect to use them as such; much danger lest we should consider them less seriously, that we should embrace the consequences which follow from their truth, less resolutely, and less unreservedly, than in all sober reason we are bound to do. We might, if it were indispensably necessary for your satisfaction, immediately begin to ask you, how you could account for the establishment and propagation, hay even for the first publication, of Christianity, unless upon the supposition, that some such facts occurred. We might demand of you an answer to Leslie's celebrated argument, from the continual observance of the Christian ordinances; from their avowed object, and the institution of them in the very age, and at the time, of the events which they commemorate. But we should do this with the conviction, that you would succeed no better than the acute Middleton, even though you also attempted it for twenty years". We

a See Jones's Preface to Leslie's Short and Easy Method with the Deists, in the edition published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

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